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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Twenty Five years of Bharatiya Janata Party

Will Lotus bloom or wilt?

By Ram Puniyani

The Milli Gazette Online 

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) completed 25 years on 6 April, 2005. Founded in 1980 on the plank of Gandhian Socialism it has traveled a long journey since. BJP's formation itself revealed a lot about its loyalties and political agenda. Prior to the imposition of much dreaded Emergency (1975) its previous edition, Jan Sangh, its parent organization RSS and its associates were permitted to join the JP movement (1975). This was a God-sent opportunity for this outfit, which was being looked down upon by broad sections of Indian people for their involvement in murder of the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi. It was like having a bath in Ganges for them.

In due course it dissolved itself into the coalition of forces which came up as Janata Party, which romped to victory in the elections held after the Emergency was lifted. Having got the portfolios of external affairs and information and broadcasting, apart from other things it opened the gates of bureaucracy, media and education for the RSS swayamsevaks in a big way and RSS presence in the structures of power started becoming more dominant from then on. 

Later some constituents of Janata party asked the Jan Sangh component to sever its ties from the RSS, the one which stands for Hindu Rashtra, for principles which are totally antithetical to the ones of democracy, to social and gender justice and affirmative action for weaker sections of society. The Vajpayee-Advani & Co. were very clear on the issue that Jananta Party and its likes can only be a vehicle to convert the Indian nation into a Hindu nation so it does not mean much in the long term. They broke the Janata Party, kept the RSS loyalties in place and came out to form BJP. 

Deception is the credo of those who have hidden agendas and BJP is no exception. It neither believed in Gandhian thought nor in Socialism but for electoral exigency it did project these as its goals. It did not take them long to show their true colours. Its associates, VHP and others had started consolidating a section of Hindus around various yatras. Post-Meenakshipuram incident, in which some dalits converted to Islam as a protest against their oppression by caste Hindus, 'Hinduism in danger' became the battle cry spearheaded by the VHP. Around this time the Shah Bano case, its handling by the Congress leadership gave a big handle to BJP, something which it was waiting for desperately after its electoral debacle in 1984. It manufactured a ‘discovery’ that there was a Ram temple at the place where the Babri Masjid is located. And this transformed the BJP from an insignificant force, sitting on the margins, to the contender for parliamentary power.

Having dumped Gandhian socialism it recruited Lord Ram, Ram Temple, to build the party. The process of its mobilization of Hindus and consolidation of a section into its supporters got a big boost after the Mandal Commission was brought in. The section of society totally opposed to reservations and social justice thronged the yatras and other campaigns of BJP and its affiliates in a big way. Demolition of Babri, post-Babri violence, burning of Pastor Stains, Godhra train tragedy's encashment into Gujarat riots were the steps which went a long way to strengthen BJP electorally and made its base in a section of elite, affluent, upper caste Hindus. Through the mechanism of social engineering it was also able to rope in a section of dalits and adivasis as not only its supporters but also as its foot soldiers. 

Its electoral ascendance in due course led to its grabbing power at the centre, first for 13 days. At that time the likes of Fernandes, Sharad Yadavs and Chandrababus could not dare to support such an out-and-out communal outfit. In due course, their own power lust led them to support BJP, making it possible for it to come to power as “National Democratic Alliance”. Its coming to power showed in a tragic way as to how the democratic space is totally usurped by opportunist and potentially right wing formations. Through NDA, the total implementation of RSS agenda went on at great speed, the core of these being the attempt to tamper with the Constitution and to communalize the education system, the introduction of astrology, rituals as courses in universities, communalization of society and spending of huge funds on RSS-affiliated organizations, which in turn helped the RSS paraphernalia to consolidate itself.

The Godhra incident getting turned into an opportunity to unleash an anti-minority pogrom was possible for a number of reasons. The first one being the RSS affiliates' strong presence in the political and civil society of Gujarat, the second was the persona of Narendra Modi whose shrewdness peaked the sky during and after the carnage conducted by his state machinery. The third factor was the umbrella provided by the central functionaries, prime minister and home minister. Calculating that the post-carnage polarization will help BJP return to power it called for general elections six months ahead of time and a media blitkriz was launched to project its 'achievements', "Shining India" and all that. Its voting percentage declined and the number of seats were reduced in the elections. 

Where does it go from here? Is BJP no longer a threat to Indian democracy? Democracy is a living phenomenon and any lapse on the part of citizens, the lack of monitoring and counter pressures to power does reduce the extent of democracy. Hitler and those who are committed to ideologies, which are essentially against the democratic values are a different cup of tea. Those ideologically committed to authoritarian system and those using authoritarian system in an opportunistic ways are not the same. BJP belongs to the former category as it is the political child of RSS, for whom Rashtra, nation, means Hindus. Despite sophisticated presentations of the same it will remain the same, a dictatorial system opposed to democracy, to liberal democratic values of liberty, equality and fraternity. Its goal is to use the democratic space to bring in an authoritarian Hindu Nation a la Taliban in Afghanistan. 

The threat of BJP and through it the agenda of RSS has not receded. Its electoral defeat is not total and it still is acting as a major force in Indian politics. It remains to be seen as to how the progressive parties and section of Indian people see through the danger of BJP power, its core programme of abolishing democracy, and reject it as the alternative pole. 

The future of BJP hangs in balance today. On one hand it has facilitated the infiltration of swayamsevaks into the positions of importance in army, bureaucracy, media and other wings of the state machinery, on the other it has given an important space to its affiliates to root themselves in core areas of Indian civil society, like Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram and the chain of schools floated far and wide. In Gujarat what prevails is close to "Hindu Rashtra in one state." Similar experiment is being tried in MP and Rajasthan. In many other states, like Kerala and Orissa, the RSS is digging its heels in a stronger way. 

The other side of the report card is that by now the BJP stands totally discredited amongst a great section of Indian people, due to its policies and its blatant communalism. The counter to this has come at political level in the form of it being looked at with suspicion and its former allies rethinking the worth of their association with BJP. At another and less visible level, civil society groups are realizing, with increasing intensity, the threat of BJP, of communal politics and have intensified the campaigns to oppose the politics of hate propounded by it. At the ground level, spreading of awareness about the values of Indian freedom struggle, Indian constitution and these being opposed to BJP politics, is picking up. The efforts are on for de-communalization at ideological level, intensifying democratic cultural expressions and the like. The effort to strengthen the broader democratic ethos in the society is also picking up to a great extent. And all this will be a counter to the politics of BJP. Which way the tide will turn will depend greatly on the consistency of all these efforts over a period of time.
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