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How BJP abolished 'untouchability' - The Financial Express

Devsagar Singh ()
December 31, 1997

Title: How BJP abolished 'untouchability'
Author: Devsagar Singh
Publication: The Financial Express
Date: December 31, 1997

The year 1997 was one of intense debate on what exactly the
political mainstream was. Even as the debate rages on, one thing
has become crystal clear: there are no 'untouchables' left in
national politics and if there are any, it is certainly not the

The reason why the 14-party United Front was formed in mid-1996
was fear of the BJP, and to defend their version of 'secularism'.
This was sufficient to keep the BJP out of power despite it being
the single largest party. The reality of UF rule and it being
supported by the Congress was in essence aimed at negating the
BJP's claims that it could form the mainstream of national
politics with its own vision of inter-community relations.

The lesson of 1996 for the BJP was that it was not enough to be
the most successful party at the polls; it had to get in at the
sloughy end of the pool to garner the spoils. And, as it appears
in retrospect, the party learnt the lesson well, the job having
been made easier, ironically, by the UF and Congress.

The UF confusion has also proved another point: power alone
cannot be an adhesive or coalition ideologies in the face of
personal animosities. This is what enables a BJP to claim that it
alone can provide stability at the centre-having stolen the
stability card from a disintegrating Congress.

Unsurprisingly, the year exposed the murkier side of Indian
politics. To quote Atal Behari Vajpayee, as long as the BJP
played the game by the rules of the past 40 years, it was treated
as an untouchable. The moment they 'played foul' like everyone
else in UP, the party came to be acceptable by the most
'principled' people, be they from the Congress, the Janata Dal or
even Som Pal, a close aide of Dal patriarch VP Singh.

The more the Front and the Congress messed it up, the easier it
became for the BJP to make its own claim convincing as a power-
seeker. When the Congress brought down the Deve Gowda-led UF
government for its failure to be 'secular enough', everyone knew
it was the BJP's greatest moment of moral victory. Showing signs
of political maturity, the BJP did not then jump into the fray
but certainly started cultivating friends and issues in the
backyards of the Congress and UF.

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