Asghar Ali Engineer
(Secular Perspective, Sept. 15 - 30, 2000)
Mr. Bangaru Laxman, on being elected the new president the the BJP in its Nagpur session said, in his speech, that the BJP cadre should reach out to Muslims. He said this among other things but this part of his speech aroused extra-ordinary interest of various observers and commentators. This was widely commented by political commentators also. It became as if a milestone in the history of the BJP which has been hostile towards minorities. It is interesting to note that Mr. Bangaru Laxman, himself a dalit, tried to woo the Muslims. He is reportedly the Prime Minister Vajpayee's choice and it is also quite possible that this pro-Muslim stance was also adopted at his instance. The new team of office bearers announced by Mr. Laxman also contains mostly Vajpayee men. Those who are thought to be 'RSS loyal' are merely three.
Is it compulsion of the coalition politics or is it the result of genuine change of heart on the part of the BJP ideologues? Different opinions have been expressed. However, ground reality has been changing so fast that the BJP cannot maintain the old hostile attitude towards minorities, particularly towards Muslims. Even if it does, it will have to pay heavy political price. Those who have followed the chequred history of the evolution of the BJP would know that there have never been ideological consistency in the BJP's political history. Shyama Prasad Mukherji formed the Jan Sangh supposedly with a wider base and disagreed with the RSS ideologue to maintain its ideological purity. He argued that in a democracy such purity is not possible. Shyama Prasad had served as a minister in Nehru's cabinet and had different ideas from the narrow sectarian politics of the RSS.
However, the Jan Sangh could never free itself from the vice like grip of the RSS. Its pracharaks formed its core. Often some hot-heads became its presidents. Balraj Madhok was one of them. When he became its President in 1967 the Jan Sangh adopted militant line and in its Ranchi session it adopted a resolution to Indianise Indian Muslims as if they were not and they had come straight from Arabia. However, there were also those in the Jan Sangh like Deen Dayal Upadhyay who propounded the theory of 'integral humanism' and thought that Muslims were our flesh and blood. But he was mysteriously pushed from running train and killed.
Then during emergency the Jan Sangh ideologues again changed their colour and said, 'we have understood the Muslims better being together in Jails with the Jamat-e-Islami leaders.' Even some RSS leaders made such statements. Not only that the Jan Sangh leaders agreed to merge with socialists and others to form the Janata Party and, at the instance of Jay Prakash Narayan, even agreed to shed its communal ideology and adopt secular outlook. Mr. Vajpayee, then an opposition leader, even campaigned along with the Shahi Imam appealing to the Muslims to vote for the Janata Party, and the Muslims in North India did so. However, despite its merger with the Janata Party, it could not free itself from the clutches of the RSS. The duel membership controversy (membership of the Janata Party as well as that of the RSS) took its toll and it (i.e. the Jan Sangh) undid its merger with the Janata Party and came in to its own.
But them it faced an identity crisis. It had taken a vow at the Gandhi Samadhi to be secular and Gandhian socialist. To shed it and to adopt communal stance once again would have been acutely embarrassing. Hence it assumed now a new Awatara and renamed itself as the Bhartiya Janata Party and made Atal Bihari Vajpayee as its new president. Under his leadership it fought 1984 parliamentary elections and faced disastrous defeat. It won only two parliamentary seats. Thus the new ideological stance of secularism and Gandhian socialism did not augur well. It soon shed its new stance and went back to its hard communal posture under the leadership of Shri L.K.Advani. Rajiv Gandhi, by opening the door of Ramjanambhoomi temple offered the BJP an issue on silver platter which it was desparately looking for.
It was this hard communal posture which paid rich dividends and it went on increasing its number of seats in Parliament until its score reached 182. It was during the Ramjanambhoomi campaign that it widened its political base. It realised that without attracting the dalits and other backward class Hindus it cannot win any more seats in the Parliament, let alone form a government. Earlier it was purely an upper class Aryavarta Party. Now it began to embrace Dravidians and other non-Aryans. But during late eighties and early nineties, more it widened its political base among lower caste Hindus more hostile posture it took towards Muslims. In fact when it embraced the Hindu untouchables, it distanced itself from 'Muslim untouchables'. It was during this phase that it had boasted that we have shown that the Muslim votes are not indispensable and that one can win without Muslim support. It was, in fact urging upon the Congress that you need not 'appease the Muslims'. Also, it was during this period that it framed its Hindutva agenda, which it popularised with great gusto.
