Kanchan Gupta / Analysis
The responses to my last post have been extremely useful; they have helped clear doubts in my mind. Scintillating debate, even when it gets sharp, is always welcome.
The rise of the BJP between 1989 and 1998 was directly linked to assertive Hindu expectations articulated by an assertive Hindu leadership. These can be briefly summed up as:
. Political: Hindus had begun to tire of Congress's 'pseudo-secularism'; deep within them, Indians nurse a concept of nationhood whose defining contours are Hindu. When I say Hindu, it is not religion specific but culture and civilisation specific. The Ram Janmabhoomi agitation found a resonance across the country because it became a symbol of both bruised Hindu pride and an opportunity to correct a historical wrong. We could debate the merits of such perceived hurt and grievance, but that is not really relevant; what is relevant is that people saw it that way.
. Social: VP Singh's divisive Mandal politics had left middle India aghast and angry. Since anti-Congress feelings were still high, people turned to the BJP for succour. 'Hindutva' was seen as a unifying force.
. Economic: With the world moving towards market economy, middle India was seeking liberation from the statist economic control-and-command structure that had stifled enterprise and restricted growth as well as wealth generation for more than four decades. On this front, too, the BJP offered an alternative economic policy and programme, based on deregulation and reform.
These coalesced into a burst of support for the BJP, taking it to power in 1998. What also helped was the spectre of political instability and Congress's inability to get its act together during the intervening years between the 1996 and 1998 general elections.
This tectonic shift in voter preference towards the BJP would not have been possible without the party's tactical adoption of 'Hindutva' as a component of its ideology (or, as the BJP calls it, 'political philosophy') along with 'Integral Humanism', which the party says "gives us a broader and modern perspective and tries to unshackle our minds from parochial concerns and past baggage".
Deendayal Upadhyaya's enunciation on this aspect was explicit:
“We have to discard the status quo mentality and usher in a new era. Indeed our efforts at reconstruction need not be clouded by prejudice or disregard for all that is inherited from our past. On the other hand, there is no need to cling to past institutions and traditions which have outlived their utility."
For the BJP, "A nation state based on Integral Humanism is a secular, non-theocratic state. Also, it repudiates statism and stands up for decentralisation to uphold the twin pillars of individual freedom and national interest."
To this was added 'Hindutva' in the late-1980s, strengthening the Hindu ethos of the party, making it more credible as a representative of Hindu aspirations, and setting it apart from the 'secular' centrist and left-of-centre political parties, especially the Congress.
Criticism of 'Hindutva' as a 'communal' idea was blunted by the Supreme Court's Constitution Bench judgement which, essentially, said that 'Hindutva' was/is India's 'way of life' and rooted in its civilisational and cultural history.
The Constitution Bench said,
"No precise meaning can be ascribed to the terms 'Hindu', 'Hindutva' and 'Hinduism'; and no meaning in the abstract can confine it to the narrow limits of religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage. It is difficult to appreciate how in the face of these decisions, the term 'Hindutva' or 'Hinduism' per se, in the abstract, can be assumed to mean and be equated with narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry..."
The BJP's own articulation of 'Hindutva' is both pithy and sharp:
"Hindutva or Cultural Nationalism presents the BJP's concept of Indian nationhood. It must be noted that Hindutva is a nationalist, and not a religious or theocratic, concept."
Yet, as has been evident during this summer's general election, events and incidents have controverted this 'concept of Indian nationhood', and driven voters away from the BJP, especially in urban India and among the middle classes.
'Hindutva', as enunciated by the BJP, now carries less credibility as a unifying force. On the contrary, it is seen as Hindu bigotry, fanaticism, extremism and 'anti-modernism', and anti-social reform. The instinctive liberal impulse of upwardly mobile Hindus in towns and cities rejects this perception of 'Hindtuva'. We could argue that the perception is flawed and not grounded in reality, but as we all know, perception matters more than reality, especially in politics.
The following have undoubtedly contributed towards the creation of this perception:
. The anti-Christian violence in Orissa and Karnataka;
. The unrestrained utterances of Hindu organisations like the Bajrang Dal and the VHP, among many others.
. The moral policing of dubious outfits like Sri Ram Sene which promote lumpen power.
. The harsh talk of neophytes like Varun Gandhi.
. The inability of the BJP to respond in a cogent and coherent manner when under attack from the 'secular' camp.
. The failure to strategise how to achieve political objectives and adopt tactics accordingly.
. The BJP's proclivity to fudge issues rather than confront them.
. The confusion that has replaced clarity within the party about 'Hindutva', with diverse opinions diluting its essence and disfiguring the concept.
. The absence of any strucured consultative process between the BJP and the various units of the 'Sangh Parivar'.
. The subversion of organisational interests to promote individual interests.
It could well be asked that if Hindus want grievances related to their faith, for instance the threat to Hinduism and Hindu society posed by missionaries of the Christian church, whom should they turn to if not the BJP? And, should the BJP shy away from speaking up for Hindu society?
This is no doubt a tricky question. If the BJP is indifferent to Hindu angst and anger, it will be seen by Hindus as being no different from the 'secular' political class. But if it actively involves itself in the redressal process, it will rile liberal Hindu sensitivities.
Nor can the BJP just disown fraternal organisations like the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. Those who prescribe this course forget that at the grassroots level, there is tremendous interlinking between the supporters of the various Sangh organisations.
Which brings us to three related questions:
Does a possible solution lie in repudiating 'Hindutva' and retaining 'Integral Humanism' as the core ideological belief of the party, as is being suggested by some?
Or, should the BJP reframe the concept of 'Hindutva' and make it more meaningful for our times without 'secularising' the party?
Or, should the BJP revisit both 'Integral Humanism' [conceptualised in a particular social, political and economic context that does not obtain any more] and 'Hindutva' [similarly formulated in a particular social/political situation that no longer exists], cull out the most redeeming features of both, and draft a new charter to guide the party in the next decade?
I personally feel the time has come to opt for the third course of action. [My Sunday column in the Pioneer.] If adopted, it will ensure greater clarity, help purge the party of its gathered malcontents and give it a 'new look' with which 'new India' can connect.
The BJP would be reduced to nothing without an ideology of its own that is uniquely different from what is espoused by others. But ideology must lie at the core of a grand political strategy, which is different from what the Americans refer to as 'the vision thing' and of which some in the BJP (the courtiers) are enamoured because it promotes individuals over organisation.
Can the BJP come up with a grand political strategy in the next five years, more precisely, by 2014?
The answer to this question is linked to the issue of ideology. One without the other is meaningless, if not impossible.
What do you think?