By Amulya Ganguli
With the executive, legislature and judiciary more or less on the same page, the BJP can be said to be on a dream run. But the oddity is that it isn’t. The reason is that democracy allows hoi polloi to follow a line of thinking which may not tally with the views of the powers-that-be. Hence, the BJP’s setbacks in Maharashtra and Haryana.
The party appears to have made a mistake by interpreting its massive success in the parliamentary polls as a carte blanche for pursuing the key items on its Hindutva agenda which had been shelved by one of its tallest leaders, Atal Behari Vajpayee, in 1996.
The revocation of Article 370 was one of these items, but the BJP has flunked the first test of its August 5 decision to dispense with Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. If the people had been impressed by its “bold” decision to put an end to Kashmir’s privileged position, the BJP would have fared much better in Maharashtra and Haryana.
The next test will be in Jharkhand. The outcome of the assembly election there will show whether the item which was first on Vajpayee’s list of banned subjects – the Ram temple – will enable the party to win in the wake of the judicial permission to build the temple on the site of a demolished mosque. If it doesn’t, the BJP will realize that the judicial emphasis on “faith and belief” hasn’t swayed the electorate.
Considering that the verdict on the temple was not received with as much elation as might have been expected since the issue has been the guiding force behind the BJP’s rise from the margins of politics in the 1990s, it can seem that the temple no longer arouses the kind of passion which it earlier did.
Perhaps the BJP sensed its diminishing electoral utility, which is why it moved on to other emotive subjects to shore up its position like hyper-nationalism, the identification of illegal Muslim immigrants – “termites” in Union home minister Amit Shah’s view – via a national register of citizens, a citizenship bill, a “crackpot idea”, as a US lawmaker has said, which debars Muslims (such as the persecuted Shias and Ahmediyas in Pakistan or writers like Salman Rushdie) from the possibility of asylum in India, and so on.
The signs of the BJP stumbling when it should have been racing ahead means that Vajpayee will have the last laugh. The “right man in the wrong party”, as he was called, realized how difficult it was to fit the square peg of Hindutva into the round hole of Indian secularism.
Before he had put the three items of the temple, Article 370 and uniform civil code on the back burner, he was unable to form a government. But, subsequently, he presided over a 24-member coalition, which included Farooq Abdullah, now in detention.
Kashmir is the other aspect of secular, constitutional governance which is behind the BJP’s dithering over restoring normalcy in the valley. The government appears clueless as to how long to continue with the clampdown – the shutting down of the internet and incarceration of political leaders – although it knows that criticism of these “unsustainable” acts, as German chancellor Angela Merkel has said, will mount with each passing day.
To recover lost ground, the BJP tried the laughable ploy of taking a group of ultra-right-wing European politicians on an all-expenses paid junket to Kashmir. But although they obliged their hosts by saying that terrorism (rather than the suppression of human rights) is the main problem, one of them expressed surprise that they had been allowed to visit Kashmir but not Indian M.P.s.
The BJP’s choice of the Europeans carried its own tale as they were all Islamophobes and had fascistic inclinations. Those who weren’t or wanted to meet people on their own were kept out. But even as the BJP is wooing its soul mates on the far right, it is being regularly lambasted by the liberal Western media.
The party has also been taken to task by more than 200 writers, including Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Orhan Pamuk and Amitav Ghosh, for depriving the British-Indian author, Aatish Taseer, of the Overseas Citizen of India card, presumably for writing a critical piece on Modi, calling him “divider-in-chief” in Time magazine.
Internationally, therefore, the BJP is in trouble while its two recent electoral setbacks at home cannot but be a cause for worry. To make matters worse, the economy is going downhill all the time. The party’s only advantage is that the opposition remains incapable of offering the BJP a serious challenge at the national level because the two doughty politicians who are leading the charge at the moment – Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar – cannot be regarded as leaders of the future. (IPA Service)