The new medium of the Internet makes little difference to what the BJP really wants to talk about.
IN the wake of recent claims in the media that the BJP seeks to appear a responsible party of government and is willing to put on the back-burner issues dear to it in the past, it is interesting to see what image the BJP chooses to offer at its recently inaugurated Web site on the Internet. The Web site was launched with much fanfare, with party president L.K. Advani claiming that it showed how "forward looking" the BJP was. The real news from the BJP Web site (whether it is good or bad depends on your point of view), is that the leopard has not changed its spots. The Web site is not for laggards in software; you need the recent Netscape 3.0 or higher and no text-only browsers please! The opening page is a picture-heavy, fancy affair guaranteed to strain a terminal without sufficient memory. "Vande Mataram" scrolls by in several Indian languages while a map of India appears superimposed with a Durga-like figure (complete with trisul and lion) that fades away periodically to be replaced by human faces. The jingoistic overtones in the banner that proclaims the BJP's goal of transforming "the world's oldest civilisation into a strong, prosperous and confident nation" are very mild compared with what follows.
Enter the main page and you are greeted with pictures of Atal Behari Vajpayee and Advani. The main links for the election pages are here with the added exhortation: "Vote for a stable government and able prime minister". Despite the great deal the election page promises, including State-wise analysis and information, news from the campaign trail, international and national media quotes on the BJP's campaign and so on, there is as yet no material on these pages.
The real stuff is in the links that appear on the left margin of the main page. Most of the material goes back to 1995 or 1996 but clearly the media-savvy BJP has no hesitation in using them even now. Although much of it is from various articles by pro-BJP or party idealogues and little from official party resolutions or pronouncements, their presence clearly implies acceptance of the views expressed. It is worth remembering this as you make your way through the Web site.
"Policy on major issues" loads quickly enough on to the screen. The one piece on women's issues is by Murli Manohar Joshi from a 1995 issue of Organiser. Crimes against women happen less often in the East, particularly in India, the article claims. In India, says Joshi, "social relationships and institutions are patterned in such a manner that an evolving structure of balanced social amity is created." The task of Indian feminists is to "protect" the Indian family as "Indian women have done from vedic times". The page ends with a news item titled "Women excel in the shadow of the RSS". It pertains to a women's cooperative bank of RSS inspiration.
The economic affairs page is an amusing one. Joshi is here again, leading off with a note taken from an introduction to a volume written by pro-BJP economists. Neither capitalism nor communism is the answer to the crises, he intones; it is to be found instead in "nationalism and cultural heritage". What that means in terms of policy is hardly clear from the pieces that follow. No fewer than three of eight articles are by Tarun Das, former Director-General of the Confederation of Indian Industry, all of them the texts of press briefings. The message: What is good for the CII is good for the BJP.Organiser
The National Security and Defence page can be summed up in a single idea - India must build the bomb. The foreign policy page has one offering by one Dr. Saradindu Mukherjee, Reader in Delhi University. The piece, articulating a policy line that would delight Washington, states that the BJP has identified Islamic fundamentalism as the greatest threat to the world. It is heavy on arguing a hawkish stand towards Pakistan. A special note for cricket and music enthusiasts: the "fascination of a substantial section of India's population for increasing cultural-sporting ties with Pakistan neutralise the BJP effort to popularise and pursue a strong line against the Pakistan-sponsored jehad" (Dr. Mukherjee).
Go back to the main page and from the links on the left-hand margin move to the pages on the BJP's philosophy. These are the most crowded ones, dense with articles. We are on familiar territory here; Ayodhya, Hindutva, the relationship of the BJP and the RSS, the basic themes are all there. Well-known Parivar writers like Arun Shourie, S. Gurumurthy, Jag-mohan, M. V. Kamath are among the contributors. "Rama Temple shall be built" is the title of a piece by Advani on the "BJP and Ayodhya movement" page. There is no hint of any soft-pedalling on these issues.
K. R. Malkani's page on the BJP's history is in the same mould.
Hindutva or cultural nationalism, the "BJP and Hindutva" web-page proclaims, is the BJP's concept of nationhood. Amidst the wisdom offerred there is one titled "Hindutva: The great nationalist ideology" by Mihir Meghani of the University of Michigan, U.S. The target of his attack is, apart from Muslims and Islam in general, "the communist and Muslim intelligentsia, led by Nehruvian ideologists, who are never short of distorted history..." In typical Hindutva mode Meghani states: "It is up to the Muslims whether they will be included in the new nationalistic spirit of Bharat ... whether they wish to increase Hindu furor or work with the Hindu leadership..." You wonder whether Rangarajan Kumaramangalam and Aslam Sher Khan found these arguments persuasive.
What is behind the facade of the "good" face of the BJP, presented by Vajpayee? The answer from these pages is from Vajpayee himself, the dedicated RSS man. On the "BJP and the RSS" page is a single article by Vajpayee from Organiser of May 7, 1995, titled "The Sangh is my Soul". Vajpayee's inspirations in life are Shri Tarte, his first "guru" in the RSS, Deendayal Upadhyaya and Balasaheb Deoras. "The simple reason for my long association with the RSS," writes the man projected by the BJP as the incoming Prime Minister of this country, "is that I like the Sangh"." I like its ideology, and above all I like the RSS attitude towards people."
And what about Muslims? If they have to "choose between Mecca or Islam and India you must choose India". On Ayodhya we have an entirely new explanation. "But we (Hindus) did pull down the structure in Ayodhya. In fact it was a reaction to the Muslim vote-bank". It is clear what awaits the sections of the population who do not go along with the BJP's vision and are perceived to belong to the "vote bank" of another party.
If you are a dedicated BJP-watcher on the Net, there is more interesting material. There are links to other Parivar web-sites like the ones run by the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Do visit the site's bulletin board and you will get a hands-on feeling for the kind of aggressively communal political style that the overseas followers of the BJP have made their own on the Internet in recent years.
The BJP's Web site is by no means the most important factor in the election propaganda of the party in the coming elections. But what these pages do and do not talk about, and the sheer timing of their inauguration are pointers to some aspects of the political agenda and style of the BJP.
There is nothing at the Web site to tell you what the BJP will do about poverty, land reform, the public distribution system, ending illiteracy and ensuring health-care, ending caste-based discrimination and caste clashes, ending dowry deaths and atrocities against women, ensuring democratic rights and communal harmony, or any of the myriad real problems of the contemporary social, economic and political scene in the country.
The new medium of the Internet makes little difference to what the BJP really wants to talk about. What we get in these web-pages, with the usual stridency, is the standard Hindutva platform without the slightest concession to electoral compulsions or the sensibilities of the party's coalition partners, some of whom are patently uneasy with many of its positions on various issues.
In making the hard core of its Hindutva programme the basic material on its Web site while launching it at a time when it tries to put on the appearance of political respectability in some of its public utterances, the BJP displays a completely cynical attitude to transparency about its real political agenda. If you believe in a democratic, secular future for India, this Web-site ought to worry you.