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National Council meet of BJP at Nagpur: Vajpayee in full command

Paper No. 145

by R.Upadhyay

The projection of the new face of the BJP in its just concluded National Council meet (August 26-28) at Nagpur may be a significant electoral strategy of the new leadership, but it has kept no one in doubt that the party is no more ideology-centric. Under full control of the Prime Minister A.B.Vajpayee, the National Council meet sent a signal that the days, when the BJP used to be under the remote control of its parent organisation RSS are gone. With changed approach to the politics, the highest policy making body of the BJP has stamped its approval on the Vajpayee’’s doctrine
of governance. Some of the salient features of Nagpur meet are as under:

* Old ideological moorings are no more the agenda of the party.
* The BJP no more under the remote control of the RSS.
* Total subordination of the party to the Government.
* A new experiment to woo Muslim voters.

Old Ideological moorings no more in BJP agenda.

The BJP with its long history of politics based on the concept of Hindutva as ideological mascot, and deep rooted emotional attachment with the ancient traditions and culture of the country, the party after coming to power is now trying to project itself as a "natural party of governance". This land mark change initiated in its Chennai Declaration and subsequently approved in the Nagpur meet raises some basic question as to why Bangaru Laxman, the new president felt shy to use the word Hindutva anywhere in his presidential speech at Nagpur. Subsequently, he also appealed to foreign media that "please do not label BJP as a Hindu nationalist party ……."(Pioneer dated September 2).

Right from the Palampur- meet of the BJP in 1989, when Ayodhya was included in its agenda, Hindutva remained the catch word of the party till 1998 Lok Sabha election. "Hindutva as cultural nationalism," "Hindutva means justice for all" and Hindutva as national identity of the country were the ideological part of party’s election manifesto till the party came to power in 1998. "The BJP is convinced that Hindutva has an immense potentiality to re-energize this nation and strengthen and discipline it to undertake the arduous task of nation building." (Election Manifesto 1998). In his essay entitled ""The birth, growth and unstoppable BJP"" K.R..Malkani, an ideologue of the party said that ""we were, and are, a Hindu Nation"".

In this background background, Bangaru Laxman, in his presidential speech preferred to use of the word nationalism instead of cultural nationalism, the latter being synonymous with the word Hindu nationalism. He said "Nationalism first and last, nationalism in big and small matters, nationalism in politics and nationalism in economics –– this was, is and will
continue to be the BJP’s guiding principle."

BJP no more under the remote control of the RSS?

Vajpayee visited the RSS headquarters at Nagpur on August 27 as the first Prime Minister of the country. He also paid tributes to Dr.K.B.Hedgewar, the founder leader of the organisation and his successor M.S.Golwarkar. This was a part of his emotional relationship with the RSS as he reportedly said, "BHAVANAON KA JWAR UMAD RAHA HAI" (Tide of emotions
are swelling). Addressing a small gathering of RSS functionaries he said, "It is a mere coincidence that today I am visiting as PM. Ever since I joined the RSS as a boy with the only worry of how the country would attain freedom and emerge as a powerful nation. I have been a regular visitor here …… the post may go tomorrow, but I will always remain a humble swayamsevak." Referring to the perceptual differences between the RSS and the BJP, which according to him was a "confusion created by the media" he said, "while accomplishing the task of nation-building, there can be differences, but these can be overcome."

Despite this emotional relationship, which the Prime Minister expressed during his visit to the birthplace of the parent organisation of the BJP, the National Council did not allow it to prevail upon its political and economic resolutions. In fact, ignoring the protests from the RSS and its constituent Swadeshi Jagran Manch against handling of Kashmir situation and economic policy respectively by the Government, the National Council endorsed these policies fully in both the political and economic resolutions passed by it. This was perhaps also an attempt of the party leadership to remove the prevailing impression that the BJP is under the remote control of the RSS. In a subsequent interview to India Today, the Prime Minister said that "The RSS and its front units have an identity of their own which is entirely separate from that of the Bhartiya Janata Party" is apparently another attempt.

Total subordination of BJP to the government:

After his third enthronement as Prime Minister in October 1999, Vajpayee initiated a move to change the conservative image of the BJP into a liberal face. The main idea behind the move was to keep the allies of the BJP together. Accordingly, the National Council meeting (Chennai –– December 27-29, 1999) asked the delegates to endorse this new line of the party in Chennai Declaration. The draft document, which maintained that "The BJP has no agenda other than the common agenda of the NDA" was however amended, due to strong protest of some of the party leaders. The National Council had to replace it with a sentence that "BJP expresses its confidence that every BJP worker understands that our agenda for governance is the national agenda for good governance.".

The amendment in Chennai declaration did not deter the liberal image builders in the party in their efforts to change the face of the BJP. With the growth in the personal image of Vajpayee both at the national and international level, they successfully stamped the subordination of the party to Vajpayee’’s doctrine of governance during its Nagpur National Council session.

Another significant outcome of the Nagpur meet was to create an impression that criticism of the Government policies even inside the party forum would not be acceptable if it were not favourable to the interest of the party in consolidating its ties with allies. Instead of countering the criticism effectively, the new leadership gave an opportunity to its opponents that the BJP in its effort to occupy the position of the Congress has no inhibition to inherit its authoritarian culture, when it is in power. At the same time they cautioned the dissidents with warning that the erring functionaries will be dealt with firmly against indiscipline. Unlike the National Council meet at Chennai, the Nagpur session of the National Council failed to force the new leadership to make any amendments to the Vajpayee’’s doctrine of governance.

New Experiment to woo the Muslim voters- Will it succeed?

