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ELECTORAL GAINS OF THE BJP AND ITS IDEOLOGICAL DILEMMA

            Paper No. 86

 

The Bhartiya Janata Party, the new incarnation of Bhartiya Jana Sangh, despite its pan-Indian political Ideology and political journey for almost half a century is still striving hard to achieve its cherished goal of a nation- wide ideological support base. The party, which was formed at the instance of RSS leadership in October`1951, in its bid to make itself an alternative to Congress, held a number of brain storming sessions, but in the absence of any noticeable ideological dent beyond the Hindi belt of the country, its leadership continues to be in a state of confusion. Its political philosophy of cultural nationalism or Hindu nationalism has hardly attracted the people of the country as a whole and particularly in the southern and eastern regions except Bihar. Though the party has made a remarkable progress in improving its strength in the Lok Sabha in the last decade, its achievement could be attributed more to its strategic poll alliance with regional parties in southern states and in the states of Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh than to the ideological expansion of the party.

The BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) achieved "clear majority" in the thirteenth Lok-Sabha election against the BJP`s initial expectation of a massive mandate which was subsequently reassessed to a ‘comfortable’ majority. Except the disappointing and worrisome performance of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, which is the heartland of the party, and much reduced strength in Punjab and Karnataka, the NDA got nation wide support of the electorate enabling A.B.Vajpayee to form the government at the centre.

 

Debacle in Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.

Besides the internal dissension within the state unit of the party, alliance among the anti-BJP forces particularly the Muslims, Backwards and Dalits in a large number of constituencies and their tactical voting in favour of the candidate having better chances of winning as also the anti- incumbency factor appeared to be responsible for BJP’s debacle in Uttar Pradesh.

In Karnataka, considered to be the strong hold of the BJP in south India, the poor performance of the party was due to tactical error of the party high command in imposing an alliance with Janata Dal in spite of strong resistance of its state unit. In fact the anti-incumbency mood of the voters against Janata Dal government in the state also affected the image of the BJP to some extent. A senior state leader of the party, Mr.D.H.Shankaramurthy while talking to press said, "It was a blunder we committed. We were all along targeting the Patel government and suddenly one fine morning we joined hands with same set of people who were running the government. We took the people for granted and they taught us a good lesson."

Whether the performance of the BJP in this election when its tally remained almost same as in 1998 can be attributed to its political ideology is a debatable question. The BJP had its own manifesto in 1998 election that had also incorporated its Hindutva agenda. But this time the party contested the election on a joint manifesto with its alliance partners in which there was no mention of Hindutva, the ‘ideological mascot’ of the party. If the party could maintain its tally of 1998 in spite of its debacle in states of U.P., Karnataka, and Punjab, could it be attributed to its ideological acceptance by the Voters? It does not appear to be so.

The test case could be the state of Uttar Pradesh, the traditional stronghold of BJP. The ‘Pro-Vajpayee wave’ claimed by the BJP leaders in the electioneering campaign could be seen only in the states of Delhi, Bihar, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh but it hardly had any impact in other states. Disastrous performance of the party in U.P., a state which has been sending Mr. Vajpayee to Lok-Sabha in the last five elections, completely negated the so called Vajpayee wave as claimed by the party leaders.

 

RSS on BJP:

Though, the BJP had full support of the present leadership of the RSS in this election, a number of old guards in ‘Sangh Parivar’ like Bhaskar Rao, Organising Secretary of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Moropant Pingle, a very senior member of Pratinidhi Sabha, Dattopant Thengdi, chief of Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh and Nanaji Deshmukh who had taken the pledge to serve the cause of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ are today found very much aggrieved and disenchanted with the way the BJP leaders are working to come to power. Nanaji Deshmukh, one of the founding members of Bharatiya Jana Sangh and one of the prominent strategists of Jay Prakash Narayan led anti-emergency movement against Indira Gandhi in an interview with Times of India, October 6, 1999 said, "The political parties in the country would do anything to satisfy their lust for power." He added, "Mr. L.K.Advani’s ‘Rath Yatra’ before demolition of ‘Babri Mosque’ was undertaken only with an eye on power". On Ram temple issue, he said, " Lord Ram was not interested in power but the BJP had been exploiting his name to stay in power".

If we analyse the electoral journey of the BJP, it is found that right from the day of its inception in 1980, the party’s electoral strategy has been one of coming to power without its baggage of ideological commitments despite its claims that it is a party ‘with a difference’.

