Earlier this year when LK Advani released his memoirs, My Country My Life, his contribution to public life was hailed. Advani was credited with creating a ‘bipolarity’ in Indian politics, for creating, for the first time, an ideological and political alternative to the brute dominance of the Congress throughout the first decades of Independence.
It was Advani, it was said, who changed the debate on ‘secularism’ and ‘pseudo- secularism’, and coined words such as ‘minorityism’ and ‘cultural nationalism’. Indeed, the BJP, during the NDA-rule years, did partially succeed in becoming a robust opposite number of the Congress, notwithstanding the lurking dangers of militant Hindutva.
The BJP under Vikaas Purush Vajpayee was seen as pushing towards a modern stance, which was anti-family privilege, anti-dynasty, pro-market, pro-upward mobility, pro-America, pro-reform, tough on law and order, and unapologetic about the majority community viewpoint. This was a stance that thrilled the urban Indian middle class, from housewives to professionals, who felt that, at last, they had a party that echoed their way of thinking, freeing them from the stifling feudalism of the arrogant Congress with its ‘appeasement’ policies and its anti-business pro-subsidy inclinations.
<b1>Yet, with such a strong tailwind of middle class approval, and on the important mission of creating a democratic opposition to the Congress, the public image we saw of the BJP on the fateful day of the trust vote was of Advani delivering a rambling half-hearted speech. We saw him look on in forlorn loneliness as 13 MPs of the NDA cross voted, eight from the BJP alone. Whatever the truth of a ‘purchased’ trust vote, we saw an octogenarian politician, one who had created a powerful ideological challenge to the Nehru-Gandhi dominance, asking for a television sting operation. We heard no gut-wrenching speech or full- throated roar of dissent.
There was no magnificent verbal attack on a UPA coalition that pussyfoots on terrorism, distributes Rs 60,000 crore as a loan waiver to buy rural votes, stalls reform because of coalition politics and has failed to exemplify the strength of a federal government. Instead we heard conspiratorial sound bites about a sting operation. Television will show the truth, said Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh. TV? Must tv come to the rescue of the BJP? This was the party that rose from three seats in 1984 to become a contender for national power in just eight years, the party of A.B. Vajpayee who stunned parliament with his oratorical power in a Congress-dominated House.
Alas, this was not just a vote of no-confidence against Manmohan Singh; it was a vote of no-confidence against parliamentary grandeur. Displays of cash are not worthy of Advani. Currency notes are not the currency of a party seeking to lead new India in the 21st century in which a 25-year-old has created history at the Olympics and set the country singing, ‘Chhodo kal ki baatein...’
Yet in times of tumultuous economic change, when our eyes are fixed on the future, the BJP has fallen back on that old slogan of ‘Hindu anger.’ It opposed the nuclear deal despite knowing that openness to America, a bold new vision of partnership with the world; and freedom from 30-year-old technology sanctions was striking a chord with the upwardly mobile Indian. It is now all set to take the place of the Left, and oppose banking, pension and insurance reform.
It tried and failed to muster ‘Hindu anger’ over the Ram Sethu. Now it has fastened on to the protests over the Amarnath land transfer in order to bolster its identity as a party of ‘spontaneous Hindu rage’, in a campaign that finds no echo beyond Jammu. Instead, by blocking the n-deal, economic reforms and development initiatives on the grounds of religion, India’s political right is ceasing to be India’s economic right. The BJP is chanting “Hindu! Hindu! Hindu!” when a restless India is shouting, “Change! Reform! Opportunity!”
Hindutva was Advani’s pet calling card 30 years ago, but India has changed far too fast for old slogans to remain seductive. Today the ‘war for Hinduism’ is already won, and the Gayatri mantra is the chosen melody of every five-star hotel spa. The so-called ‘leftist-secular’ intellectuals who the BJP hates have discovered their ‘Hindu’ roots through Bollywood and yoga. Not a day passes when the Muslim minority is not reminded of its ‘terrorist’ tag, to the extent that the ulema have even issued a fatwa against terrorism.
Aamir Khan is the beloved of millions of post-Babri Masjid children and Irfan Pathan’s religion doesn’t matter to the devotees of the game. Militant religiosity is no longer a heart-stopping cultural crusade but instead a predictable cynical weapon used by default during election season, evoking public weariness rather than immediate response. Even Narendra Modi has decided to cut the Hindu rhetoric and call for a political consensus on terrorism.
So perhaps the BJP should now try to find a more relevant campaign. Right-wing parties in mature democracies stand for unleashing the power of private enterprise and values of family and tradition, articulated in a civilised manner.
If its rhetoric remains rude, including accusing the government of bomb blasts and calling the Prime Minister ‘nikamma’; if its actions become thuggish, like tearing up paintings; if its economic policies become leftist, such as blocking reforms and nuclear energy agreements, the BJP will find that its space in the urban heart will melt away faster than the holy lingam at Shri Amarnath.
Sagarka Ghose is Senior Editor, CNN-IBN