The Resistible Rise of the BJP
The day Sitaram Kesri withdrew support of the Congress to the United Front government of Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, it was clear that the Bhartiya Janata party (BJP) would emerge as the largest single party in the parliament in the next election. The results of the parliamentary elections in March 1998 were thus no surprise.
Politics of Alliance
If alliances were needed to prevent the BJP from coming to power, these should have been made before and not after the election. It is thus surprising that the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) announced the desirability of uniting with Congress to prevent the formation of a BJP government after the elections. Whether or not this is a correct line will forever remain a matter of debate. The timing of this announcement, however, reflects not only a state of confusion but a lack of understanding of Indian political realities.
India today is ruled by a BJP government. With this event, the tentacles of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the para military Hindu fascist organization of which BJP is the political wing, have permeated almost all levels of the Indian civil society.
The Real Face
The reaction of the secular forces to the formation of the BJP government has been varied and occasionally disappointing. One opinion holds that having reached the zenith of power, BJP will expose its 'true nature' and this would lead to its weakening if not demise. Others profess that BJP's alliances with regional parties such as the Samata Party of George Fernandez, AIADMK of Jayalalitha and smaller parties of Subramaniam Swamy and Ramkrishna Hegde have forced it to abandon, at least for the time being, the main controversial aspects of its Hindutva program. These alliances, according to this view, have placed the BJP government in the same position as with the previous United Front government. The third opinion holds that BJP has already learned a lesson from the Babri mosque demolition episode and has become moderate and responsible. Moreover, according to this view, Prime Minister Vajpayee is a moderate person and represents the human face of BJP.
The BJP's true nature is already known to all who do not indulge in wishful thinking. RSS was founded in 1925 and the BJP is merely its post-Mahatma Gandhi assassination creation. One must not judge the RSS and the BJP with different yardsticks. The pro-British attitude of RSS during the anti-colonial struggle (1925-1947), the RSS-chief Golwalkar's and Shiv Sena-chief Bal Thakre's adulation for Hitler, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1950, Advani's Rath Yatra in 1991-1992 leading to the destruction of Babri Mosque, the heinous violation of human rights in Kashmir by ex-governor and now a BJP member of Parliament Jagmohan, the misinterpretation of history, the movement to replace Muslim symbols from Kashi (Varanasi) to Mathura with Hindu temples are sufficient to expose the true nature of the BJP.
The BJP contested the 1998 elections on a Hindutva program and won on that basis. No party has ever implemented its election manifesto after becoming a government. If BJP does not build a Ram temple at the site of Babri mosque, does not impose a uniform civil code and does not change Article 370 of the Constitution which confers special status to Kashmir, it would not be deviating from its election promise any more than others have done in the past. Indian people have not received a miracle nor do they expect one from any ruling party. Since the independence of India 50 years ago, no government, central or provincial, has ever fallen because of bad governance. Indeed the previous United Front government performed better than any previous coalition government and yet it lost almost half the seats it held in the previous parliament. And the momentous defeat of Indira Gandhi's Congress in 1977 was not due to any decline in her overall popular support but rather to a united opposition by all who were sidelined for so long.
Indian democratic institutions are still in a formative period. Diverse political interests which existed in the Congress during the course of the independence struggle have been departing from it ever since 1947 and the pro-BJP section has been gradually abandoning Congress to join BJP. Likewise different class interests are constituting themselves into specific political formations giving rise to instability in several parties, specially the Congress. Consequently, provincial or central governments in India have fallen because of internal strife, not poor governance although good governance does impart longevity. The question is not of BJP exposing itself but rather of the emergence of a decisive force which can force BJP into oblivion.
Two Faces of the Same Coin
Has BJP become moderate and is Vajpayee different from Advani? This of course depends upon one's own tolerance to nascent fascism and vision of the future of India. Should one be afraid of the claws or the teeth of the lion? If the answer is yes, then there is no difference between Advani and Vajpayee or between Uma Bharati and Sushma Swaraj. They all have been trained by RSS to pretend and perform in different ways. In any case a moderate BJP is no less dangerous than a belligerent one unless one holds the view that the primary objective of BJP is to replace mosques with temples and exterminate the Muslims. Therefore for Muslim leaders to preach for an understanding and compassion for BJP or RSS leaders and assure the Muslim community that they need not fear for their lives is like being a Sikandar Bakht without a Ministerial portfolio.
