Advani's reference to "inclusive" politics is a concession to pluralism.
In his The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama argues that ultranationalism found its “ultimate source of legitimacy” in the “race or nation”. But since these are static concepts, Columbia University professor Robert O. Paxton says in his The Anatomy of Fascism that “mobilising passions” is the modus operandi of the xenophobes.
It is a matter of history that the BJP mobilised religious passion to attain its political objective in the Nineties. The party’s tactics paid handsome dividends by catapulting it to power at the Centre and in several states.
Allied to the whipping up of the religious fervour was the BJP’s extolment of Hindu pride as a cultural and religious phenomenon. However, if, after having used religion and xenophobia to propel itself forward, the BJP is now perceived to be marking time, the probable reason is that the party has come up against a few previously unforeseen obstacles. Till its first 13 days in office at the Centre in 1996, it believed that its policy of demonising the minorities was a sure-fire mantra for success.
But the refusal of the non-Congress parties to support the first Vajpayee government opened its eyes to the complexity of the Indian scene, and especially the durability of the ideal of secularism. Except for the Shiv Sena, the BJP saw that it had no friends among the ‘secular’ parties of the Janata and socialist groups as well as the Dravidian outfits despite the notoriously opportunistic nature of Indian politicians.
So, since then the BJP has been on the retreat, notwithstanding a not-so-secret admiration for Moditva among the rank and file. But mobilising religious passion is out for the present, as is the slogan: garv se kaho hum Hindu hain — the two main thrusts of the party’s and the parivar’s Ayodhya campaign. It’s not that the party has formally abandoned them. The RSS-led Hindutva lobby will disintegrate if it did so. Besides, the party is made up overwhelmingly of members who believe in these two anti-secular shibboleths. But the BJP has certainly decided to soften its position in an opportunistic bid to retain power.
Its first move in this direction was to exclude the issues of building the Ram temple, scrapping Article 370 of the Constitution and introducing a uniform civil code from the agenda of the National Democratic Alliance. Although it has now reintroduced the temple issue in the latest NDA manifesto, it has excluded Article 370 and uniform civil code from its own election manifesto. The BJP’s retreat may be only partial as well as tactical and insincere, but it nevertheless represents a victory for Indian pluralism and secularism. The reason for this agonising reappraisal of its policies is the belated as well as reluctant realisation of Indian diversity.
As a party of Hindu and Jain traders in the Hindi belt, it apparently had no idea of the pluralistic nature of Indian society. Even if it did in a vague way, it associated the concept with the beliefs of an anglicised urban class and presumed that fomenting communal frenzy would help the party to undermine any faith in multicultural tenets.
But passions have a tendency of subsiding. They cannot be sustained for too long a period, for not only do they harm the country, they harm the party as well. Hence L.K. Advani’s admission that the BJP is diluting its ideology. His observation that “a country as vast and pluralistic as India cannot be ruled only by an ideological party such as the Jan Sangh” is a significant concession to India’s age-old harmonious social ethos. No less significant is his (presumably subconscious) reference to his party as the Jan Sangh. Advani went on to say that “if we aspire to become a ruling party in India, we cannot be limited as an ideological party… To rule India, we have to be inclusive”.
If the BJP is now trying to be ‘inclusive’, it means that till now, it has been pursuing an exclusivist agenda — in the manner suggested by Savarkar and Golwalkar, who wanted the minorities to be reduced to the status of second class citizens. It is also an admission that the ‘Jan Sangh’ was unfit to rule India. If the BJP is serious about emerging from that dead end, it has to be welcomed. But can it be trusted? Doubts will remain because the BJP has never ever formally disowned Savarkar and Golwalkar. On the contrary, it has been extolling Savarkar by putting up his portrait in Parliament House and naming the airport in Port Blair after him. And Golwalkar remains the guru of the Sangh parivar and, therefore, of the BJP.
These are not the only reasons for distrusting the BJP. It has to be remembered that the BJP is not a normal party, with its own constitution and rules of membership. It is part of a parivar led by the RSS. Not only that, the fact that the RSS is the head of the family is evident from the guru dakshina that is paid at an annual ritual to the RSS by all members of the BJP from Atal Bihari Vajpayee downwards.
Given this position, it may not be unfair to suggest that the BJP is playing a game of hide and seek, that it has put on a mask as a matter of electoral expediency. It is only pretending to be nice, and may be waiting for the opportune moment (like securing a majority of its own in the Lok Sabha) to emerge in its true saffron colours. This suspicion is strengthened by the fact that the parivar has in its ranks venomous rabble-rousers like Praveen Togadia of the VHP, who have made it abundantly clear that they do not accept the BJP’s present policies. Togadia has derided these as pre-election appeasement of Muslims, hinting at their temporary nature.
Togadia is not the only fly in the ointment. There is his childhood friend, Narendra Modi, who has made it obvious that he remains unrepentant about the anti-Muslim pogroms conducted by his administration in Gujarat, as is now evident after the intervention of the Supreme Court in the riot cases. Then, there is Murli Manohar Joshi, who continues with his distortion of the history textbooks by the introduction of biased observations against the Muslims, while the parivar continues to build its so-called shishu mandirs in the tribal belts to spread its communal poison.
So, an expedient shelving of contentious issues on its agenda cannot exonerate the BJP from the charge of being an organisation whose commitment to secularism and pluralism is suspect. To carry conviction, the BJP has to formally disown Savarkar and Golwalkar and their more explicit followers in the party and the parivar like Modi and Togadia. But it is unlikely to do so.