Whenever an unexpected change occurs, some scholars excited by the change begin to discourse as if they conclusively see the future like the palm of their hand. Their excitement would not allow them to wait for a while to know what the effect of the change is on the future before they theorize their conclusions. They immediately settle the text of the future from the context of the change. The debate in the Indian media following the election to the 15th Lok Sabha, which resulted in unexpected victory for the Congress-led alliance, falls in this category. The debate, which is mostly centred on the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP, is about whether ideological politics will work on or not in future for the BJP.
To judge the future, the surest guide is what, in comparable situations, had happened in the past. It is the sociopolitical developments in India in future, which is dynamic, that will draw the BJP’s road map. The BJP, like any political party, will, and will have to, respond to such developments. Recall what happened since 1989. The BJP had adopted Gandhian socialism and genuine secularism in 1980, compelled by the context of Indira Gandhi’s return in 1980. But it discarded both in 1989, responding to the sociopolitical developments since 1987. The BJP had faced the worst defeat, with just two elected members in the Lok Sabha against the Congress’ 406, in 1984. But the developments later ensured that till today the Congress could not get half the seats it got in 1984, and the BJP emerged as its principal contender and remains so while displacing the Congress for six years as the ruling party.
The debate on ideology is only as meaningful as the debate initiated by Francis Fukuyama in 1992 saying ideological geopolitics had come to an end with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the world would thenceforth be free of conflicts with liberal democracy and free trade as the twin goals of all nations in the world. In less than two years Fukuyama was challenged by Samuel Huntington in 1994 who saw not the end of conflicts and history but the return of both in their most tribal forms. Many geopolitical experts say the later global developments validated Huntington more than they approved Fukuyama. The election results of the 15th Lok Sabha is ideologically far less profound than the fall of the Berlin Wall and India is far less modern than the Western world. Post-Berlin Wall fall, a different ideological model—civilizational groupings based on religion—has, in the opinion of many, begun influencing the world. Even the newest face of the modern world, Barack Hussein Obama has to recall the centuries of relations between the three Abrahamic religions to make his ideas politically relevant to the present.
The ideology of the BJP is a continuation of its earlier avatar, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. The Jana Sangh was born to fill the political vacuum when the Indian Political Congress failed to be the true inheritor of the values that inspired the freedom movement led by the Indian National Congress. The political Congress disowned in the public domain all that had inspired the freedom movement—the worship of Mother India in “Vande Mataram” of Maharishi Bankimchandra which made thousands to sacrifice their life and youth for the nation’s freedom; the goal of “Ram Rajya” set by Mahatma Gandhi for independent India which inspired millions to follow him; the ideal of “spiritual nationalism” which Swami Vivekananda had articulated as the core of India; the spirit of Sanatana Dharma which Maharishi Aurobindo saw as the very nationalism of India. The failure of the Congress created the need and the space for the Jana Sangh. The Jana Sangh was ideologically no Hindu Mahasabha, which was the pre-independence adversary of the Congress; in fact, it had repudiated Mahasabha’s views. Had the Congress party not turned its back on the core values of the freedom movement, the Jana Sangh might not have been born and there might not be a BJP at all. For there could not be two nationalist Congresses. It was Bharatiyata, not Hindutva, which was the ideological mascot of the BJP till 1990, and of the the Jana Sangh earlier. In the 1990s, Hindutva emerged as the political thrust of the apolitical Hinduism to measure up to the challenges of pseudo-secularism that had become allergic to Hinduism.
This is where the greatest contribution to the BJP as well as national polity came from L.K. Advani’s famous rath yatra and his redefinition of secularism, distinguishing the genuine from the pseudo. With the Supreme Court’s stamp of approval to the idea of Hindutva as being compatible with secularism, it has become interchangeable with Bharatiyata. But these are just naming issues. But the content is the real issue and that is the same in both. If the identity of modern America could be asserted in the mainline debate as WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), which is a mix of race and religion, why can’t the BJP define the identity of India in cultural terms when the forefathers most Muslim and all Christians belong to that cultural stream? The BJP exists because the Congress failed to preserve the idea and identity of India under the pressure of vote bank politics. If the BJP fails like the Congress did, it knows it will join the ranks of the grand old party as one more party. It also knows that if there are two Congress parties, people will chose the original, and not the carbon copy. There are many profound minds in the BJP who know what the failure of the BJP means to them and to the country. Not everyone in the BJP thinks only of the self. There are many, far too many, particularly moving down the hierarchy, who think of the country as well and more.
S. Gurumurthy is a commentator on political and economic issues and a former convenor of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch.
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