BJP leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and Venkaiah Naidu with RSS representative Madan Das Devi at the "Chintan Baithak" at Uttan near Mumbai in June.
IS the Bharatiya Janata Party dependent upon its allies more than ever before for its political survival? The mysterious omission of the word "Hindutva" from the conclusions reached at the chinthan baithak (brainstorming session), a conclave of about 30 senior BJP leaders held at Panaji, Goa, from July 30 to August 2, has once again revived the debate about the party's strategy to revive its fortunes after the recent electoral rout.
Political circles claimed that the BJP refrained from using the word "Hindutva" in order to pacify its allies, namely the Janata Dal (United), the Telugu Desam Party and the Nationalist Trinamul Congress, who opposed the party's "return to Hindutva". These allies warned that they would quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) if the BJP "decided" to follow the Hindutva path, which according to them is a euphemism for the pursuit of non-secular and communally divisive politics - an interpretation with which the BJP disagrees in principle.
A paragraph in the 10-point "conclusions" is devoted to the party's ideological orientation. It talks about the need to give a wider meaning to nationalism as an ideology in order to strengthen national unity and to counter the rise of casteist and other divisive forces. It claims that nationalism and development are inseparable from each other. The BJP then harps on the need to develop its specific policies and approaches in the light of the guiding principles of `Integral Humanism'. These principles, the party claims, include Nation First, Antyodaya, concern for Daridra Narayan (the last of the poor), social justice and social harmony, and development without regional and social imbalances.
The term `Integral Humanism' is used to describe a set of concepts developed by Deendayal Upadhyaya, the late president of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS), the predecessor of the BJP. The BJS adopted it as its official doctrine in 1965. As a political programme, the doctrine served to justify the "integration" of smaller units with the whole, defined as "Bharatiyata", which suggested a clear emphasis on the Hindu nation. The inclusion of Gandhian principles of Swadeshi and decentralisation in the doctrine was intended to give it a semblance of respectability, as opposed to the offensive formulations of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leader M.S. Golwalkar's ideology of Hindu Rashtra. The doctrine paved the way for the BJS' proximity to other Opposition parties in the late 1960s and 1970s. In other words, Upadhyaya, while advocating Integral Humanism as the party's new doctrine, did not at all intend to break with Golwalkar's divisive thesis.
The BJP shifted from Integral Humanism to "Gandhian Socialism" after its revival as a separate entity following the collapse of the Janata Party experiment, in 1980. The new doctrine was intended to win over to the BJP the non-BJS members in the erstwhile Janata Party. In the post-1984 phase, however, the party had no use for any of these doctrines, as it unabashedly adopted Hindutva as its guiding force.
Hence the BJP's return to Integral Humanism at the Goa conclave suggests that it perhaps wants to dispel the misgivings caused by its allies' threat to leave the NDA if it "readopted" Hindutva. As the party's history reveals, it changes its emphasis from doctrine to doctrine to suit its political compulsions and sends different signals to its constituencies to keep its political space. It is thus difficult to believe that the party would have done so out of deference to its allies' views.
The BJP's allies too, perhaps, did not understand that there is no conflict between the party's commitment to Hindutva and its revival of the doctrine of Integral Humanism. In other words, the party's exposition of its ideology at the Goa conclave did not rule out its continued commitment to Hindutva.
Janata Dal (U) leader Digvijay Singh, for example, is of the view that the NDA came into being only because the BJP agreed to give up its stand on contentious issues, including Hindutva, and adopt secularism as the guiding principle. In a newspaper article, he disapproved BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu's view that the BJP had abandoned none of its ideological positions in the past and therefore the question of its reviving them now did not arise. Yet, he seems to be satisfied with the outcome of the Goa conclave. In fact, the BJP made no such claims; it only said it would continue to work with its allies in the NDA and seek parliamentary coordination with all non-United Progressive Alliance (UPA) parties.
If Digvijay Singh wanted any proof that the BJP was not abandoning Hindutva for the sake of its allies, he should look at the document released at the end of the conclave. In the very first paragraph on the ideological orientation of the party, the BJP expresses its keenness to "enhance mutual trust and institutionalise continuous dialogue with other Nationalist organisations [read Sangh Parivar] at all levels". Clearly, this would not be possible if the BJP wanted to abandon Hindutva and consolidate its rapport with its political allies.
