BJP in a quandary with temple and terror cards (Comment)

December 13th, 2008 - 10:44 am ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyThe Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) cosy world of emotion-driven politics has been turned upside down by the Mumbai tragedy.From the late 1980s, the BJP has used ultra-nationalist postures to garner votes. These ranged from the movement to “liberate” the mythical birthplace of Lord Ram in Ayodhya to the pillorying of the Congress for being soft on terror.

The Ramjanmabhoomi agitation led to the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya and catapulted the BJP to power in the mid-1990s. After that, when the party failed to build a temple at the site of the demolished mosque, it turned to playing the terror card, accusing the Congress of not being serious against terrorist attacks so as not to alienate its Muslim supporters.

The results of the latest round of elections, however, have shown that this argument is losing its electoral potency.

Needless to say, the party is in a quandary with just about six months to go before the next general election. Not only has it lost what it considered a surefire ploy to garner votes with its xenophobic propaganda, some are wondering whether it has lost touch with the younger generation as well.

These misgivings have been caused by the BJP’s defeat in the Delhi elections, where it had projected the 77-year-old Vijay Kumar Malhotra as its chief ministerial candidate.

Although the Congress’ Sheila Dikshit is also a septuagenarian, she gives the impression of having a modern outlook, apparently because of her polished English, ready smile and brisk, businesslike ways. In contrast, the dour Malhotra was a typical representative of the BJP’s original base of support in the city comprising the conservative-minded Hindu traders and refugees from Pakistan.

Since the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, L.K. Advani, is an octogenarian, the BJP must be now wondering whether he will appear to the younger set as the right man to lead the party in the second decade of the 21st century. Half of India’s population is below 25 years.

Such doubts may also be fuelled by the increasingly active role 37-year-old Rahul Gandhi is playing in Congress politics, blaming the hierarchical structure of security agencies for their failure to prevent the Mumbai carnage. His criticism of the excessive focus on safety measures for VIPs also suggested that he is echoing the feelings of a large section of upper and middle class Indians.

The government’s appointment of the energetic P. Chidambaram as the new home minister will reinforce the belief that the Congress is finally ready to face the present-day challenges. His observation that the terrorist attack was on the “idea of India” underlined the party’s championing of the country’s multicultural polity.

In contrast, the BJP may well be seen as a prisoner of the past. Not only is it still being seen as a pro-Hindu party, the attacks on Christians in Orissa, where it is in power, showed that it had little control over the rabid elements in the party and in its fraternal allies like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal.

True, the BJP won in the two states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. But these victories were based on the non-controversial and pro-development images of their chief ministers, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh. That the two leaders eschewed the Hindutva-oriented approach of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s mentor in the saffron brotherhood, showed they have understood that such appeals to atavistic sentiments are no longer effective.

The defeat of the former Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Uma Bharati, known for her fiery pro-Hindu rhetoric, also demonstrated that the voters were turning away from crude sectarianism.

The BJP will be in further trouble if the combined pressure exerted by India and the US compels Pakistan to act against some of the “non-state” actors in the country, who are being held responsible for the attack on Mumbai and also other acts of terrorism. It is obvious that the threats of “unintended consequences”, which America has held out to Pakistan if it fails to act, is a result of the closeness of India-US ties in the wake of the nuclear deal. Yet, it is a measure which the BJP had opposed - an unwise decision which may backfire on it with even greater force now.

The BJP’s problem is that if it dumps Hindutva and switches to a development-oriented approach, it will earn the wrath of the RSS and the VHP for opportunistically abandoning the Hindu agenda. And if it does not lay too much emphasis on terror, the party will be accused of being as “pseudo-secular” as the Congress. This phrase, coined by Advani during the temple agitation, will come back to haunt him.

But that’s not all. The apparent uselessness of its two emotive planks - temple and terrorism - will mean that the BJP will have to reinvent itself in view of the failure of the political ploys which guided it for the last two decades.

The BJP had discarded its credo of Gandhian socialism in favour of the temple agenda in the early 1990s. Now, it has to look for a new slogan.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at

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