April 18, 2002


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Kuldip Nayar

BJP's castles in the air

In the history of every political party, there comes a moment which it believes is momentous. More often, it is not. But the action it takes under that misconception often results in the withering of the party. I am afraid the BJP is misreading the present situation in the country. This also happened when the Bharatiya Jana Sangh walked out of the Janata Party in 1979.

As the Jana Sangh, which merged with the Janata Party in the wake of the Emergency in 1977, it never reached the two-digit mark in the Lok Sabha. When it was in the Janata Party, it won 80 seats. The success was because of the Jayaprakash Narayan movement and Mrs Indira Gandhi's excesses.

Even when the BJP left the Janata, its aura of credibility, which JP had bestowed on them by making them part of the secular combination, lingered for a time. That helped the BJP confuse the Hindus. The liberals had shunned it and its fountainhead, the RSS, after Mahatma Gandhi's assassination. The disgust and suspicion against it lasted almost four decades.

The Hindu card that the BJP played in 1990 paid dividends, primarily because of V P Singh's acceptance of the Mandal Commission's recommendations, which made the upper strata of Hindus feel insecure. Some Hindus at that time accepted the BJP because reservations for the backward classes, in addition to those for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, hit the middle class the most.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee also said at that time that had there been no Mandal, there would not have been kamandal [the tumbler of sadhus]. What he meant was that if the Janata Dal government led by V P Singh had not tried to implement the Mandal Commission report, there would have been no Ram Mandir movement.

The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute was a shot in the arm of the BJP. L K Advani really believed that the entire northern India lay at his feet. His rathyatra created a wedge between Hindus and Muslims. Never had communal riots taken place on such a wide scale since Partition as they did during Advani's yatra.

Where he went wrong was that he mistook the simulated Hindu feelings as the real ones. The BJP came to grief when, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, its graph of support dipped abruptly. The party was defeated in state elections in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh and just managed to scrape through in Rajasthan.

The BJP also saw that no political party was willing to join hands with it until it kept apart its 'Hindu' agenda: the construction of a temple on the Babri Masjid site and the abolition of Article 370 which gave special status to Jammu & Kashmir. So the party put these two issues on the back burner and formed the government at the Centre. But after having stayed in power at the Centre for nearly four years, it has begun feeling as if it is the BJP's pro-Hindutva policy that has brought it dividends.

In reality, it was the fear of the Congress coming to power at the Centre that made some of the once-upon-a-time-secular parties join hands with the BJP. Because they felt that a Congress government at the Centre would make the party stronger in the states and enable it to capture power. The Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh also put its weight behind the BJP for the same reason. The predicament of the TDP is that it cannot afford to break away from the BJP-led combination at the Centre because then the Congress will stage a comeback in the state.

I do not know how the BJP can construe the TDP's negative support as something in its favour or, for that matter, in favour of Hindutva. The reason why the TDP has decided not to accept the post of speaker, which has been lying vacant after the death of G M C Balayogi, is this: It has already registered its protest over the Gujarat happenings under the BJP-led government at the Centre. It is difficult for the party to accept the speakership after that.

The polarisation of Indian society after Gujarat is a figment of the BJP's imagination. Even though Gujarat has been polarised by the BJP, Narendra Modi will not be returned in the next election. People are too conscious of the economic problems. In the 546-member Lok Sabha, Gujarat has only a handful of seats. Even if all of them go to the BJP, it does not help the party. The killings and atrocities in Gujarat have spread such a wave of revulsion and disgust in the country that the party will face a straight defeat. See what the electorate did in the Delhi election after the Gujarat happenings. The party was pulverised.

There is an attempt at polarisation in the sense that the RSS Parivar is trying to destroy the pluralistic character of the country. It is not the consolidation of Hindu votes, but of those few who want the fundamentalists to establish a theocratic state.

The South, which I toured recently, would rather be another country if the future face of India is Gujarat, where even Mahatma Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram is not a safe place to hold a peace meeting and where peacemakers face the threat of death. Famous danseuse Mallika Sarabhai took refuge in another house after her house was stoned because she was doing some relief work in Muslim refugee camps.

The BJP will rue the day when it made Narendra Modi, an RSS pracharak, the state chief minister. Gujarat has aroused all forces that want the country to stay pluralistic and democratic. They are marshalling themselves in different ways.

I am surprised by the absence of action against religious terrorism. Members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal are no different from the Taliban. The world woke up to their obscurantism and violence after their attacks in the US. India is waking up to their barbarism after their massacres in Gujarat. The Taliban disfigured Islam; the RSS Parivar is disfiguring Hinduism.

Gujarat may well be a laboratory for the Parivar. It is also a laboratory for others. They can draw the lesson that by effecting killings in the minority community, the BJP will only lessen its strength or sway. Fanatics who control the RSS should realise that democracy does not go well with theocracy.

India needs economic development that could give two meals to lakhs of people who go hungry every night. As Maulana Abul Kalam Azad said long before Independence, "The most vital and urgent of India's problems is how to remove the curse of poverty and raise the standards of the masses. It is to the well being and progress of these masses that the national struggle has directed its special attention and its constructive activities. And it will be judged by the well being and advancement that people make. Anything that comes in the way of the good of the masses of our country must be removed."

The Hindutva representatives -- the VHP and the Bajrang Dal -- are destroying the lofty aims of the independence struggle. Not only that, they are demolishing the country's ethos of pluralism.

The Ayodhya Dispute: The complete coverage

The Sabarmati in Flames: The complete coverage

Kuldip Nayar

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