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The BJP’s lost the plot

india Updated: May 15, 2007 10:17 IST
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The latest issue of Organiser, the RSS mouthpiece, has an interesting analysis to offer for Mayawati’s triumph in the UP elections and the BJP’s dismal performance in the same polls. The article blames the BJP’s half-hearted and apologetic Hindutva campaign for the party’s debacle. It argues that a mix of Hindutva rhetoric and promise of development and governance diluted the BJP’s campaign, alienating, in turn, the Hindus as well as the poor.

The article goes on to argue that the traditional vote of the BJP went to Mayawati because the BSP supremo, like Indira Gandhi in the past, used a version of ‘soft’ Hindutva in order to woo the upper-caste Hindu votebank of the BJP. Had the BJP not put issues like the Ram temple on the backburner and had it not turned away from adopting an aggressive Hindutva line, concludes the Organiser, it would have achieved greater success. This analysis is significant because the RSS had sent its organisational secretaries across UP in order to create support for the BJP, and has failed miserably.

This analysis is also curious at various levels. In the first instance, there is the belief shared among the various constituents of the Sangh parivar that there is, indeed, a unified, undifferentiated, monochromatic and seamless Hindu community in the country. The misplaced aspiration of the RSS and its inspired organisations to don the mantle of this community has repeatedly come to grief.

In sharp contrast, Mayawati did make an attempt to reach out to what traditionally were seen as her foes by conducting bhaichara (caste harmony) campaigns and the Brahmin Jodo Abhiyaan (‘Include the Brahmins’ campaign). But she also managed to create a momentum that made the Muslims and sections of the OBCs vote for her. Moreover, Mayawati’s attempt at what is being described by commentators as ‘social engineering’ has an inclusive democratic rationale in sharp contrast to the Sangh parivar’s self-righteous and sanctimonious efforts at the so-called Hindu consolidation.

The RSS too, however, has been trying to simulate in some measure Mayawati’s agenda. The only difference is that whereas in her case, the attempt was one of the ever-increasingly empowered Bahujan Samaj reaching out to the upper-castes and creating a coalition, the efforts of the RSS at social consolidation and harmony are inevitably reduced to forging Hindu unity.

Take, for instance, the annual report presented by Mohan Bhagwat at the RSS Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha held on March 9, 2007, at Lucknow. It speaks of the evils of casteism and untouchability being prevalent “even now”, and then moves on to delineate the issues connected with this problem. In the day and age of Dalits wresting political and economic power, the report anachronistically speaks of “issues like making temples, festivals and sources of drinking water open and common to all”. The RSS’ campaign to eradicate these evils is predictably called the Hindu Samarasata Sammelan.

Resolution No. 3 of the same conference speaks of the inspiration for the message of social harmony (samajik samarasata) coming from the establishment by “saints of various religious denominations” of the VHP in 1964. The resolution goes on to argue that the VHP had, at its inception, given the slogans of ‘A Hindu is never fallen’ and ‘All Hindus are brethren’. Following this tradition, the VHP meeting in Allahabad in February 2007 had passed a resolution “to open the doors of temples to all Hindus for entry and darshan”. It does speak of securing social justice and economic empowerment for the deprived sections, but advocates the way of “providing equality of opportunities and social dignity on the basis of social harmony and goodwill”. There is silence, then, on the issue of reservations and positive discrimination.

The BJP effortlessly inherits this baggage from the RSS and its performance in the UP elections are a direct result of over-articulation of ideology. Just as the Congress has none or little of it, the BJP has to contend with the RSS and its ever-changing definitions of key concepts. The RSS, BJP and other auxiliary organisations of the Sangh parivar, therefore, speak of rashtriyata or nationalism — meaning, implicitly, Hindu nationalism — when out of power. Increasingly, however, the idea of Hindutva has got diluted to meet the pressures of pragmatism and realpolitik. Like the cognate Hinduism from which it is derived, Hindutva too has been reduced to a staggering constellation of meanings and interpretations, while retaining its essential intolerant core and its ever-present fear of dealing with complexity.

Mayawati’s victory in UP is the beginning of the end for the politics that the BJP has practised over the last two decades. In turn, Mayawati has found a way of factoring in the non-sectarian aspirations of the Hindus, while uniting various caste groups and religious communities under a benign Dalit Bahujan rubric. In that sense, the triumph of the BSP is also part of the complex that BR Ambedkar delineated as part of the meaning of democracy. He argued that as long as the “governing class retains its power to govern, it is wrong to believe that democracy and self-government have become realities... self-government and democracy become real not when a constitution based on adult suffrage comes into existence but when the governing class loses its power to capture the power to govern”. Mayawati’s gloss on Ambedkar is the natural inversion that this democratic process has brought about, almost quietly and unobtrusively. In a sociological sense, it would be right to speak of it in terms of an inverted pyramid, but politically the governed of yesterday have captured power without incurring the resentment of those who governed for all these years.

It would take enormous political acumen, statesmanship and tact on the part of Mayawati to make this work. But there is little doubt that this marks a paradigm shift in the nature of Indian politics as a whole. The significance of this for the BJP can hardly be underestimated. The RSS and the BJP are deeply entrenched in a version of Hinduism and Hindutva that feeds on the smugness of manuvaad and a faux religiosity. Their fate seems beyond hope and redemption.

Jyotirmaya Sharma is a political commentator.