Under a new and as yet untested leadership, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to formulate a fresh ideological framework for itself.
In doing so, the party seems to have juxtaposed its standard pro-Hindu agenda with an attempt to reach out to Muslims with a “vision document” for their empowerment. The endeavour may, however, lead to the party being caught in a situation where it will confuse and even alienate its core base of support — the communal Hindus — without being able to win over the minorities.
Even if the Hindu supremacist, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s mentor, reserves its judgement for the time being about this electoral gimmick in the belief that it may fetch some votes, militant outfits like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal are unlikely to look kindly at the BJP’s version of Muslim “appeasement”.
For years, the BJP, the RSS and other members of the saffron brotherhood have lambasted the Congress for its supposedly pro-minority policies for the sake of cultivating the Muslim vote bank. Their latest target of attack was the Rajinder Sachar Committee, set up by the Manmohan Singh government in 2005, to look into Muslims’ socio-economic conditions in India.
However, now, the BJP has decided to follow a similar path. Its reason for trying to reach out to the Muslims is obvious. With the general elections due in less than a year, the BJP cannot afford to let the Congress walk away with nearly 40 per cent of the Muslim vote when the BJP secures barely 5 or 6 per cent. The party is evidently trying to deny the Congress this huge advantage.
However, the BJP’s problem is that its own history is against this opportunistic manoeuvre. Even if the anti-Muslim diatribes of its guiding lights like Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar are ignored for the moment, the party will find it difficult to explain its relentless anti-Muslim propaganda during the Ramjanmabhoomi movement in the 1990s.
Apart from the targeting of mosques like the Babri Masjid, which was demolished by saffron storm-troopers on December 6, 1992, and the ones in Varanasi and Mathura, the Hindutva brigade had some chilling anti-Muslim slogans. It was not Muslims alone who were demonised. Christians, too, were portrayed as essentially anti-national as the anti-Christian riots in Gujarat’s Dangs area in the late 1990s and the burning of churches in Odisha in 2008 amply showed.
Both communities were accused of conspiring to reduce the Hindus to a minority in their only country in the world, as the Sangh Parivar proclaimed, via conversions by Christian missionaries or by Muslims with their four wives ignoring family planning, as complained by the Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi.
Against the backdrop of such hate-mongering, which initially paid considerable political dividends by raising the tally of the BJP’s Lok Sabha seats from two in 1984 to 182 in 1998, it will be a herculean task for the party to woo Muslims. Even if the BJP has moderated its attitude to some extent in view of the realisation that a community which makes up 14 per cent of India’s population cannot be ignored, the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal remain as virulent as ever. Their objective is still to establish a Hindu rashtra (nation) where the minorities will be second class citizens.
It is perhaps as a sop to these groups that the BJP has revived the call for scrapping Article 370 of the Constitution, which confers a special status on Kashmir and for introducing a Uniform Civil Code for all religions. It has to be remembered that these issues, along with the construction of the Ram temple, were put on the backburner by the BJP in 1996 when it realised during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government of 13 days that it could not attract any other party to support it.
The shelving of this pro-Hindu agenda helped Vajpayee to form an alliance of 24 parties in 1998, which began to fall apart after the Gujarat riots of 2002 and has now been reduced to a group of just three members. However, the return of two of the three points of the agenda means the BJP may play the Hindutva card again.
But riding two horses at the same time — Hindutva and Muslim “empowerment” — will require the skills of a circus artiste. Since the political acumen of Modi, Rajnath Singh and Co has not been tested in an electoral contest at the national level, the chances of their success in carrying out the balancing act do not seem particularly high.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst.