BJP in a quandary with temple
and terror cards
By Amulya Ganguli
Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) cosy world of emotion-driven
politics has been turned upside down by the Mumbai tragedy.
the late 1980s, the BJP has used ultra-nationalist postures
to garner votes. These ranged from the movement to "liberate"
the mythical birthplace of Lord Ram in Ayodhya to the pillorying
of the Congress for being soft on terror.
Ramjanmabhoomi agitation led to the demolition of the Babri
mosque in Ayodhya and catapulted the BJP to power in the mid-1990s.
After that, when the party failed to build a temple at the
site of the demolished mosque, it turned to playing the terror
card, accusing the Congress of not being serious against terrorist
attacks so as not to alienate its Muslim supporters.
results of the latest round of elections, however, have shown
that this argument is losing its electoral potency.
to say, the party is in a quandary with just about six months
to go before the next general election. Not only has it lost
what it considered a surefire ploy to garner votes with its
xenophobic propaganda, some are wondering whether it has lost
touch with the younger generation as well.
misgivings have been caused by the BJP's defeat in the Delhi
elections, where it had projected the 77-year-old Vijay Kumar
Malhotra as its chief ministerial candidate.
the Congress' Sheila Dikshit is also a septuagenarian, she
gives the impression of having a modern outlook, apparently
because of her polished English, ready smile and brisk, businesslike
ways. In contrast, the dour Malhotra was a typical representative
of the BJP's original base of support in the city comprising
the conservative-minded Hindu traders and refugees from Pakistan.
the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, L.K. Advani, is an
octogenarian, the BJP must be now wondering whether he will
appear to the younger set as the right man to lead the party
in the second decade of the 21st century. Half of India's
population is below 25 years.
doubts may also be fuelled by the increasingly active role
37-year-old Rahul Gandhi is playing in Congress politics,
blaming the hierarchical structure of security agencies for
their failure to prevent the Mumbai carnage. His criticism
of the excessive focus on safety measures for VIPs also suggested
that he is echoing the feelings of a large section of upper
and middle class Indians.
government's appointment of the energetic P. Chidambaram as
the new home minister will reinforce the belief that the Congress
is finally ready to face the present-day challenges. His observation
that the terrorist attack was on the "idea of India"
underlined the party's championing of the country's multicultural
contrast, the BJP may well be seen as a prisoner of the past.
Not only is it still being seen as a pro-Hindu party, the
attacks on Christians in Orissa, where it is in power, showed
that it had little control over the rabid elements in the
party and in its fraternal allies like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad
(VHP) and the Bajrang Dal.
the BJP won in the two states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
But these victories were based on the non-controversial and
pro-development images of their chief ministers, Shivraj Singh
Chouhan and Raman Singh. That the two leaders eschewed the
Hindutva-oriented approach of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
(RSS), the BJP's mentor in the saffron brotherhood, showed
they have understood that such appeals to atavistic sentiments
are no longer effective.
defeat of the former Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Uma Bharati,
known for her fiery pro-Hindu rhetoric, also demonstrated
that the voters were turning away from crude sectarianism.
BJP will be in further trouble if the combined pressure exerted
by India and the US compels Pakistan to act against some of
the "non-state" actors in the country, who are being
held responsible for the attack on Mumbai and also other acts
of terrorism. It is obvious that the threats of "unintended
consequences", which America has held out to Pakistan
if it fails to act, is a result of the closeness of India-US
ties in the wake of the nuclear deal. Yet, it is a measure
which the BJP had opposed - an unwise decision which may backfire
on it with even greater force now.
BJP's problem is that if it dumps Hindutva and switches to
a development-oriented approach, it will earn the wrath of
the RSS and the VHP for opportunistically abandoning the Hindu
agenda. And if it does not lay too much emphasis on terror,
the party will be accused of being as "pseudo-secular"
as the Congress. This phrase, coined by Advani during the
temple agitation, will come back to haunt him.
that's not all. The apparent uselessness of its two emotive
planks - temple and terrorism - will mean that the BJP will
have to reinvent itself in view of the failure of the political
ploys which guided it for the last two decades.
BJP had discarded its credo of Gandhian socialism in favour
of the temple agenda in the early 1990s. Now, it has to look
for a new slogan.
Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)