What does the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stand for? Is it patriotism, nationalism with a saffron hue, and economic welfare of all? This will have to be made clearer. Others, allies and opponents both, are falling by the wayside. Political space is being ceded. And not by just those of the Lohiaite or socialist persuasion.
The challenges have begun to come from BJP allies themselves. One in particular that even professes Hindutva moorings. However, when the ideological position of the ruling dispensation, including its integrity, is challenged, a change must come.
An ‘ally’ may now be in apparent cahoots with their so-called political rivals. It is time to speed things up. Is this just brinkmanship? Can the pre-poll alliance towards the formation of the government in Maharashtra be stabilised by influential quarters from Nagpur? But how much of the situation has been provoked by ideological drift, both in the BJP and the Shiv Sena, and how much is just a political battle for survival on the part of the latter?
Howsoever the immediate situation pans out, in future, it needs to be remembered that an assertive Hindu nationalist BJP provides proof of commitment and maintains its credibility. Being all things to all people is a political position that has long belonged to the Congress.
The Congress has portrayed itself as liberal and inclusive. However, reality has unravelled over time. It is actually tightly dynastic and partisan. It bases its political power, what remains, on the 170 million or more Indian Muslims including a soft attitude towards separatists and terrorists rather than the Indian armed forces in the Kashmir Valley, and even a sympathetic, collusive view on Pakistan and China.
In addition, there are the numerically poor but vociferous and educated liberal-leftists of all hues and creeds fanning the flames. There is, in common with almost all of the political landscape, the rank opportunism of the political draw that makes for instability and very strange bedfellows. And then, there are the other minorities, including the small but influential number of Christians, particularly in a Western context.
This manipulation of people on the margins, against majority interests, over several decades since independence, has angered the vast Hindu nation. This includes the OBC and Dalit masses, even though some of these sections enjoy reservations and other affirmative action benefits. Together with the upper castes, Hindus comprise, even today, nearly 80% of the populace.
The Congress-led partisanship has lost it, the UPA, and even its other allies in the erstwhile loose mahagathbandhan, many votes. That, and its massive corruption. In 2019, it is seen that the Congress also suffers from a vacuum caused by the lack of charismatic, articulate, intelligent leadership beyond its ageing seniors.
The public may have largely lost patience with Congress and its friends including the Communists, but a revival in its political fortunes might be forming. This is largely in reaction to the absence of a clear cut ideological position in the BJP.
However, the reforming of the status of Jammu and Kashmir in Modi 2.0, and the imminent decision, probably favourable, on the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya have taken care of two long pending issues. But to go the whole hog, the Uniform Civil Code is a must, as is the nation-wide implementation of the NRC and a concerted move towards a Hindu Rashtra to replace the false secularism we have known so far.
Prime Minister Modi did start his consecutive second term in 2019 with an enlarged mandate. But strangely, in the very first flush, he floated an extension to his winning slogan of 2014-namely ‘sabka vishwas’ (the trust of all). This took many of his supporters by surprise but wasn’t believed by his detractors either. Was it, in fact, a political experiment?
It was interpreted to primarily mean an inclusion of the Muslims, in particular, into the BJP’s vision of ‘vikas’ (development). Did it intend to introduce special measures to exclusively help Muslims, just like the Congress? Was it an attempt to reboot the BJP image by edging from the right towards the middle? But why? Why, for that matter, did Modi 2.0 expend so much political energy on passing the strictures of triple talaq into law? Does the BJP expect to garner much of the female Muslim vote? Is this a realistic aspiration beyond a weak 10 to 15% of Muslim women? Is the effort put into triple talaq, by casting it in terms of women’s empowerment, commensurate with the political returns?
Try as it might, the opponents of the BJP, including most Muslim leaders, never tire of depicting it as divisive. Echoes of this position come from parts overseas, not only from Pakistan but from left-leaning journalists, intellectuals and academics in the West. But can this leopard ever change its spots irrespective of the inducements? Could there not have been time saved and better yields from promoting Hindutva and right-wing economics for the faithful?
The present leadership of the BJP is honour-bound to promote the core agenda of the RSS, which has long supported and inspired BJP. And straying far from this path makes it look very much like the Congress. Moving away from its core beliefs also confuses its solid mass of voters.
The Modi-Shah led BJP would have the public view the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A and the formation of two Union Territories where Jammu and Kashmir State once stood in purely nationalist terms.
But many amongst the lib-left and the minorities see it as a curtailment of Muslim freedom, and human rights violations. All this is projected as a political battering ram against the BJP. There is no acceptance on its part of the BJP line that it is a visionary move to foster the better development of the region. A reform designed to take the region away from the scourge of Pakistan sponsored terrorism. But what about promoting a demographic shift in the Kashmir Valley as the Chinese have effected into Tibet?
BJP wants the nation as a whole and the international community to see the changes in Kashmir as the setting right of a historical mistake. But, to make it stick it has to push onwards. Minorities need to be protected but the majority must assert itself.
The behaviour of the Shiv Sena in the formation of the new government in Maharashtra is a harbinger of things to come. More NDA allies are likely to worry about being thrust into oblivion, via the submergence of their own distinct identity. This, more so, because their bases are in one or the other state of the union, rather than a national presence.
Shiv Sena was born and bred in Maharashtra. And even though it laid claim to the mantle of national Hindutva, this started slipping away to the BJP right from the start. Even as it was indeed the Shiv Sainiks who brought the domes of the Babri Masjid down in 1992.
And today, days before the decision by the Supreme Court to allow a new temple to come up in its place, the Shiv Sena itself is apparently about to self-immolate. If it bows its knee to BJP for the sake of government formation, it will be steadily marginalised for its extreme disloyalty. And for having used up most of its political capital.
If it forms the government with its ideological enemies, the NCP and the Congress, it will definitely be short-lived.
Others in the NDA, most notably the Akali Dal, currently out of power in Punjab, with grave alleged charges of corruption against it, could in time, also become history. This, not just because of its loss of power to the Congress, led by the popular Captain Amarinder Singh of the Patiala royal family, but because they stand rejected by the Punjabis and Sikhs.
But even as regional parties in the NDA alliance discredit and marginalise themselves, the resurgent RSS backed BJP has to fulfil its own promises. It must shake off other ideas and prepare to go it alone to fulfil the aspirations of its voters.