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The BJP and stability - The Hindu Times

Asghar Ali Engineer ()
March 18, 1998

Title: The BJP and stability
Author: Asghar Ali Engineer
Publication: The Hindu Times
Date: March 18, 1998

The Lok Sabha elections are over and the BJP is forming the
government in Delhi. The self-styled "party with a difference"
could not make it to the magic number of 272 even with the
support of its, pre-poll allies. It is having problems with its
allies, some are dictating terms. The BJP Campaigned on the
stability plank but political stability for such a disparate
alliance is anything but assured.

In fact, Indian democracy is passing through several challenges
aria stability under such unstable conditions is not possible.
The Congress could provide a stable government at the Centre up
to the early Seventies mainly for two reasons: first, it enjoyed
a tremendous goodwill for its role during the freedom struggle.
People could hardly support any other party in the presence of
the mighty Congress. Secondly during the period the party
provided a stable rule because Indian democracy did not face the
social turmoils it is encountering today. The party was supported
by the upper castes. on the one hand, and the minorities, the
Dalits and tribals, on the other. No party. including the
Congress, enjoys such a winning combination today and hence fails
to get an absolute majority, much less provide stability.

Why did this happen', First of all, Indian democracy, with all
its problems, has deepened and brought about a tremendous
consciousness among different sections. by no means a mean
achievement. One could be justly proud that democracy has struck
deep root in India unlike as in other parts of Asia, Africa or
Latin America.

Secondly India is a developing country and any such society,
Which undergoes a social transformation cannot have a smooth
time. For the transformation changes the power equations.
Democracy is nothing if not a grater leveller and the minorities,
the Dalits, tribals and other oppressed sections become deeply
conscious of 'their rights, even if they are really empowered
by the political system. It is this consciousness which causes
tension and turmoil in the political system.

The implementation of the mandal commission Report in August 1990
best illustrates the case. The backward sections, apart from the
minorities, have suffered for centuries in every respect.
Reservation of government jobs was one way of giving them some.
Benefits. Even this caused a great turmoil. The upper castes
sharply reacted to the implementation of the Mandal report by the
V.P.singh Government and the BJP, their best representative,
launched and intensified the Ramjanambhoomi agitation to retain
support among all sections of the Hindu society. This itself
became a destabilising factor. Thus. whenever there is an attempt
to even marginally empower the weaker sections, there is turmoil
and instability. No wonder, many who represent the weaker
sections feel that stability works only in favour of the upper
castes and classes. Thus the important question is, stability for
whom'

To understand the dynamics of Indian society today one has to
take its tremendous diversity into account. Ours is not a nation
in the classical sense of the term. The European nations are far
more homogeneous linguistically and religiously. Since an
overwhelming majority of Europeans have a common religion,
Christianity, the division of the various nations was on
linguistic lines. 'The feudal empires in Europe had religious
homogeneity but linguistic diversity.

India, on the other hand, has a tremendous regional, linguistic,
cultural and religious diversity. Besides, there is a large
number of sub- groups adding to this maze of bewildering
diversity. These groups, regional, cultural. linguistic or
religious, are unevenly developed leading to social and economic
tensions. Regional and sub-regional diversities have also become
problematic. Many regions are less developed than others and are
up in arms demanding justice. The entire Northeast is in turmoil
because of a consciousness of its having been "left out." It is
partly for this reason that national parties such as the Congress
and the BJP are losing their trans-regional hold and the regional
parties such as the AIADMK, the Telugu Desam or the Asom Gana
Parishad are emerging stronger. Earlier, the voters preferred the
national parties but now their regional consciousness compels
them to vote for these parties. Whenever democracy strikes firm
root in a diverse society, the identity-based politics acquires
more importance. It is through an identity-based politics that
diverse sections bargain for their share in the political power
and social hegemony.

In this Political scenario, the BJP slogan of one people, one
culture and one country is totally impractical. This will clearly
leaf to the hegemony of a religio-cultural group belonging to a
particular region. No wonder, the BJP so far has wrested the
maximum number of seats in the Hindi-belt with the support of
upper caste Hindus. And it was precisely for this reason that the
party had no presence in the entire south. Until recently, it was
a Brahmin-Bania party from the Hindi-belt with a narrow social
base. However, it realised its serious limitations and decided
to overcome them. Thus, it took up the Ramjanambhoomi issue which
had an all- India appeal and cut across the line. Thus the party
began to register its presence beyond the Vindhyachal.

But the Ramjanambhoomi issue could deliver only the votes of a
section of Hindus. The issue negated not only the religious
diversity of India but also various little traditions of the
Hindu society' There are over 18 per cent religious minorities in
India and their alienation from any national party would be a
serious impediment to it. The BJP still remains essentially a
Hindu party and the minorities feel alienated from it. An
analysis of votes cast during the recent Lok Sabha elections
clearly shows that the minorities, particularly Muslims, voted
against it. Also, the Dalits, particularly in Maharashtra (and to
a large extent, in Uttar Pradesh) voted against the party. Thus
the Congress ( I ) alliance, with the Samajwadi Party of Mr.
Mulayam Singh Yadav (mainly supported by the Muslims) and the
Republican Party (supported by the Mahars, a Dalit community) in
Maharashtra, registered a great success and the alliance wrested
38 seats while the BJP Shiv Sena combine had to be content with a
mere 10 seats.

The BJP fought the election promising stability but a party which
tends to be oblivious of Indian diversity cannot win the
confidence of all sections. It has tried to overcome its
disabilities by striking alliances with different regional
parties. Still, it has not mustered a comfortable majority,
hence there is a lesser chance of its providing stability. A BJP-
led government at the Centre will be on tenterhooks. The support
of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) will be crucial but unreliable.
The TDP will have to pay a heavy price during the Assembly
elections, if it extends even issue based support to the BJP led
Government. The Muslims in Andhra Pradesh will be alienated from
it and the Congress ( I ) will take away the Muslim votes from
the TDP

The BJP has to reflect deeply on the question of the minorities.
It has not been able to win over them due to its Hindutva plank.
The election results show that the Muslims have voted cleverly
and strategically. They have not voted for any national party
anywhere Now the Muslims would not like to be a votebank for any
party. They have voted for the secular candidates whichever party
they belong to. In U.P, they mainly voted for the Samajwadi
Party while in Maharashtra they opted for the Congress ( I ) led
alliance. In West Bengal, they mainly voted for the Left Front.
In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, their votes were cast mainly in
favour of the DMKTMC alliance and the TDP though in Andhra
Pradesh some Muslim votes have gone to the Congress ( I ) as
well.

Thus, the Muslim votes have gone to strengthen the secular
parties find alliances which is a welcome sign. Equally
interesting is that the Muslim votes did not get polarised on any
emotional, religious issue. Their security and well-being seem
to have dominated their political thinking. If secular parties
such as the SP, the Janata Dal or the Congress ( I ) really
provide them with security and well-being, at least in those
regions where they are strong, the Muslims along with the other
minorities and the Dalits. can become an important agent of
secularising Indian politics.

The BJP should realise that India's real strength lies in its
diversity. Even the homogenised West has now realised the value
of diversity and pluralism in the post-modern society. India
accepted diversity and plurality centuries before and any parts
which seeks to reject diversity and talk of one people, one
language and one culture can never appreciate the true nature of
democracy. Without strengthening the spirit of diversity. no ore
can ever provide a stable polity. Diverse interests will have to
be accommodated and 3 sufficient democratic space provided to the
weaker sections to establish real stability. Any talk of
stability without an appreciation of these facts will remain an
empty slogan.


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