Ruminations: Party on the move

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There is a stark difference between Modi’s BJP and the party launched in 1980

The period between 1952 and 57, which represented the height of the Nehru era, and Narendra Modi’s first term as prime minister, have an uncanny resemblance. Both periods have an all-powerful party that consumes all others big and small. The Socialists and the Communists were among those that fared poorly in elections when Nehru was prime minister even though they had sterling leaders. In its present avatar, the Bharatiya Janata Party has not only made short work of the opposition, especially in the Hindi-speaking states, it has also appropriated heroes and agendas of allies and political opponents alike.

With the Modi government completing three years in office, the important thing is to consider how the party looks now, under Narendra Modi, as compared to 1980 when it was launched, marking the end of the Janata Party dream.

Three issues – society, secularism and economics – could be picked, based on what the BJP at present has been focussed on.

In 1980, the BJP identified nationalism and national integration to be the first of five principles on the basis of which national consensus could be achieved. The statement on commitments released by the BJP at the time, said: “Defence of national interests should thus become the primary concern of every Indian....BJP believes that people of different faiths and different ideologies should be able to coexist in peace and harmony with one another. National consensus will be plausible when the development of one social group leads to the development of other social groups.” Here it added, what now seems to be a familiar line, “Those who have external or extra-territorial loyalties or are engaged in anti-social activities, cannot be by definition expected to contribute to national consensus and therefore will have to be kept out.”

While under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the move towards consensus building was observed in practice – the NDA under him had 23 alliance partners – under Modi, who won a huge mandate in the 2014 elections, the extent of consensus building is visible in his repeated election victories. For the record, the number of NDA partners now match that of the Vajpayee government except that they significantly lack the political heft of Vajpayee’s allies. The commonality between 1980 and 2017 lies in identifying those who stand in the way of national consensus. The 1980 document said such forces included those who had external or extra-territorial loyalties or were engaged in anti-social activities. The document did not name them, but the finger evidently pointed to purported fifth columnists and other enemies within. Their religious identity was perhaps expected to be understood.

Over the three-and-a-half decades since it was formed, the BJP has lost its hesitation in identifying people with “external or extra-territorial loyalties”. This was evident in Muzaffarnagar and Kairana, in repeated utterances of party members and in state election campaigns in Assam. In Bengal, where the state government has financially supported madrassas and other Muslim institutions, the BJP has not been shy of calling chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Mumtaz Bano, openly chaffing at a version of secularism that clashes with its majoritarian politics.

The 1980 document refers to ‘positive secularism’ and berates the Congress version of it as “immoral and opportunistic” in a manner that communalised Indian politics. According to it, secularism did not merely imply an absence of intolerance among religions but a “distillation of common moral values whether derived from different religions or from other historical or civilisational experiences”. Since then, the Congress and even the Left parties have been targeted by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar for ‘minority appeasement’, except that this has been focussed on Muslims and not Christians. It probably had to do with its political ambition at the time, which did not include the North East, and Sonia Gandhi was not a factor in politics. Later, all that and Sangh Parivar foray into tribal areas gave a new angle to the BJP’s version of secularism.

On to economics, the 1980 document said that the “ideology of the BJP would be, broadly speaking, that of Gandhian socialism”. It said in the Gandhian framework there was always “scope for large, medium and small and there need not be any restriction on any technology so long as it does not debase human beings”. According to the document, Gandhian socialism aimed at replacing capitalism and statism by the principles of a cooperative system and trusteeship in all fields of economic activity. “BJP will follow these Gandhian practices to achieve Gandhian objectives,” it said.

The idealism of 1980 and the simplicity of economic organisations at the time had not anticipated the developments over the years. Yet, the deference to Gandhian Socialism must be surprising to those unaware of those early developments. That first document also ignored one other aspect that the BJP routinely employs now to build national consensus – national security and consequent liberal bashing. However, while the BJP has changed dramatically over the years, in some ways it has stayed close to that original statement of purpose. The execution of ideas, though, has become more sophisticated and with at the helm, the hesitancy of a new party is clearly missing.

ananda.majumdar@mydigitalfc.com

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