Across opposite ends of the political spectrum, there were two statements from two Members of Parliament with which I could not have agreed more.
Gurudas Dasgupta of the CPI(M) described the Congress and the BJP as “made for each other” in the context of how one had stalled the Parliament session last week and the other had done nothing to resolve the issue on which they had been battling. But even more apt was Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut’s description of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as “pseudo secular”. Now that is a word coined by the BJP for people like us but here Raut clearly meant that Modi was trying to be what he is not – and failing grandly in his purpose.
Writing in the Saamna, the Shiv Sena mouthpiece, Raut, who is also the paper’s editor, said the BJP lost in Karnataka essentially because the party projected Modi as “secular” and played down his Hindutva leanings. The people did not care for his so-called secularism and development agenda. “They saw no difference between the Congress and the BJP.’’
I guess both have hit the nail bang on its head. It is clear that Communist parties believe both the Congress and the BJP are ‘match fixing’ for their own ends and it does seem that they are working in tandem. But the Shiv Sena now is being very bold and courageous given that it is the latter’s oldest ally and there are really no differences between them in terms of ideology.
Raut is not wrong in expressing the party’s concerns. Bal Thackeray, its late leader, had always been on sure ground on this score, winning an election on the basis of religion (Dr Ramesh Prabhoo in 1987) even before the BJP found its feet on the temple issue. He was even disenfranchised by the courts and the election commission for communalising those polls but that certainly did not stop him in his tracks – the party only gained in fortunes and even came to power in Maharashtra after the 1992-93 riots on a polarised vote. Strangely, at the time even Muslims had voted for the Shiv Sena, preferring an honest enemy to a traitorous friend (Congress).
Why the Shiv Sena now seems to be upset with the BJP is that it gets no minority vote by its association with Narendra Modi who has still not been forgiven by that community and is afraid of disappointing its core voters in the process. Raut is not wrong when he says Modi’s USP is not development but Hindutva and not staying the course cuts the saffron parties off from both sides. People in Gujarat vote for Modi for that reason alone but Hindutva now has become a cross that the BJP must bear – it can neither chew it down or swallow it whole nor can they spit it – or Modi – out.
The Sena knows well enough that what works for Gujarat does not for the rest of India, including Maharashtra. Gujarati Hindus – whether of the Congress or the BJP variety – traditionally carry a historical baggage vis-à-vis Muslims and Modi only tapped into an existing sentiment when he became chief minister. To become prime minister he needs the opposite but other parts of the nation do not seem to be buying into that projection as yet. Then, again, as vigorously as Modi pursues his secular agenda, it disappoints a lot of Hindutvists – among them the Shiv Sena whose more unabashed style has always yielded it rich dividends.
It is not as though Thackeray never made flip-flops over the minorities. When he found Muslims had voted for his party in 1995, he called for a secular monument in Ayodhya instead of the temple and when the Muslim vote returned to the Congress in 1999 he demanded the disenfranchisement of minorities to prevent them from influencing elections. But he was more honest about his intentions because he knew his limitations and had no larger ambition to become prime minster of India or even chief minister of Maharshtra.
As the complete rout of the BJP in Karnataka even in the “safe” constituencies where Modi campaigned vigorously shows, Raut is right about secularism not paying off for Modi or the BJP.
But then, as Modi is discovering, Hindutva has a limited appeal and he really cannot do much with that either. Given the leadership tangle in the BJP, what choice does the Shiv Sena then have except to set its own agenda and strike its own course for the future?.
The warning bells ring loud and clear.