Monday 10 May 1999

Changing to Conquer-Adjusting the BJP to Indian Reality

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

Despite the electronic help he gets both onboard and from the
control tower, the pilot of a large aircraft has to make several
course and engine pitch corrections before he finds the right
approach for a safe landing. Similarly B]P leaders, who today ,
appear to be at loss over how to deal with being the party of
governance rather than a permanent opposition, need to identify
and actualise the course corrections required for their party to
replace the Congress as the natural beneficiary of the public
trust. What served the party well during its ascent may prove
less effective now that it has become the largest national party.

The reaction to the destruction of the Babri masjid on
December 6, 1992, is an illustration of how different India is from
countries like Pakistan and pre-Hasina Bangladesh. In both of
India’s neighbours, numerous temples have been destroyed over
the past 50 years, yet there was no national outcry. In India, the
destruction of a disused mosque generated a national uproar.
Six years after the event, the antics of the kar sevaks are still
highlighted by the international media, though neither CNN nor
BBC has yet got around to a news story on the destruction of
temples in Bangladesh or Pakistan. This is not owing to double
standards, rather it is a recognition of the belief in India as a
secular state.

Strong Centre
By behaving like Pakistani fanatics, the vandals who
lowered the prestige of 970 million people on December 6, 1992,
have gone against the very heritage that they claim to project.
Another example of such behaviour among the self—proclaimed
‘Hindutva’ fold was the ransacking of Maqbool Fida Husain's 
home in Mumbai. Any Indian citizen has a
right to the history of the subcontinent, including the mythology.
Indeed, the concept of a unified ’Hindu' society is a relatively
recent phenomenon. Logically, all those who believe in
moderation and respect for different perspectives that characterise
the philosophy of Hinduism should be accepted as being within
the fold of 'Indutva', or Indian culture.

The Congress party, which is trapped in the Nehruvian
strait-jacket, keeps harping on about the need for a ’strong
centre'. By this, it means a Nehru—style government that forces
state governments to accept its diktat on most aspects of policy.
However, rather than an all—powerful central government, what
will preserve the unity of India is the acceptance of a strong social
centre that avoids extremes and works towards a synthesis
of different trends. With Punjabis learning Bharatanatyam and
relishing dosas, and Malayalis taking to tandoori food and Daler
Mehndi, this is already happening. Jugalbandhis of north and
south, east and west, have by now become so common that they
are hardly noticed.

'Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai’
Thus, rather than return to a political centralisation that was the
economic ruin of India, our major national parties need to focus
on social and cultural ecosystems, linking them together across
regions and communities. For example, the BJP will never realise
its goal of getting a parliamentary majority on its own unless it
can attract a significant part (at least 25 per cent) of the Muslim
vote. The Bajrang Dal rhetoric which scares away Muslims will
also keep away the moderate Hindus who this time, especially
in the south and east, have increasingly preferred the BJP to the
Congress which today has adopted an unrealistic position on
both domestic and foreign policy.

An example is China. Beijing repaid Jawaharlal Nehru’s trust
in its good intentions by stealthily expropriating Indian territory,
launching a war in 1962 and repeated incursions since then.
Today, China covertly arms Pakistan with strategic weapons
against India, using so-called private companies and countries
controlled by the People's Liberation Army. It also encourages
insurgency, especially in the north-east, and is the primary
strategic partner of the ISI in its drug—financed terrorism. Despite
such a record, the Congress party has joined the CPM in
supporting Beijing in a confrontation with Indian interests.
While the Marxists have been consistent in their support for
China, it is disquieting to see the former party of Indian
nationalism in its corner.

Conspiracy theorists see a link between the muscular China
lobby in New Delhi and the flood of journalists, academics and
others visiting Beijing as state guests. However, this would be an
unfair allegation. As for reports that the Chinese regime is
covertly funding political and other groups in India through
fronts, this has not yet been conclusively proved. Unlike in the
United States, where funds originating from the Chinese
Communist Party have become a live issue, in India the activities
of the China lobby have so far escaped attention.

Strangely enough, one reason for this is the fact that the
dominant strand in strategic thinking in the United States is still
very positive about China. Those influenced by such thinking
have also absorbed the pro-China message implicit in such
scholarship. Thus, even in the political and NGO sphere, pro-US
and pro-China groups have entered into a tacit alliance. The
difference, however, is that the United States, being a moderate
democracy, is a long-term strategic partner of India, whereas the
present Chinese regime cannot be. Until the Han people enjoy
the full benefits of democracy, it will not be possible to actualise
the 'Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai’ that Nehru talked about.

Foreign Capital
The rejection by the Congress party of the nationalist centre has
given the BJP an opportunity, provided it does not subscribe to
the Nehru—style romanticism about China and Pakistan. Within
the BJP government, L. K. Advani appears to have the clearest
perspective on foreign affairs. A combination of the Advani line
of external relations and the Vajpayee thinking in domestic
policy would serve the country well. However, elements in the
BJP appear to want to reverse the order, putting into play a soft
external approach with a more exclusivist domestic approach.

What India needs urgently is to concentrate on economic
development, which includes welcoming foreign capital fuelled
not by speculative but by investment motives. Clear signals have
to be sent to Pakistan and China that India will no longer play 
possum when confronted with their covert war. Above all, we
must preserve the moderate traditions that have nurtured Indian
culture for millennia. These are among the stands that the BJP
needs to knit together for its future survival.

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