BJP and Muslims
It is a gross error to think that the primary objective of the BJP is to victimize Muslims. The BJP's anti-Muslim stance is primarily to streamline Hindus in a set pattern. BJP represents a dangerous institution even if there were no Muslims in India. There are dozens of fundamentalist regimes in countries without a significant minority population. To undermine the dangers posed by BJP by merely pointing out the threat to communal harmony is to ignore the essence of the BJP. During the last 50 years, Muslims have been sidelined from the main political, economic and social stream. The BJP has just to maintain this process, perhaps at a faster rate than in the past. To transform India, the BJP needs relative peace and not violence and it has the infrastructure to achieve that the BJP aims at transforming the very perception of the history of India and breed a culture symbolizing a Hindu nation in all its dimensions. Not only the Muslims but also the Hindus should be afraid of the BJP. The BJP will restore for the high caste Hindus their dwindling glory and take away from Dalits whatever has been achieved during the course of independence struggle and since then. BJP aims at a Brahaminical dominance mixed with all the tolerance and accommodation that is necessary for making the dominance of a chosen few acceptable to the majority, a continuation of the caste system.
The hue and cry of the secular forces about the ascendancy of the BJP to its present heights is matched only by the absence of any specific strategy to defeat it. It is true that the BJP did not get substantive support in certain parts of India. Nonetheless, the BJP is a national party with an ideology and clear-cut short and long-term political objectives. It has grown to its present size in a shorter period than any other political formation in the recent history of India. The organizing strategy of the RSS, the backbone of the BJP, has been consistent and has been successfull in adjusting to political situations, whether it be the ban imposed on it after the assassination of Gandhi or the emergency period of 1975-1977 or the dissolution of the Janata Party government of which it was a constituent. The RSS has never been confused like the left nor has it faced split after split on manufactured differences like the left. The RSS has permeated all levels of civil life. It controls a large number of primary schools. The strength of RSS trade unions has already surpassed the combined strength of AITUC and CITU, led respectively by CPI and CPM. If senior civil servants and army personnel join the BJP the day after they retire, obviously RSS has infiltrated the Indian civil service and the army. The RSS has built huge national women's organization, youth organization, student organization and so on. In short the RSS has successfully used an organizational form which the communists were blamed for without actually using it.
It is the RSS, not the BJP, which unites all these organizations into a single formation with cohesiveness and mutual support. The method of organizing practiced by the RSS follows the successful Gandhian approach of involving all its members and supporters into specific programs and active participation on a daily basis. It is not based on occasional lectures, collection of monthly or yearly dues and distribution of frequent publications. It is highly unlikely that a member of the RSS mass organization votes for another party during the elections; this cannot be said about the members of mass organizations of other parties.
Rise of BJP
It has been argued that the ascendancy of the BJP is a direct consequence of the decline of the Indian National Congress. There might be some truth in this theory. However, BJP has eroded the base of all other major political formations. A good majority of parliamentarians of the CPI in all previous elections came from Bihar, which has also been considered to be the base of the Naxalite movement. Yet, the CPI did not win a single seat this time in Bihar. In contrast, BJP and its allies emerged as the single largest party in Bihar. The CPM and the CPI made no inroads in any new area. In contrast, the BJP was victorious in Calcutta of all the places and its ally Mamta Banarjee did quite well. Indeed Congress, under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, condemned as a mere "housewife" by India Today's Talveen Singh to Jyoti Basu of CPM, made major recovery while communist parties as a whole registered a decline. Perhaps it is a credit to the Indian people who know that housewives have built India while their male equivalents have more often than not been parasitic.
There are only three national parties in India, the Congress, the BJP and the Communist parties and these three are there to stay for a long period. Other parties are either transitory like the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh, the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Laloo Yadav and the Bahujan Samaj Party of Kansi Ram or they are regional like the Telgu Desam and the AIADMK. Obviously the BJP can only be defeated by the Communist Parties or the Congress as the central force. The RSS has built a mass base by solid work. The BJP cannot be defeated by parliamentary maneuvers or "united front" of so many unprincipled disunited formations. Perhaps parliamentary maneuvers can oust the BJP before the present five-year term is over or even succeed in preventing the BJP from gaining a majority in the next election but they cannot ensure the defeat of the BJP nor can they create a secular democratic India in the long run.
The responsibility for the ascendancy of the BJP lies squarely on the shoulders of communist parties, which have failed in more than one way. They have the unique ability to combine a national program with a regional outlook and they aim at holding on to what they have rather than increasing their base. However, mass support is like capital; if it does not grow it disappears. It clearly happened to the CPI this time. It also happened to the CPM to a limited extent. It is desirable but doubtful that communists can pose a threat to the BJP in immediate future. The leaders and articulate cadres of these parties might appreciate fundamental ideological and political differences that keep them as separate parties but to the workers, peasants and intelligentsia of India there is no more substance in this division than there is for the separate existence of the parties of Laloo Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav. Electoral alliances among communists do not make up for their existence as separate parties.
For better or for worse, Congress is the only organization in a position to defeat the BJP in the short run. In the long run, however, the left and democratic forces have to build a grass root democratic organization promoting a secular culture in India. It becomes the responsibility of Indians living abroad to do whatever is necessary to create secular formations and contribute to the emergence and consolidation of a secular democratic culture in India.
- Daya Varma