To reach 181 in 1998 from a score of 2 in 1984 is certainly a great achievement of the BJP, but its claim to be a party with a difference is no more a convincing slogan. Whether the party leadership has realised that its political philosophy requires a radical change for coming to power is still a debatable issue. A number of senior leaders of the party have been found speaking with different voices on the issue of Hindutva and thereby creating confusion. Some of the recent statements of RSS chief, Professor Rajendra Singh on temples of Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya, of BJP`s General Secretary, Govindacharya on the issue of Hindutva and that of the national president of the BJP, Kushabhau Thakre that the party has nothing to do with Vishva Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal give an impression that they have not yet reconciled to the ground reality of the current political scenario in the country. Due to popular impression that the BJP is a political extension of `Sangh Parivar` which is a group of organisations believing in Brahmanic tradition of Vedic India, the intermediary and backward caste people as well as people belonging to non-Hindi speaking states continue to be suspicious of the appeals of cultural nationalism or Hindu nationalism of the party.

The BJP after its inception in 1980 under the presidentship of A.B.Vajpayee tried to project itself as an omnibus party open to all, irrespective of caste, creed and region. Accordingly, the BJP adopted `Gandhian Socialism` as its political ideology with a view to project it as a nationally accepted party. This new political philosophy engineered by Vajpayee was to counter the Nehruvian version of Indian Nationalism, which is known to be based on western concept of secularism and socialism.

Gandhian socialism was in fact a jargon for the Hindu Nationalism, the political philosophy of the party. However, Vajpayee could not get the desired support of his party colleagues due to indifferent attitude of the RSS leadership towards this new political philosophy. The RSS leaders maintained that no ideology without emphasis on the cultural heritage of India could unite the people of the country. They felt that Hinduism which provided the essence of Indian culture could only be the driving force for national unity.

The outcome of midterm Lok-Sabha poll held in December 1984 following the assassination of Mrs.Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister was a major setback for the BJP winning only two seats. Sangh Parivar viewed marginalisation of the party in this election as a failure of the political ideology of Gandhian socialism adopted by the party under the leadership of Vajpayee. The defeat of Vajpayee in this election from Gwalior parliamentary constituency with a big margin of more than 1,75,000 votes was also viewed as a failure of his leadership in handling the organization for about four years.

 

The immediate task before L.K.Advani, who took over the presidentship of the party from A.B.Vajpayee was to re-vitalise the organisation. Accordingly, the National Executive Committee of the party in its meeting at Calcutta in March 1985 constituted a twelve-member group for preparing a concrete plan of action for the party for five years. The working group in its 43-page report known as `Electoral response` incorporated ` the political ideology of late Deen Dayal Upadhyay known as `Integral humanism` and pushed the Gandhian socialism of Vajpayee to the back burner. Integral humanism that believes in a social order based on equality and free from all kinds of exploitation is the root of Hindu Nationalism, the political philosophy of the party. The BJP`s agenda of Uniform Civil Code, and abrogation of article 370 of the constitution are the outcome of the theory of Integral humanism.

From the margins of Indian political scene in 1984, the growth of the BJP to the position of third largest party in the Lok-Sabha elections of 1989 with 86 members, second largest party in 1991 with 119 members and single largest party in 1996,1998 and 1999 with 161,181 and 182 members respectively might be claimed by the protagonists of Hindu Nationalism as victory of their political philosophy, but the ground reality gives a different picture. In fact the BJP while joining the race for political power with other political parties also adopted the same market mechanism to buy the voters which its political opponents had been doing to win elections. Without caring for its image of being a` party with difference` the BJP made strategic poll alliance against the Congress in all the Lok-Sabha elections since 1989 irrespective of the castiest, sectorial, parochial or corrupt image of the political leaders and their parties. By 1999 Lok-Sabha poll, the party gave up all its ideological agenda and its campaign centred round the image of its Prime Ministerial candidate A.B.Vajpayee. Since the only issue in this election was the image of Vajpayee as a nationally accepted leader his word became final in every decision of the party. Despite strong opposition from Karnataka unit of the party not to have any alliance with ruling Janata Dal in the state, the BJP high command could not resist the pressure of Vajpayee.

A significant feature of this Lok-Sabha election was that it was the first time after the death of Indira Gandhi, the Lok-Sabha election was contested on leadership issue and the country has accepted Vajpayee as its leader. The main challenge before him is to make a balance between his heart and mind. The RSS may not intervene this time in the prerogatives of the Prime Minister, but there are number of issues particularly concerning national economy on which Sangh leaders do not agree with Vajpayee. Thus the real test before Vajpayee would be to maintain a balance between the pull and pressure from RSS which continues to be his soul and his alliance partners.

 

(R.UPADHYAY)                                                                             21.10.99

( Upadhyay is the Regional Adviser for SAAG)

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