By AMULYA GANGULI*
Even as an ailing Atal Bihari Vajpayee sits incommunicado in his lonely bungalow in New Delhi, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has decided to dump his agenda which was meant to neutralize the hardliners.
His plan, outlined in 1996, was to put in cold storage the three key points on the party’s pro-Hindu programme – building the Ram temple in Ayodhya, scrapping Article 370 of the constitution conferring special status on Kashmir and introducing a uniform civil code to do away with the plethora of laws pertaining to the various communities on marriage, inheritance, etc.
In the aftermath of this shelving, which highlighted Vajpayee’s sobriety and moderation, he was able to constitute a 24-party coalition – the biggest in Indian politics – and form a government which lasted for its full term. It might have continued to be in office but for the Gujarat riots of 2002, which Vajpayee held responsible for his government’s defeat in 2004.
Among the parties which were a part of the coalition was the National Conference of Kashmir, showing that a major Muslim-dominated party of the state had no hesitation in putting its faith in Vajpayee, the widely acknowledged and perhaps the BJP’s only moderate.
Now, however, with the temple, Article 370 and the uniform civil code back in the party’s manifesto, the BJP has evidently decided to put an end to Vajpayee’s experiment with the politics of pluralism.
Few will be surprised by the restoration of these items which have guided the party since the time of L.K. Advani’s riot-prone rath yatra of 1990 to “liberate” the legendary birthplace of Lord Ram from the hands of Muslims, leading to the demolition of the Babri masjid in 1992.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the paterfamilias of the saffron brotherhood, has never been happy with Vajpayee’s deviation from the Hindutva agenda. It is not impossible that the RSS has played a key role in restoring the three items for, apart from these, there is also a reference to the protection of the cow, which is another of the organization’s pet pro-Hindu themes.
For the present, the BJP’s spokespersons have played down the inclusion of the controversial topics in the manifesto. They point to the pledge to solve the temple issue within the constitutional ambit, which is reassuring considering that in the 1990s, the Sangh parivar used to claim that the judiciary has no right to decide on matters of faith.
The other argument is that the thrust of the manifesto is on development, which is in line with Narendra Modi’s thinking. It is possible that the inordinate delay in the release of the document was due to the differences between Modi and the RSS-inspired old guard, which probably has more interest in devotion to Lord Ram than to development.
For the time being, Modi may have been able to push the references to the temple, etc., to the last few pages of the manuscript. But the point is not that they are not items of priority, but that their very mention will enthuse the radical elements in the parivar, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, to vigorously champion their cause.
It may be recalled that not long ago, the VHP threatened to undertake a series of parikrama or processions near the present makeshift temple with the obvious intention of whipping up communal tension. There is little doubt that if there is a friendly government at the centre, the outfit will step up its provocative activities, such as opposing the marriages of Hindu girls with Muslim boys, which it describes as “love jehad”.
That communalism is never far below the surface where the BJP is concerned was evident from the exhortations of Modi’s right-hand man, Amit Shah, to the party’s supporters to vote with the purpose of avenging the compensation given to the Muslim victims of the recent Muzaffarnagar riots.
Similarly, in Rajasthan, Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje warned of a Hindu backlash for the intemperate speeches of a Muslim candidate in Saharanpur, U.P. Anyone associated with the partivar’s functioning will interpret the threat as a call to arms.
It has to be remembered that development as a plank is a new one in the BJP’s political history. Moreover, it is associated only with Modi, who adopted it as a ploy to divert attention from the riots of 2002. Otherwise, the stoking of anti-Muslim sentiments has always been the mainstay among the BJP’s tactics.
It was on this basis that Modi won the elections of 2002 and 2007 in Gujarat, mocking the Muslims with the hum panch, hamare pachis (we – husband and four wives – and our 25 children) slogan, and describing the refugee relief camps as child-producing factories.
Unlike Vajpayee, who put Hindutva on hold before initiating economic reforms, Modi apparently wants to pursue both together with perhaps somewhat greater emphasis at present on growth. But there is little doubt that he is temperamentally far more amenable towards the pro-Hindu programme than Vajpayee.
*Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected]