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The siren song of Hindutva

The BJP’s celebration of federalism is at variance with its ideological commitment, Vikas Pathak writes.

india Updated: Jan 24, 2012 23:22 IST
Vikas Pathak

The last month has seen the BJP repeatedly pitching itself as the champion of federalism, the constitutional division of powers between the Centre and the states.

Throughout the lokpal debate, BJP leaders said that the creation of 'mandatory' lokayuktas through a central law would fall foul of federalism. Some time ago, the party saw the Gujarat High Court's upholding of the governor's decision to appoint the state lokayukta without the approval of the state government as a setback to federalism.

The logic: the Centre can't be allowed to ride roughshod over the wishes of elected state governments in a diverse society like India.

"One cannot have Delhi decide laws for the North-east or south, as we are a diverse country," a senior BJP leader admitted to reporters at the time of the lokpal debate.

Federalism - the constitutional acceptance of diversity - is compatible with ideological acceptance of multiple cultures. It is here that the BJP's celebration of federalism is at variance with its commitment to Hindutva. The latter is widely seen by social scientists like Christophe Jaffrelot, John Zavos and Jyotirmaya Sharma as an attempt at making the loose network of Hinduism monolithic, organised and regimented.

In this sense, Hindutva fits better with a unitary state with an all-powerful Centre. Little wonder then that Jana Sangh ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, who the BJP swears by till date, strongly advocated a unitary state in India. He wrote in his work Integral Humanism: "Our constitution needs amendment. We are one nation, one society. However, despite all this, we made our constitution federal. It runs counter to the unity and indivisibility of Bharat. Therefore, our constitution should be unitary instead of federal."

The BJP can choose to move away from this position but there are indications that the party is on the horns of a dilemma. The NDA experiment made it embrace alliance politics, as with its sectional appeal it could not hope to come to power alone. This, ironically, made the party espousing Hindutva more open to adjustment with regional players, including Dravidian parties that have historically questioned Hinduism itself.

But the umbilical chord with Hindutva is not one to snap that easily.

BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh recently enacted a stringent law that awards seven-year imprisonment to anyone who slaughters a cow. This has led to fears among sections of the minorities. This position, however, gels with Hindutva, which has often interpreted the cow - revered by wide sections of Hindus - as a symbol of Hinduism to be 'protected' from Islam and Christianity.

Also in agreement with the BJP/Jana Sangh's earlier celebration of a strong Centre was the NDA government's passing of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota), which was a central law 'encroaching' on the state's domain of maintaining law and order. The BJP still defends another such central law, the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa).

Clearly, the party is caught between ideological commitment and the need to champion regional interests against a Congress-led Centre. It seems unlikely to resolve this dilemma soon.

It would certainly break the tedium if heroism got to use its head and not just its body.