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Election verdict 2009: Whither BJP?

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Ram Puniyani expresses hope that, with the decline of the BJP, those struggling for democratic space and the rights of the downtrodden will come to the fore.

The resounding defeat of BJP in the 2009 elections, decline in number of seats and decline in voting percentage prompted various BJP insiders and sympathizers to do some introspection. Where did the party go wrong? In his piece in Times of India (4 June 2009), Swapan Dasgupta feels that BJP has got too much identified with Hindutva, which is no more appealing to large section of Hindus; so it needs to come out of this image for a makeover. Sudheendra Kulkarni (Tehelka, 13 June 2009), looks at the defeat as close Advani aide and also as an insider and points out that Advani was not sufficiently backed up by RSS and BJP. He also says that BJP’s implementation of Hindutva looked to be anti-minorities and that its links with RSS need to be given a second look.

Kulkarni projects as if Hindutva is all inclusive, Hindu identity is core of Indian nationalism, and cultural nationalism is not meant for Hindus alone. One can infer that Kulkarni basically stands by the core RSS concepts of Hindutva, cultural nationalism and integral humanism and finds BJP practices faulty in this direction. One can point out that since Kulkarni is an insider, associated with BJP from the times of Advani’s Rath nay, blood yatra, and is close to the top echelons of BJP and that he had all the time to point out to BJP leadership as to how their practice is deviating from the genuine Hindutva. One is not sure whether this has been done inside the party forums; anyway, let’s keep that aside.

Concepts and ideologies are not made in the thin air. They reflect the needs of social groups. These terms couched in the language of religion were devised by ideologues of declining sections of Hindu society, the landlords and Brahmins from the early 1920s onwards. The term Hindutva in particular came into being as the politics of Hindu Mahasabha and RSS. It stood for the politics of Hindus, for the building of Hindu Rashtra. This word was coined by Savarkar in 1920s and was meant to be an alternate notion of politics to the one being articulated by the national movement led by Gandhi. A similar concept of nationalism, based on the values of liberty, equality and fraternity were also articulated by Ambedkar, while the third major stream during the freedom movement, Bhagat Singh and the Communists, dreamt of a socialist society, based on the notions of substantive equality and state regulating the social relations to ensure this equality.

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It must be pointed out that the concept of Hindutva aims at Hindu nation, in parallel to the concept of Muslim nation being propounded by the Muslim League, and in opposition to the concept of democratic secular nation, the concept for which the national movement was working. This Indian nationalism is all inclusive, inclusive of all religions, castes and both genders. The concepts of Hindu and Muslim nations are exclusive concepts. The second point is that the Gandhi-Ambedkar nationalism was based on the equality of caste and gender while HIndutva and the ideology of Muslim nationalism were a continuum of the feudal values, the harping on caste and gender hierarchy. In the same direction later, Deen Dayal Upadhyay, the ideologue of RSS-BJP, very cleverly put up the concept of integral humanism. This concept argues that as any organism is well balanced due to the division of work between different parts of the body, similarly different social groups perform different well defined tasks to provide the equilibrium for the proper social functioning. This in a way talks of status quo in the caste and gender relations prevalent in society.

BJP’s exclusionary worldview

Similarly, cultural nationalism as propounded by RSS and adopted by BJP stands for the elite Brahminical culture as the synonym for Indian-ness. All in all, this is precisely what RSS defines and BJP has practised so far. There cannot be equal place for dalits, women and non-Hindus in this scheme of things. Swapan Dasgupta feels BJP has to drop Hindutva to provide an alternative based on good governance and non-dynasty politics. Kulkarni’s reading of Hindutva and integral humanism is from the world of make-believe, totally off the mark. The simple question is why were these practitioners of Hindutva and cultural nationalism aloof from the national movement? It is this national movement which laid the basis of India and achieved India’s independence. These streams which take the cover of glorious traditions focus only on those traditions that are elitist. In the Indian context, the concepts Hindu nationalism and Muslim nationalism derive their legitimacy from the Brahminical and Ashrafs (Muslim elite) streams respectively. Why can’t RSS-BJP say that they are primarily loyal to the values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and dump all those concepts built around religious identity? It is because these religion-based concepts are the best cover for the oppression of women, dalits and non-Hindus. And in turn these concepts also demonise, intimidate and commit violence against minorities, trying to reduce them to second-class citizens.

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The BJP could come to power only because of their harping on the identity of Lord Ram. The BJP does hold Ram as the symbol of India’s identity. This is one of the expressions of their cultural nationalism. The question arises why only Lord Ram is the symbol of India; why not Shambuk or Bali or Sita? In a nutshell, their cultural nationalism picks up those characters which suit the interests and agenda of the Hindu elite. Surely, had the Ram temple agitation not occurred, had the Babri mosque not been demolished and the Mumbai and Gujarat violence not been instigated, the BJP would have been on the margins of Indian society. Its raison detre is that it is the progeny of the RSS and that it is related to the VHP and Bajrang Dal, whose vagaries it keeps defending most of the time. It is thoroughly exclusionist and that’s why it justifies the Gujarat violence and Kandhamal, rejects Sachar committee etc. It is not a mere coincidence; it is the core of the BJP’s politics. It is not that the concept of Hindutva is inclusionary and the practice faulty, the very concept of Hindutva is exclusionary, in theory and practice.

Can BJP throw away Hindutva and their aim of building a Hindu nation around the glorious Hindu traditions of Manu Smriti? The question is misplaced as the BJP is nobody to decide that. The BJP is merely a political arm of the RSS; it is the RSS which has to decide that. Can the RSS cut its own legitimacy off by renouncing Hindutva? The question does not arise. The RSS essentially is aimed around these goals. Kulkarni’s confusions and his welcome concern about poor, minorities and dalits are misplaced as those are not the concerns of the RSS; they have never been and can never be the concerns of the BJP and company. Hindutva or integral humanism is a cleverly worded disguise to undermine the concept of democracy. The last two decades had been a nightmare where the values opposed to Indian nationhood asserted themselves aggressively, bringing immense miseries. One hopes with the trend of decline of BJP, those striving for democratic struggles, struggles for equality and the rights of dalits, women, adivasis, workers and minorities will come to occupy the main social space and protect the nation from the damage done by the politics in the garb of religious identity.
Source: Issues in Secular Politics, June 2009 III, pluralindia.com

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