BJP apes Congress, fails

Koenraad Elst

Right-wing parties all over the world have a common trait: Once in or near power, they betray their own support base. The BJP is no different. It is needlessly described as a ‘Hindu chauvinist’ party which it is not. To prove its ‘secular’ credentials, the BJP chose to become the ‘B’ team of the Congress. And was rejected by the voters

With great satisfaction, the world has taken note of the defeat of the Hindu nationalists: “The Indian voter has rejected Hindu chauvinism.” Subtleties such as the likelihood that the BJP has been abandoned by many of its supporters for not being Hindu chauvinist enough, don’t come into the picture. The typically Indian failures of the BJP that explain its defeat, I now leave to Indian authors to discuss. What has caught my attention is a trait the BJP shares with Right-wing parties all over the world.

 The label ‘Rightist’ is open to various definitions, the themes with which Rightist parties attract voters are different from country to country, and even on a single theme, their positions may differ between countries. But they have one behavioural trait in common: Once in or near power, they betray their own support base.

In France, Mr Nicolas Sarkozy came to power on a distinctly Rightist platform, which he largely disowned once installed as President. Thus, he had promised to oppose the entry of Turkey into the EU, but the first thing he did was to nominate as his Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner of the opposition Socialist Party, a declared supporter of Turkey’s entry.

In Britain, the Conservative Party is a copy of New Labour on all issues of consequence. People who favour its traditional positions now turn to the UK Independence Party or even the proletarian British National Party. Those who insist on loyalty to the old party-line, even top-ranking veteran Norman Tebbitt, are threatened with expulsion.

In the US, the real (so-called paleo-) conservatives have been frozen out of the Republican Party and are being starved by institutional boycotts. The party shuns matters of principle and limits its supposed conservatism to mindless flag-waving. While the party base favours Christian politics, the part elite downplays ideology and promoted as presidential candidate the faux war martyr John McCain, a liberal in the Culture War. Like other plutocrats eager to suppress labour wages by exploiting illegals, he laughed at the party activists’ demands for curbs on immigration. Consequently, conservative mobilisation for the party during the elections was lacklustre and defeat inevitable.

Doesn’t all this remind you of the BJP? The party favours mindless flag-waving over ideology and takes its constituents for granted. It assumes that they have nowhere else to turn and will follow the party in all its erratic policy shifts. Well, not really erratic, there is a transparent logic in the party’s betraying its core party-line: It dreams of enjoying the warmth of approval from its enemies, who happen to dominate the cultural and media sectors. It tells its voters: Since you are lambasted as reactionary communalists, we don’t want to be on your side. But no matter what non-Hindutva postures it adopts, the hoped-for approval from the secularists remains elusive.

In 1991 already, right after the election victory that made the BJP the leading Opposition party, it discreetly disowned the Ayodhya movement that had earned it this breakthrough. The media scapegoated Mr LK Advani for the subsequent Babri Masjid demolition, though everybody knew that it had taken place in spite of him. He had gone there to demonstrate to the secularists that he was the one man who could control Hindu anger and prevent it from demolishing this symbol of secularism. When the crowd bypassed him, he broke down in tears, and ever since, he has been deploring the event as the ‘blackest day’ of his life. Disowning his role of flag-bearer of Hindutva, he should have bowed out gracefully. Instead, his clinging on to the leadership reminds us of Mr Jean-Marie Le Pen, the aged French Rightist leader who has sacrificed his party to his own pitiable ambitions.

While Ayodhya was ‘merely’ a symbolic issue, the more political demands were likewise cast aside. When in power, the BJP didn’t make the slightest move towards a Common Civil Code, abolition of Jammu & Kashmir’s separate status or Governmental non-interference in Hindu schools and places of worship. The single attempt at doing anything pro-Hindu — Mr Murli Manohar Joshi’s exercise in rewriting the Marxist-distorted textbooks — turned into a horror show of incompetence.

During the latest campaign, the BJP downplayed ideology (except erratically in the Varun Gandhi incident) and betted all on ‘good governance’. Some BJP State Governments have provided that, to be sure, and in these States the BJP has been rewarded. But it could never be a decisive election-winner because Congress hasn’t done too bad in that regard either. Ever since Mr Manmohan Singh read out the 1992 Budget, the world sees his signature written all over India’s economic success. Even BJP contributors to that success, like erstwhile Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie, won’t deny him that honour.

In these circumstances, only a clear ideological profile, mature but distinct, could have won the election for the BJP. If it didn’t want that ideological distinctness and was content to remain the Congress’s B-team, the party could have learned from Mr Sarkozy to show this only after the election. Before, it should at least have kept up the pretence of being a party with a difference.

— The author is an Indologist based in Brussels.

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