However, this phase also did not last very long. It soon realised that religious frenzy could not be maintained forever and that real issues cannot be avoided forever. With its Hindutva agenda no one dared to touch it with a pair of tongs and despite its wooing other parties it could not last in power for more than 13 days in 1998. It thus changed its ideological stance once again and shed its hard Hindutva stance and formed an alliance (NDA) and adopted a common political agenda. It was only with this common NDA agenda that it came to power.
The BJP, despite its alliance with 22 other parties, is facing acute political crisis. It has reached a plateau and is finding it extremely difficult to grow further. Except perhaps in Gujrat where it is in power by itself and faces no serious challenge from any other political party, it finds itself in deep trouble everywhere else. It is not only stagnating in states like U.P. but is also fast losing ground. In U.P. there is internal dissension and serious external challenge. The upper caste Hindus are getting more and more disillusioned from it and are veering towards other parties. A section of Backward Caste Hindus whose active support under the leadership of Kalyan Singh had helped the BJP tremendously have become cool to it with the his (Kalyan Singh's) expulsion. In Bihar it is merely a junior partner of the Samata and other parties. All its antics could not weaken the hold of Mr. Laloo Prasad Yadav on Bihar politics.
The U.P. and Bihar are major states in terms of Parliamentary seats and also of Muslim population. With acute division in Hindu votes along caste lines Muslim votes become crucial for any party aspiring to come to power. The BJP, in the absence of any kind of Hindu wave, cannot consolidate its Hindutva vote bank and has to fall upon other sections of voters. As shown above, it has never remained consistence in this matter and has always changed its political stance as its search for power is as important as anything else. It would be wrong to think that for the BJP, unlike other parties, ideological purity is supreme. Its slogan, 'Party with a difference', was meant to capture the imagination of those voters who had been disillusioned by other political parties. In fact the Jan Sangh or the BJP has never been different from other parties in the business of power politics, be it corruption or opportunism or vote bank politics.
The BJP has also tasted power and wants to retain it at any cost. Today the BJP controls some crucial ministries and has power to appoint its own people and those of the RSS in several key posts besides controlling huge funds which it can disburse with to institutions of its own choice. The RSS also knows this as it is busy putting its people in key posts in various governmental and semi-governmental organisations. Thus if power can be had with the Muslim support, Muslims should be wooed. Whatever the BJP's boast in late eighties (that Muslim votes can be dispensed with and still one can come to power) it knows very well that Muslim votes cannot be dispensed with if it wants to come back to power. It is too large a minority to be ignored.
Thus the BJP is now trying to woo both dalits and Muslims with full consent of the RSS. The RSS leaders readily endorsed the Laxman line which has been adopted after a careful consideration. The RSS-BJP think tank does not adopt any line without first fully debating it. Any political line is first carefully weighed and then adopted. A dalit president of BJP would not make such a crucial statement inducing Muslims to support the BJP without prior approval of the powers that be. Such a statement has an added advantage - convincing the coalition partners that the BJP is after all not a communal party or a minority baiter it is made out to be by its enemies. "So you need not feel embarrassed by your support to the BJP."
Thus the BJP is playing a complex game with full knowledge and approval of the RSS. The BJP leaders also know that Laxman's invitation to Muslims to come to the BJP will not create any big response from the community. Some have suggested that the speech by Mr. Laxman was not so much aimed at Muslims as liberal Hindus. This may or may not be true. But in this era of coalition politics the BJP wants to clear the decks for its coalition partners. It may also induce a few Muslims to join the BJP. The BJP today has no Muslims in the party worth the name. Mr. Sikander Bakht has been alienated for various reasons and Mukhtar Naqvi is a political light weight and does not count much in the world of power politics.
But even if a few political aspirants among Muslims join the BJP, Muslim masses are in no mood to extend their support to it. This will not happen as long as the BJP is member of the Sangh Parivar. The BJP neither can nor does it want to extricate itself from the Parivar. It will play politics only within this political paradigm. In a democracy of the Indian diversity, rigidity and purity can only become serious hindrances. The Sangh Parivar is fully aware of this. Hence they do not want to seriously impair their growth. They may or may not be flexible on certain issues but they want to be seen as flexible, and Mr. Bangaru Laxman's speech urging the BJP cadre to reach out to Muslims is part of this exercise. The Sangh Parivar has its ideological job divided among its members. The RSS who heads the Parivar guards ideological purity, the VHP and Bajrang Dal make right noises and maintain aggressive militant stance and the BJP presents itself with political finesse and needed flexibility. Thus it is the 'Ram Rajya' which will prevail, not the 'Laxman Rajya'.
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism
Mumbai:- 400 055.