There are many ways to look at the turmoil within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). There is the “Indian” explanation: Having lost power, a round of recriminations and mud-slinging is inevitable. Then there is the “Bharat” versus “India” interpretation. The party’s leaders from rural areas are resisting the injection of a modernist outlook into the party.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Irrespective of what one may believe, it’s clear that the BJP can’t keep a business-as-usual outlook and hope to come back to power in New Delhi. It needs something else. Whatever that formula may be, the key task before the party is to reinvent itself as a conservative party. The Indian polity?has?ample space for such a party. The problem is that path is not traversed easily.
BJP president Rajnath Singh has said that Hindutva, the creation of a common civil code and the repeal of Article 370 of the Constitution formed the core of the party’s identity. Chasing them will not help the BJP. These are mere “facts”, What will happen once the BJP manages to achieve them? Will that mark the end of its political evolution? In any case, given the formidable legal and constitutional challenges involved in implementing them, they force many citizens to think that the party is not serious about its political outlook. The BJP needs a wider ideological arena if it is to escape from its present predicament.
A constellation of factors prevented the emergence of durable political conservatism in India. After the trauma of Partition and Independence, the religious conservatism of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh variety struck deep roots. It did not help matters that the economic liberalism of the Swatantra Party did not gain ground. An additional factor at work was how the BJP defined itself. For example, its plank of “pseudo-secularism” was a negative image of Nehruvian secularism picked up to oppose the Congress. It was not an original, defining, feature.
The result of this history has been stagnation of a certain kind. Bereft of a coherent set of ideas, the BJP today can only rely on “anti-incumbency” and other electoral displeasures against the ruling coalition for success.
What now? The party needs other planks in addition to Hindutva. For example, there is a constituency now that favours economic liberalism (the Swatantra Party did not have that luxury): It needs a party that will espouse that cause. There are other elements to conservatism that are waiting to be explored.
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