Twenty years after the Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992, the BJP has moved on. But not quite.
The Ram temple issue no longer has the emotive appeal it once had, and the BJP also seems to have moved away from playing identity politics to adopting inclusive planks such as “development” and “federalism”. However, the temple movement's legacy lives on, and the BJP dare not lose the core Hindutva constituency even as it looks for new allies to rule a diverse, multi-religious India.
This places the party in a dilemma. Is it possible to reach out to new groups and regions while retaining the Hindutva vote at the same time?
In 1992, Indian secularism found a contender in a century-old ideology called Hindutva, which sought to consolidate Hindus. This consolidation was sought against the Muslims, hitting at the heart of the Indian identity.
But its tryst with power and coalition politics made the BJP do a rethink.LK Advani, the architect of the BJP’s temple campaign, controversially praised Pakistan founder MA Jinnah in 2005, a move that annoyed the RSS. Again, Advani urged at the BJP's recent Surajkund conclave that the party re-project its commitment to secularism. "We should, with full conviction, reassure our brethren belonging to the minority communities that we brook no discrimination or injustice," he said.
Academic Ashish Nandy said, “BJP doesn’t think religious mobilisation will take them far. Alliance politics is crucial to them.” The BJP still tacitly takes up Hindutva issues, though articulated in a language of nationalism and constitutionalism. So, the Allahabad high court's Ayodhya verdict becomes a “constitutional” victory.
The BJP also appeals to voters outside the core constituency by claiming that it is a party that supports "development". It also claims "anti-corruption" credentials, invoking memories of the JP movement, of which Jana Sangh was part. This claim has, however, been dented by the charges against Nitin Gadkari.
The Vajpayee era saw inclusion as a mantra - even as the BJP cobbled up a large alliance by putting the Ram temple, common civil code and Article 370 (pertaining to Kashmir's special status) on the backburner. However, the Gujarat riots of 2002, 10 years after the Babri mosque demolition, were seen as a return to Hindutva. This made "secular" allies wary, and Ram Vilas Paswan immediately broke up with the NDA.
The alliance has shrunk over time. Even today, key ally Nitish Kumar is wary of Narendra Modi, who replaced Advani as the Hindutva icon. Modi, however, strangely straddles the party's two self-images: Hindutva as well as "development".