Is the BJP showing credible signs of change or is the party’s manifesto simply misleading? To be honest, I don’t have the answer. Furthermore, I have to admit many may think it’s naïve, if not unbelievably credulous, to even ask the question. Be that as it may, I want to share with you why I have raised this issue. Even if the facts don’t add up — or if serious doubts remain, as some certainly do — you might find what I’ve discovered intriguing.
Two things struck my attention as I read the BJP manifesto. First, what it says about minorities and Muslims in particular. Second, a small but telling comment on women’s rights.
In 1998, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was its prime ministerial candidate, the BJP committed itself to “one nation, one people, one culture”. But in 2014, with Narendra Modi, a very different man, at the helm, its manifesto says “(The) BJP believes in India being one country, one people, one nation”. But that’s not all: “The party believes in the principle of unity in diversity … the hallmark of India is unity in diversity”.
Have you noticed the stress on culture has disappeared? That this is not accidental or irrelevant is clear when you read what the party says about India’s minorities:
“(The) BJP believes that in India’s unity in diversity lies India’s biggest strength. We cherish the depth and vibrancy that the diversity in Indian society adds to the nation. (The) BJP is thus committed to the preservation of the rich culture and heritage of India’s minority communities.”
Again, notice the language — isn’t it more reminiscent of Jawaharlal Nehru and unlike the Mr Modi we’re used to? I can’t help but answer yes.
The paragraph that follows this suggests another revealing point. “It’s unfortunate that even after several decades of independence, a large section of the minority, and especially the Muslim community, continues to be stymied in poverty”. Are you surprised by that specific acknowledgement? I was. And does it lay the basis for special attention for Muslims, something the BJP has always found an anathema? I think it does.
Now do you see why I asked the question I began with? Does the BJP mean what the manifesto says? If it does, has it changed its view of India’s minorities and the Muslims in particular? Or is it pulling the wool over our eyes?
The manifesto has at least one contradictory and jarring note. Whilst explaining its ‘India first’ policy, it says amongst the policies that are not in India’s interest is “appeasement of one at the cost of the other”. That’s definitely the old language. That’s undoubtedly the earlier abhorrent way of viewing Muslims.
The question is how much does this detract or undermine the new positive sentiments. I really don’t know. I guess we’ll have to wait to find out. The proof, as the dreadful cliché goes, has to be in the eating!
My second surprising find comes from the list of things the BJP will do for “women’s welfare”. Amongst a list of 23, it will remove all gender disparities “in property rights, marital rights and co-habitation rights”. Co-habitation rights? I thought the Sangh Pariwar didn’t believe in co-habitation, leave aside feeling the need to secure women’s rights within such an arrangement!
Sadly, the manifesto is deafeningly silent about Section 377. Was that really one step too far? After all, if you’re going to bite the bullet you shouldn’t worry about chipping your molars!
The views expressed by the author are personal