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Parties and Web sites

Print edition : Feb 21, 1998 T+T-

THE BJP's position of being the only political party to have a Web site was short-lived (Frontline, February 6). It has rapidly been joined on the Net by the Shiv Sena, the Congress(I) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). But even the initial self-congratulatory tone of the BJP was dampened by the fact that the Web site attracted more unwelcome attention than the party had bargained for.

On January 20, Congress(I) spokesperson V.N. Gadgil launched a strong attack on A.B. Vajpayee's Organiser article 'The Sangh is My Soul'. The BJP, which is struggling to preserve A.B. Vajpayee's 'good guy' image, reacted with a statement denying that the article was written by him. The statement claimed that the article had been based on an interview with Vajpayee and that it had been published without his concurrence. It also claimed that the contents were at variance with what Vajpayee had said. At some time around 11.00 a.m. on January 21, the hypertext link to the article was cut, thus severing the article from the Web page of the BJP. A gleeful Jairam Ramesh of the Congress(I) declared at the inauguration of his party's Web site that it did not carry anything that would need to be withdrawn later.

It is clear that the BJP is tripping over its own propaganda. The stream of statements from Vajpayee and other spokesmen that seek to project a 'moderate' image are clearly at variance with what most of their party persons (including those in the BJP media cell) perceive to be BJP and Sangh Parivar policy. Hence the inability really to clean up Vajpayee's image and to leave behind pointers to the truth, such as the 'Sangh is My Soul' piece.

More interestingly, none of the other virulently Hindutva pieces have been removed from the Web site - the 'official' Web site, we may remind ourselves. It would appear, strangely enough, that the BJP thinks that it is sufficient for Vajpayee to be cast as a 'moderate' while the rest of the machinery may openly champion the hard-core Hindutva line. It seems that the BJP would have the electorate believe that Vajpayee, after being elected Prime Minister, would follow policies entirely different from the party that got him there. The wide gap between the RSS-Hindutva core of the BJP philosphy and practice and its current image-building exercises is even more obvious if we compare the BJP election manifesto (recently posted) with the rest of the material at the Web site.

Clearly, the BJP, and other political parties as well, are yet to realise that going on the Net can work both ways. While the Web site helps provide a wider dissemination of its message, it also allows its readers to examine more carefully the material presented there. This is significantly different from the print or electronic media where the reader has access to the material only through the mediation of journalists and editors. Apart from easy access, collection and archiving become easier. Henceforth all that the BJP offers on the Net can be documented and stored easily by several individuals and the danger of propaganda manoeuvres coming unstuck will increase. For instance, despite the BJP's withdrawal of the Vajpayee article, it is already available elsewhere on the Net (see, for instance, https://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Lobby/9219).

The bulletin board at the BJP Web site continues to provide interesting insights into the minds of the BJP's Internet following. Nahid Ali from his America On-line account thinks that the BJP is not communal and should be given a chance, while ignoring several messages that advocate throwing Muslims and Christians out of India. Appeals by some to exercise moderation in language and style in the messages ('Let us remember that our views are open to the whole world' wrote 'Shalini') are ignored or openly opposed by others. Wildly abusive messages (early targets were Sonia Gandhi and Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the latest are 'secular Hindu bastards') continue to appear at regular intervals. There is advice to the BJP leadership (support the 'Desi Bahu versus Pardeshi Bahu', that is, Maneka Gandhi versus Sonia Gandhi), while a Mumbai doctor who wants to know why the BJP is backing corrupt candidates draws abuse in reply.

The manner in which the board is conducted reflects the fascist element in the Hindutva style of debate and discussion. The common practice on the Net, when serious discussion on controversial issues is needed, is to have a bulletin board with a moderator. The BJP has satisfied itself with a ritual disclaimer that the views expressed there are not its own without any discernible attempt to control the hate mail. In the Hindutva dispensation, reasoned discussion has to vie with hate talk to be heard.

Even if you are no supporter of the Congress(I), its Web site will be something of a relief after the stridency of the BJP. The Sonia factor is used rather discreetly and is to be found only on a few pages. Among the more interesting things to read are the question and answer page (which meets the most damaging questions against the Congress(I) head on) and the entire election manifesto that is available.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the Congress(I) site is its conflation of party and nation. The page on 'Achievements' includes sections on oceanography, space and atomic energy as if all these constitute the achievements of the Congress party itself. On the history page, predictably, the entire freedom struggle is appropriated to bolster the case for the Congress party of today. Equally predictably, there is no mention of the Emergency.

Among the useful items to be found at https://www.indiancongress.org is that little read document, the Constitution of the Congress party. Congress-watchers would be well-advised to store it for reference at the time of the next round of party organisational elections.

The other two parties that have Web sites are friends of the BJP, the AIADMK (https://www.aiadmk.org) and the Shiv Sena (https://www.Shivsena.org). The AIADMK site is a surprisingly restrained one, in sharp contrast to the media style of its supremo.

The latter site is a quick read - most of the pages are collections of one-liners. My favourite page here is the collection titled 'Thoughts about Shivsena', which is remarkable for its unintended grim humour. My favourite quote here is this pair: 'Shivsainik rushes to help the people in distress as a fire fighting engine rushes to calm the inferno.' 'Shivsainik is like a burning torch. He shall burn the evil and he shall also show the path...to those who are in ... darkness.'

Among the constituents of the United Front, the first to go on-line is the Communist Party of India (Marxist). This was long overdue, considering the traditional importance the Left has attached to its internationalist approach to politics. The CPI(M) Web pages on the VSNL's Delhi web-server (https://wwwdel.vsnl.net.in/cpim) include the basic party policy, details about the performance of the State Governments run by the party, and the current elections. The full text of the Left parties' election manifesto is also provided. It is noteworthy that the pages appear to be volunteer-run and not run commercially like the other parties.

Among the items here for the more serious student of Indian and Left politics is the party's resolution, adopted at its Congress in Chennai in January 1992, on ideological issues in the post-Soviet era. Given the generally serious and intellectually deep approach of the Left to Indian politics, one may hope that these Web pages will become the hub of a progressive international and national network devoted to active debate on contemporary social, political and economic issues. Click and see what's on.

T. Jayaraman