Further evidence for this is available in the BJP's draft discussion paper on "Tasks Ahead", released at the party's national executive meeting held in Mumbai in June (Frontline, July 16). In it, the party made it clear that it was not an ordinary political party in pursuit of power for the sake of power alone. "Rather, it is part of a wider movement, which is guided by the ideology of nationalism and whose goal is to bring about India's all-round national resurgence. We should not be defensive or apologetic about projecting our distinctive ideological identity, adopt our relationship with other nationalist organisations, and also about our commitment to comprehensive social progress inspired by the eternal and universal values of our civilisation." It is clear that the party uses the words nationalism, Integral Humanism and Hindutva almost synonymously. The subtle differences in the meanings of these words should not blind the BJP's allies from recognising the BJP's larger objective, which according to its own admission is not that of any other political party.
The document adds: "We should, in particular, mount a powerful and sustained counter-offensive against all those ideologies and political forces, especially the Congress and the Communists, who reject Hindutva as the basic identity of the Indian Nation, who have perverted the ideal of secularism for their narrow political ends, for whom maligning our Party and our larger movement as `communal' has become a necessity to keep alive their nefarious strategy of anti-BJPism, and in whose hands the destiny of our Motherland is decidedly not safe." It is obvious that the party has tried to answer its critics, which include its current allies, who raise questions about its commitment to Hindutva. It is naive to believe that the party would agree to a major climb-down from its stated positions merely to satisfy a few misinformed allies.
THE BJP, no doubt, needs its allies to preserve the space it currently holds in the polity. But it has no reason to fear that its allies would walk out just because it is sticking to Hindutva. Venkaiah Naidu justified the exclusion of the word `Hindutva' from the 10-point conclusions by saying that "Hindutva will be used as and when required", as if it is a political strategy rather than an ideology. In the same breath, he said it was a way of life and included culture, religion, nationalism and development. He denied that there was any threat from other constituents of the NDA or that the BJP would ever leave its ideology. "We have not thrust our ideology on our allies," he reminded them.
Venkaiah Naidu said on August 3, a day after the Goa conclave: "We are proud of Hindutva. It is associated with national prestige, nationalism, and not religion. Our rivals are misinterpreting the terminology to portray themselves as secular." In fact, BJP leaders aver that the issue of building a Ram temple at Ayodhya is not linked to religion and that they would not bring Hindutva into the political sphere.
Such an overarching yet contradictory explanation of Hindutva obviously satisfies the BJP's allies, who after issuing a threat to leave the NDA are probably looking for a face-saver to remain in the coalition. After all, they stuck together in power even in the face of the worst-ever threat to secularism during the Gujarat pogrom. Out of power, the allies are obviously emboldened to speak out against the BJP. But it is unlikely to hurt the BJP, which shares the perception of the RSS that in order to strengthen the NDA, it is necessary to strengthen the BJP; and to strengthen the BJP, it is necessary to go back to its roots.
But the BJP's ideological fraternity within the Sangh Parivar is not convinced with this explanation. On August 5, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) asked the BJP to come clean on Hindutva rather than confuse people about its ideology. Earlier, on July 30, VHP president Ashok Singhal announced the decision to form a political forum to challenge the BJP, which, according to him, is widely perceived to be "anti-Hindu". He alleged that the BJP, when in power, completely ignored the Sangh affiliates and forgot all norms of cooperation and consultation with them.
The BJP has thus to resolve a strange irony which is the legacy of its five-year-long stint in power at the Centre. Former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani explained this irony at the Mumbai national executive meeting: "Our opponents in the country called us as a `Hindutva government'. The rest of the world recognised us as a `Hindutva government'. However, the only two entities that did not so recognise this government were our own ideological parivar and ourselves."
The BJP has perhaps found a way to resolve this irony in recent weeks. It realises that it has no use for the core issues of Hindutva, namely, the Ramjanmabhoomi issue, the enactment of a uniform civil code, and the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution. Instead, the party has considered it necessary to take up new issues and give them an ideological colour to confront the ruling combine. These include the Andhra Pradesh government's decision to give 5 per cent reservation to Muslims, the `alarming' rise in acts of jehadi terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, and the criticism of the so-called competitive communalism inherent in the Railway Budget, which the BJP likes to describe as the "Godhra Budget" in view of Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav's announcement that he would order another probe into the Godhra incident. However, its brief boycott of Parliament on the tainted Ministers issue exposed the party's inability to pursue these issues effectively.
(Letters to the Editor should carry the full postal address)
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