by Zia Sarhadi (World, Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 22, Ramadan, 1418)
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu fascist outfit, is euphoric. It smells victory and feels that power is within its reach as India heads for yet another election from February 16 to March 7. The BJP leadership has been sniffing around for alliances and given the opportunisitic nature of politics in India, they have not been disappointed.
Some of the alliances are as strange as the smells and sounds one encounters in India. For instance, the BJP has teamed up with the southern All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party of Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu. The northern Brahmin-dominated party was hitherto barred from the south because of its racist policies. Politics, however, make strange bed-fellows.
It also made gains in Orissa where 28 members of the Janata Dal (out of a total of 42) split and joined the BJP fold. Similarly Congress renegades have flocked to the BJP, jumping on its bullock-cart at the first opportunity. These defections led Sushma Swaraj of the BJP to chortle excitedly: ‘The BJP is no longer untouchable.’ She was refering to the BJP’s attempt in May 1996 to form a coalition government since it had the largest number of seats - 162 - in parliament. No party would touch it with a 10-foot pole because of its fascist agenda.
The current election, second in as many years, was precipitated by the Congress Party withdrawing its support from the minority United Front coalition. The Congress, which has ruled India for most of its independent existence, is no longer its former self. It is badly fractured and losing leading figures by the cart load.
Defection of the AIADMK is a particularly hard blow for congress since the two were allied in the south. The BJP had no support there, seen primarily as a party of northern Brahmins who have had nothing but contempt for the southern Dravidians, the original inhabitants of India. On December 17 Jayalalitha announced the ‘formal burial of negative politics of keeping BJP out’ of the south.
A significant development which will go some way in augmenting the BJP-AIADMK alliance is that Jayalalitha has been successful in persuading a splinter party - the Patali Makkal Kacchi (PMK), a party of the Dalits - to join the alliance. The PMK has a measure of support among Dalits in several constituencies in the south.
The party that advocates segregation and rejection of what it terms ‘appeasement of minorties’, appears to have covered its spots. While it is vague on specifics, ‘stability’ has become the latest buzzword in Indian politics. For the vast majority, it means an end to political defections and horse-trading; for the BJP it means an iron-fist in which no truck is given to those who do not subscribe to its Hindu supremacist philosophy.
The resolution adopted by the party’s national executive at its meeting in Bhubhaneswar, Orissa, on December 22 said: ‘By voting for the BJP in the elections the masses can bring into power, under the able leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee, a stable government wedded to the creation of a new society free of hunger and confident of facing internal and external security challenges.’ Internal and external security are euphemisms for dealing with opponents - Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits etc at home - and Pakistan and China abroad. Should a BJP government come to power, the region is likely to witness heightened tensions.
The exodus from congress has also swelled BJP ranks. Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal’s leading congressite, announced on December 22 that she was quitting the party and would most probably take her Trinamul Congress to support the BJP. If this was music to its ears, the BJP heard more good news when two former congress ministers announced that they too were joining the BJP. P R Kumaramangalam and Aslam Sher Khan jumped on the BJP bandwagon on December 24.
‘They have thrown open doors to defectors everywhere, and leaders who have corruption charges against them. Their so-called holy principles are a fraud,’ Congress president Sitaram Kesri said in desperation. He is the man primarily responsible for forcing the current elections. He turned to Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv’s widow, to rescue the party. Sonia has agreed to campaign for the party.
The BJP rose from obscurity in the late 1980s by demanding the destruction of the historic Babri Mosque in Ayodhya. Since the mosque was razed in 1992 by a Hindu mob egged on by BJP leaders including L K Advani, it has tried to present a more secular image. Realizing that it had achieved its objective by obliterating a historic Muslim site and stirred Hindu passions to garner support, it decided to try and appear somewhat ‘moderate.’ Its campaign so far indicates that it is succeeding.
Praful Bidwai, an Indian writer, is not impressed with the BJP, saying its ‘record is not edifying... In the key state of Uttar Pradesh, the BJP prematurely broke its opportunistic alliance with its polar opposite, the Bahujan Samaj Party, and rode to power last October by inducing defections. In Gujarat, it won a two-thirds majority, but split disastrously.’
Bidwai is also scathing in his attack of the BJP’s tactics of political mobilization which he describes as relying ‘on widening inter-religious rifts and playing on prejudice - itself a destabilizing process. Its allies and supporters are once again threatening to revive a Hindu temple-based agitation.’
India’s political elite confuse stability with effective governance; the people suffer no such illusions. In fact, stability presupposes a homogenous society; or, at the very least, a uniform outlook on most issues. This is a myth. India is a multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-lingual empire which has been kept together through brute force, of politics as well as religion.
In the absence of a strong central government - itself dependent on a charismatic personality or dynasty - India’s fault lines have become more pronounced. Since 1989, Indian politics has been dominated by regional parties entering into alliances at the centre.
The BJP’s rise to power will accentuate, not reddress these cleavages.
Muslimedia: January 16-31, 1998