Secularism and BJP's Dilemmas

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By Ram Puniyani *

Putting on masks with changing times are the compulsions of electoral politics for many parties, more so with a party like Bhartiya Janta Party. BJP so far has been doing this with great amount of ease, but lately its dilemmas are increasing in intensity due to its track record in the political arena during last two decades. One such attempt to change gears or put on a new mask was attempted by L.K. Advani in the recently held BJP executive in Delhi (Sept 2012).

Advani in the speech which was circulated had written about "re-projecting the party's commitment to secularism" in his valedictory function speech. While speaking he stumbled as he was face to face with something which BJP does not like in the real sense, secularism, and so he skipped this S word in his spoken speech.

To begin with recent things, it is from last few months that Neetish Kumar has been saying that NDA should have a leader with a secular image. His hint was to oppose the claims of Mr. Narendra Modi, who is a strong candidate for the post of PM, for BJP and thereby of NDA. Neetish Kumar with his own electoral compulsions has been avoiding Mr. Modi, not touching him even with a barge pole. Since Kumar and other allies are very crucial for BJP to come to power, BJP has been in two minds about projecting Modi as the PM candidate. As such also BJP had a complex calculation while dealing with the issue of secularism and Indian state.

BJP is the at one level the political wing of RSS, in which RSS trained swyamsevaks are in the lead with some non-RSS background leaders also scattered here and there. Still the primary control of BJP is with the RSS trained swayamsevaks. In turn BJP’s political directions are controlled by the patriarch, RSS, which takes most of the crucial decisions about BJP policies. It is not too far back that Nitin Gadkari was imposed on BJP as the President, and then making exception to the rule he was ‘re-elected’ as the President mainly due to the dictates of RSS. Earlier also there are examples galore about the RSS determining the direction of BJP in the main. It’s also true that within the given parameters, BJP does have some autonomy also, but that relates to mundane affairs not in the major policy making.

The major brunt of campaigning for BJP is also done by the RSS volunteers, who are the major bulwark of BJP political electoral machine. All the top leaders of BJP, from Vajpayee, Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitly and Nitin Gadkari are the swayamsevaks trained in the RSS shakhas. For them, RSS has the primacy over any other thing and this gets reflected times and over again. Once Vajpayee, when he was Prime Minister, was speaking in the gathering of NRIs in Staten Island in US. He exhibited his primary loyalty to RSS by saying that he may be the Prime Minister, but more than that he is the swayamsevak of RSS, a right, which nobody can snatch from him. When Advani in an effort to make an image changeover from the Babri mosque demolisher to the potential PM candidate, went on to praise Jinnah and his 11th August 1947 Speech in Pakistan, RSS immediately put the reins of control and Advani was immediately marginalized from BJP leadership, a ground he has been trying to regain by various means, to no avail. Similarly when the previous avatar of BJP, Bhartiya Jansangh had dissolved itself to merge in the Janata Party, in the aftermath of dreaded emergency, its leadership broke the Janata party and re-emerged as Bhartiya Janata Party. The issue was that the socialists in Janata party had demanded that the Jana Sangh faction cannot have duel membership of Janata party as well as RSS. This faction rather than severing relation with RSS promptly broke the Janata party and came out.

RSS is primarily committed to the agenda of Hindu Rashtra, Hindu nation, a concept parallel to the concept of Islamic nation, which had become the base of Pakistan. Now the paradox for BJP is that it has to come to power through an electoral process, in a country with diversity in religion and culture. It does want to impose Hindu nation but that is not possible without capturing power in the centre. For capturing power they have to adopt the norms of electoral politics and play the ‘vote bank ‘politics as other parties do. The aim has been first to polarise the Hindu votes and then to appeal to votes of other sections of society. Polarization of section of Hindu votes has been achieved by BJP through Babri demolition, Post demolition riots and Gujarat carnage. Having achieved this, for winning over the dalits and other weaker sections the strategy is to co-opt them through mechanisms of social engineering through programs like “Samajik Samrasta (collaboration between castes) and Hindutvisation of Adivasis through programs like Ghar vapasi (returning home) for Adivasis, telling them they are Hindus who had to flee to the forests due to the intimidation of Muslim kings, so they must return to Hindu fold. In the same effort for winning over Adivasis, the tribal areas witnessed anti Christian violence.

As for as Muslim, the biggest religious minority is concerned they have given mixed signals. Having given the signal to section of Hindus, the challenge has been to win over the Muslims’ votes as well, as all Hindus will not vote for BJP at any time. So the first effort was to project Vajpayee as the leader, as Vajpayee was a most suitable mask. It was very part of his persona, to the extent of people went on to say that he is the ‘right man in the wrong party’. To oppose Congress Advani coined the word pseudo secularism for the policies of Congress. Surely Congress is no secular angel, as it has compromised with communal forces and in the game of vote bank politics, has played the role of ‘opportunist communal’ party. This is in contrast to BJP which is party programmed for Communalism. After Vajpayee period BJP has been trying to put on a secular mask. But the job is not easy and they have to play the role close to that of a trapeze artist. Not to lose polarised vote bank of Hindus and at the same time to win over Muslims votes.

It is in this direction that Bangaru Laxaman once said that Muslims are the ‘blood of our blood and flesh of our flesh’. Advani tried this by offering secular Jinnah comments and now this gem from him is again an attempt in that direction. Same Advani in part of his speech, which he did not read, said, “We should, with full conviction, reassure our brethren belonging to the minority communities that we brook no discrimination or injustice in dealing with different sections of our diverse society.” Who will believe that except the novice!

Whether such a new mask will cut any ice with the Muslim community, who by now has realized that irrespective of its utterances BJP is anti minority to the core, and makes secular noises just for effect. Even their formulation of secularism ‘justice to all and appeasement of none’, gives a clear message that Muslims cannot expect any affirmative action, which a battered community needs for its upliftment.

Today while the communal parties have polarized the communities along religious lines, what is needed is a principled politics along secular lines. Those tied to the apron strings of the organization with the ideology which wants to bring in Hindu Nation cannot be secular. Their masks are a mechanism to put wool in people’s eyes. We need to recall the Hindu values of father of the nation, Gandhi. Despite holding Hinduism as his religion he never indulged in the politics of Hindu religious identity. BJP indulges in issues like Babri mosque, holy cow, Ram Setu, Amarnath Yatra, etc. something which is the basic hallmark of Advani and company. It is the use of religion’s identity for political goals. Gandhi followed religion as morality and BJP is using ‘religions’ identity for political goals’, this is what communalism is, and this is what the hallmark of BJP is.

* The author is Professor Biomedical Engineering at IIT Mumbai and  has been involved with human rights activities for last two decades. He is recipient of Indira Gandhi National Integration Award in 2006. He has worked  with groups for workers rights. Since 1992, he has been associated with various secular and democratic initiatives, working for communal harmony and opposing the rising tide of Fundamentalism-Fascism in India. He has written books, contributed articles and essays in magazines and newspapers and conducted seminars and workshops on the theme of  threat of communal politics to democratic society. He is running a fortnightly e-bulletin ‘Issues in secular politics’. His email address is This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

MAY 2017

Vol. 11 - No. 10










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