What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) must be quietly hoping. For the sake of a vibrant political system in India, let’s hope so too.
A month after its election rout, the BJP finds itself consumed by an existential crisis. BJP vice-president Yashwant Sinha quit his party posts this weekend, while former minister Jaswant Singh questioned L.K. Advani’s decisions. The party’s literal existence seems to be at stake: A BJP leader told The Statesman that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) must step in and dissolve the party.
Every party finds itself in the wilderness after an electoral defeat, and it’s up to the BJP to ensure that this leads to constructive introspection, not electoral irrelevance. Last week, Singh noted that the party lacked clarity on what Hindutva meant. Party strategist Sudheendra Kulkarni voiced the same grouse in a piece in Tehelka. Questioning one of the party’s key ideologies can be debilitating now, but it’s at least better than the Left, which still clings to outdated Marxism.
Similarly, pointing fingers at Advani may leave leadership gaps, but such inner-party democracy is hard to imagine in a Congress meeting. Here, instead of threatening to silence dissent, BJP president Rajnath Singh should help channel disagreement into making practical improvements.
A.B. Vajpayee and Advani ensured the party is currently India’s second largest. Now, the BJP can only survive if the next generation takes the step towards introspective improvement. Arun Jaitley noted in the Rajya Sabha this month that the Congress’ victory reflects an “aspirational India”. It is this sense of forward-looking aspiration that the party should appeal to: Reminding voters of old communal wounds through raw Muslim-baiting won’t help.
At the same time, the BJP should reinvent itself to mount a credible alternative to the Congress. As we’ve argued before, there is political room in India for a right-of-centre party based on a refined cultural nationalism, a hawkish security stance and a more free-market approach towards economics. If the BJP can emerge out of its current confusion to convince voters of such core beliefs, then it would have survived—and become stronger. Otherwise, it will become yet another case study for historians.
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