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Trial by secularists - The Times of India

Prakash Nanda ()
January 22, 1998

Title: Trial by secularists
Author: Prakash Nanda
Publication: The Times of India
Date: January 22, 1998

There is a story that when apartheid was alive and kicking in
Rhodesia -present-day Zimbabwe -a white truck driver passed a
group of idle natives and muttered, "They are lazy brutes". A few
hours later, he saw natives loading 200 pound sacks of grain onto
a truck, singing in rhythm to their work. "Savages", he grumbled,
adding "what do you expect?"

Apartheid as a political philosophy has long died. But for
Bharatiya Janata Party baiters in this country, this remains an
unflinching faith. The party is condemned whatever it does. If
the BJP talks of Ayodhya, it is attacked as being communal. But
when it overlooks Kashi and Mathura, it is criticised for not
being true to itself BJP baiters have no problems with hardline
communists of yore extolling the virtues of capitalism. But they
cannot countenance the BJP diluting its Hindutva agenda in the
coming elections.

The other day, a senior but young Congress functionary considered
prime minister material dwelt at considerable length on how the
sangh parivar is a monolithic outfit controlled by fundamentalist
RSS bosses at Nagpur with the BJP functioning as a mere robot.
But like all BJP baiters, for whom consistency has never been a
virtue, he wanted to know the relationship between the BJP
president, Mr L K Advani, and the party's prime ministerial
candidate; Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee. He was confident that a BJP
regime could never provide political stability since Mr Advani,
according to him, did not want Mr Vajpayee to be a successful
Prime Minister.

Bad Logic

Talking of dissent within a monolithic party is simply bad logic.
If the two seniormost members of the RSS like Mr Vajpayee and Mr
Advani who continue to be members of the parent organisation can
differ, it makes little sense to go on emphasising the monolithic
aspect of the sangh parivar in general and the BJP in particular.
In fact, going by the way the BJP is admitting new but non-RSS
members into its fold, it would not be wide off the mark to say
that the party is increasingly becoming autonomous of the sangh
parivar when it comes to taking political decisions. This
development, in turn, poses a serious challenge to those who view
the BJP as a communal party

In any event, it defies reason as to how an officially recognised
party like the BJP is communal, given the fact that no Indian
party can obtain recognition from the Election Commission unless
it is committed to the multi-cultural and multi-religious
character of the Constitution. BJP baiters should consider
themselves lucky that despite their liberal usage of the term
communal in characterising the BJP, the party has not dragged
them to court as yet. Had it done so, perhaps, the secularism-vs-
communalism debate in Indian political parlance might not have
assumed the absurd proportions that it has.

Better Record

]be BJP, when in power in various states, has a much better
record in containing communal riots compared to that of those
under non-BJP rule. Second, the superficiality of the secularism
debate is further exposed if one sees the way BJP baiters accept
the secular credentials of those who, despite their long
association with the "communal party", join their ranks. For
instance, Mr Shankarsinh Vaghela is now a respectable leader of
the Secular Front floated by Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav!

To explain Hindutva strictly in communal terms is again to
oversimplify the issue. Whether it is right or wrong, the fact
remains that for a pan-Indian party like the BJP, or for that
matter its previous incarnation, the Jan Sangh, Hindutva has been
the slogan which it thinks can highlight the common cultural link
of India in which forces of disintegration far outweigh those of
unity. This was all the more so when it became politically
correct to glorify narrow and limited concepts like caste and

The Hindutva strategy for the BJP seems to have received
impressive acceptance, at least among the growing middle class in
the country. By definition, the middle class is modern in outlook
and essentially secular. Because, compared to other sections of
society, it is the middle class which has a vested interest in
keeping India unified and strong. Therefore, the fact that this
very class constitutes the bulk support-base of the BJP can never
be explained in a communal framework.

Admittedly, the BJP's Hindutva-centred method of appealing to the
electorate has antagonised the minorities, the recent admission
into its fold of some leading Muslims notwithstanding. However,
what is interesting is that the party has lately been trying to
gradually dilute the Hindutva card and adopt, instead, the
Congress-model. Though the Congress, the only other pan- Indian
party, has invariably followed an ideology which can be described
as soft Hindutva, it has cleverly hidden this under the carpet
and focused on secular but nationally-appealing slogans like
garibi hatao and "a government that works". The BJP's present
slogan of "stable government and an able leader" needs to be seen
in this context.

It is increasingly obvious that there are hardly any substantial
differences between the Congress and the BJP on policies. Both
are talking of providing political stability. Both share the
same commitment towards the liberalisation of the economy, yet
another policy-goal with national appeal.

Determining Role

That being the case, if the voters are going to exercise their
option in one or the other's favour, what is likely to play the
determining role is the abilities of the Congress and the BJP in
managing a coalition government. And here, apart from having a
prime ministerial candidate with national appeal, their record in
running coalition governments as a key constituent -not
supporting from the outside - will come under scrutiny. And on
both these counts, the BJP has the upper hand. Besides having Mr
Vajpayee, the BJP, unlike the Congress' antipathy towards the
very idea of coalition, has always tried to build alliances.

One just has to remember that in 1977, despite being the largest
group with 92 seats in the Lok Sabha, the Jan Sangh faction of
the then Janata Party had only two important cabinet posts, And
yet, if the Morarji Desai government fell, it was not because of
Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee but because of the late Charan Singh.
Similarly, the crisis in Uttar Pradesh last year was not due to
the BJP but to the BSP which did not reciprocate its commitment
to co-exist with a BJP chief minister.

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