To be or not to be? This is the BJP's enduring dilemma as regards Hindutva, its founding philosophy. Should it embrace it or turn to a secular, moderate discourse of 'development'?
The saffron party diluted Hindutva to attract allies after 1998, when the NDA came to
Ram temple, uniform civil code and abrogation of article 370 that gives Kashmir special status were three key demands that were placed on the backburner to lead a mammoth NDA under Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
But the party didn't leave Hindutva altogether, to please both committed voters and ideological mentor RSS.
Months back, Nitin Gadkari as party chief addressed a rally at Deoband, a western UP town better known for an influential Islamic seminary.
While he talked development and justice for all, he gave ample space for former Bajrang Dal chief and party leader Vinay Katiyar to voice aggressive Hindutva to appeal to Hindu sentiments.
An unresolved dilemma
There is however one possible way out for the BJP: projecting controversial Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, a figure who combines Hindutva and development.
For him, capitalist development becomes an aspect of Gujarati (Hindu) hard work; the resultant growth "trickles down" to all sections, making religion, and therefore political secularism, irrelevant. With this, pluralism also becomes irrelevant as capitalist success itself means justice for all.
The years 2001 and 2002 are Modi's watershed: the time when Gujarat supposedly overcame the 'challenge' of the riot and the earthquake, a natural calamity, taken together.
The riot, like nature, was thus not man-made, and Gujaratis under him rebuilt themselves after that, defeating all 'natural' impediments to growth.
This weds 'development' to Hindutva, a century-old movement believing that the Hindus had a golden, 'developed' ancient past, and Muslim invasions subjugated and ruined them.
The emphasis on 'Hindu science' as an answer to European scientific superiority was first made by late 19th century organisations like Arya Samaj, which projected 'modern science' back to the Vedas to instill confidence among Hindus.
But Modi is unacceptable to key ally Nitish Kumar, who is looking to make a dent into arch-rival Lalu Prasad's Muslim vote in Bihar.
So the resolution of the dilemma can diminish the NDA and prevent the BJP from returning to power. Potential and even present allies seek Muslim support too, thus talking inclusive, composite Indian culture.
Founded in 1925, the RSS sought to consolidate Hindus through Shakhas (units) and later nurtured its political arm, Jana Sangh, when it felt the need for political clout after being accused of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination post-independence.
The Jana Sangh had a narrow urban, upper caste, north Indian base.
Its first tryst with civil libertarian politics came with the JP movement of the 1970s; it merged with the Janata Party to come to power in 1977, but soon fell out on the dual membership issue (its ministers AB Vajpayee and Advani were also RSS volunteers).
The BJP was founded in 1980, but it rose to prominence a decade later riding the Ram Janmabhumi wave.
A critical mass achieved, power required putting core issues on the backburner. The NDA now expanded under moderate face Vajpayee, creating the existential dilemma between Hindutva and moderation.
LK Advani, once the Hindutva poster boy for his Ram Rath Yatra of 1990, told BJP delegates at the party's Surajkund conclave in September 2012: "We should… reassure our brethren belonging to the minority communities that we brook no discrimination or injustice in dealing with different sections of our diverse society."
The U-turn of the Hindutva icon was not his first. In 2005, Advani had created controversy by praising Pakistan founder Jinnah as "secular".
Praise for Pakistan's founder, who explicitly called for a Muslim homeland in the 1940s was, however, unlikely to meet even secularists' approval.
But Hindutva still resurfaces amid secular pronouncements.
Earlier this week, newly crowned BJP chief Rajnath Singh told HT in an interview: "We are committed to our political thought. In our ideology, there is no scope for hatred."
Earlier that day, he had met the RSS and VHP brass, who wanted the BJP to return to the basics.
Muddling the issue
Dual loyalty apart, the BJP has sometimes tried to resolve the Hindutva/moderation dilemma by couching Hindutva issues like Ram temple, Kashmir and Bangladeshi immigration in legal, national terms, to marry tacit Hindutva with inclusive nationalism.
Thus, BJP celebrated the Allahabad High Court's Ram Janmabhumi verdict dividing the disputed land among Hindu and Muslim litigants as a constitutionalist victory.
On Kashmir, leaders ranging from Advani to Jaitley have repeatedly taken a hard line as a matter of India's territorial integrity. Illegal Bangladeshi immigration too becomes a question of the sanctity of citizenship.
However, all these issues overlap with Hindutva concerns.
Ram temple stands for avenging historical "Muslim injustice" apart from reclaiming Lord Ram's birthplace; Kashmir signifies the threat of a Muslim majority to the nation; and Bangladeshi immigration stands for the threat of the invasive Muslim 'outsider'.
Another way out for the BJP is to sidestep Hindutva altogether and talk just about "UPA corruption", "good governance" in BJP-ruled states and the state of the economy.
This was increasingly done in the last two years when civil society movements attacked the government over corruption.
Finding a balance
Each key leader balances hard line positions and moderation in unique ways. Arun Jaitley is seen as more of a liberal.
He takes a strong line on national security, however. Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari have walked a tightrope, hawkish on national issues that are not 'communal', but otherwise sticking to 'development'.
Development, too, gets articulated differently. Gadkari, prone to using managerial language in politics, confuses Antyodaya, a bottom-up approach urging the welfare of the last man, with capitalism, the idea of trickle down of economic growth to the poor.
He, ironically, praised his own 'social entrepreneurship' - the Purti group's employment generation and production of sugar and ethanol, which could be blended with petrol to reduce reliance on imported petroleum products - till charges of business irregularities unseated him as BJP chief.
Rajnath Singh, while being close to the RSS and an upholder of Hindutva, often talks development including farmers' welfare.
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