After diluting the party’’s old distinctive agenda on Kashmir and Swadeshi, the National Council made an attempt to expand the party’’s base with a new experiment to woo the Muslims. Recalling the Chennai Declaration of the party in which an attempt was made to reinvent the relationship between the BJP and the Indian Muslims, Bangaru Laxman in his written Presidential speech said that "the Muslims have, by and large, neither got rightful share in the nation’ s development nor been able to join the national mainstream to play their due role in nation-building."  He further said, ""the BJP has not yet become the preferred party of governance in the eyes of the people." Quoting from Deendayal Upadhyay’’s presidential speech at the Calicut session of theBhartiya Jana Sangh, (the earlier incarnation of the BJP) in 1967 that ""Muslims are the flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood" he has now opened a new debate both within and outside the party whether the BJP is serious to change the course of the historical stream of the party or it is simply a ploy to get the votes of the Muslims as suggested by its adversaries.

If the on going debate on the new experiment of the BJP to woo the Muslims is any indication, the possibility of erasing the anti-Muslim image of the party is apparently very remote. Apart from Muslim intellectuals, political opponents of the BJP and a large section of media have refused to be impressed with the "new face" of the party. According to them, this new chorus to entice Muslims with assurance to offer them more seats in future elections is simply an electoral strategy of the party. It has nothing to do with any change in the heart and traditional mind set of the party against the Muslims.

The efforts of Bangaru Laxman to change the course of the historical stream of the BJP are being challenged even by party’s sympathisers with many uncomfortable questions. Will the BJP repeat the history of separate electorates to Muslims during the British period by evolving proportional representation to the community in legislatures and Government jobs? Will it give equal status to Urdu along with Hindi? Will it apologise for supporting Ayodhya movement? Will it abandon permanently its agenda of uniform Civil Code, Article 370 and commitment to facilitate the construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya? Until and unless the BJP changes its historical mind set and politics of Hindutva, the Muslim mass may not trust the BJP.

The RSS in a statement on Bangaru Laxman’s overtures towards the Muslims did not consider it a case of appeasement. But, it is an irony that hardly within a week of National Council meeting, Kalraj Mishra, UP State President of the party visited Ayodhya, where he was greeted with usual slogans favouring construction of temple there. Similarly, Govindacharya, General Secretary of the BJP has been quoted in media saying that "his party was committed to Hindutva"( Times of India dated September 5). Addressing the State Executive Committee members at Bangalore he said, "In the Indian context, the other name for nationalism is Hinduism, which is a tradition and not a mode of worship. The identity of this nation is Hindutva." Such overtures on the part of senior party leaders vindicate the criticism of party’’s opponents that the pro-Muslim agenda of the new president is not taken seriously either by the party cadres or by the Muslims.

If the warning signal of the VHP President Vishnu Hari Dalmiya, who was quoted in Media saying that "in forthcoming UP assembly polls VHP cadres may not work for the BJP" and that "We think it was the Ramjanambhoomi movement which brought BJP to power. But having tasted power, they seem to think otherwise. They are not doing anything for the Hindus." (Times of India dated August 25) –– are any indication, the new image of the BJP projected during Nagpur Session of the highest policy making body of the party may prove costly

Ideological philosophy now transformed into Power retaining philosophy:

From the discussion we may conclude that the stagnation in the electoral growth of the party after 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha polls, the party leadership is apprehensive of erosion in its support base. Bangaru Laxman, the new President therefore, in a realistic approach said, ""the BJP has not yet become the preferred party of governance in the eyes of the people." With a view to shed the pro-Hindu image of the party, he tried to down play the Hindutva card in his presidential speech. Similarly, L.K.Advani in his attempt to shed his hard line image cautioned the National Council members to stop behaving like opposition. Advani, who was credited for pushing the party to prominence through Hindutva as its ideological mascot is now also realistic in accepting the coalition pragmatism. Under the present political scenario ideology hardly has a role to play in retaining the power. Thus, to compromise with the situation as the only agenda of the party, the BJP has now tried to convert its ideological philosophy into the power retaining philosophy.

Now the main concern of the party is to ensure its electoral success in future elections. But in the eyes of the new leadership this may not be possible if the party continues to pursue its distinctive old agenda. The ensuing Assembly elections in UP, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu next year will be the test case for the Prime Minister- centric BJP under the leadership of its Dalit President. To expand the electoral base of the party among the Dalit and minority voters, the National Council down played its aggressive Hindutva card of the past. How far it will help the party to woo the Muslim and Dalit voters particularly in UP Assembly election next year continues to haunt the mind of the BJP cadres, who are now found more and more confused due to prevailing contradictions in the party.

The RSS leadership may also prefer to allow the new leadership of the BJP to test its strength on the basis of the new face of the party. The visit of Vajpayee to RSS headquarter as first Prime Minister of the country might have assuaged the Sangh leadership that its ""humble swayamsevak"" has not abandoned it. But the political observers are yet to assess the mood of the volunteers of Sangh parivar, as it will be very difficult if not impossible for the BJP to win elections without their active support.

On his return from Nagpur, when Bangaru Laxman visited the party headquarters at 11 Ashoka Road, New Delhi, a party MP greeted him along with his supporters with a slogan of Allah ho Akbar which vibrated the atmosphere for quite some time. Now many party workers are found greeting each other whether jokingly or otherwise instead of the usual Jai Sri Ram.  The new leadership might now think to organise a  "Yatra" to woo the Muslims in pattern of Ram Rath Yatra, as the party cadres have already started practising the new slogan.


(e-mail ramashray60 @ )