For the BJP, Article 370, Uniform Civil Code and Ram Temple have been the three planks at the core of its cultural nationalist idea of India. It fulfilled one of them Monday by watering down Article 370 to remove special privileges for Jammu and Kashmir.
“Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur do Nishan nahi chalenge,” was the slogan with which Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, founder of Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS), precursor of the BJP, marched to Jammu & Kashmir where he died in jail in 1953. The issue was, subsequently, a rallying cry for the BJS and, subsequently, for BJP: “Jahan hue balidaan Mookerjee woh Kashmir hamara hai, Jo Kashmir hamara hai woh saare ka saara hai”.
The issue, however, remained a mere war cry for the Jan Sangh given the party’s strength at the national level.
Even when it got substantial heft in national politics — during Janata Party government after the Emergency — the issue had to be kept aside for the sake of anti-Congress unity. But the expulsion of Sangh members from the Janata Party that led to formation of BJP in 1980 forced the BJP to bring this issue to the frontburner.
Trying to find its feet in the changed political situation, the newly formed BJP latched on what it called the “pseudo-secularism” of the incumbent Congress which gave in to the Muslim clergy on the issue of Muslim personal laws after the Shah Bano case in 1986. It revived BJP’s memory of Uniform Civil Code (UCC) which had featured first in the BJS manifesto during 1967 Lok Sabha elections.
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Dubbing it “appeasement politics” by the Congress, the BJP took a decisive turn towards Hindutva when it announced its commitment to a Ram Temple at the national convention at Palampur (Himachal Pradesh) in 1989. It was merged with BJP’s nationalistic agenda when the then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi went on an Ekta Yatra, coordinated by younger Narendra Modi, that culminated in the hoisting of the Tricolour at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on January 26, 1992.
The then president of BJP’s youth wing, Anurag Thakur, too, took out Tiranga Yatra from Kolkata to Kashmir in 2011 despite clampdown from Omar Abdullah government in the state to re-affirm party’s commitment against Article 370.
Clearly, of the three, Article 370 is the oldest commitment by the BJP (BJS). In an attempt to create an alternative to the Congress and the socialist politics of the time, Mookerjee had sought to create a new lexicon of cultural nationalist politics. That’s why he had gone to Jammu and Kashmir to register his protest against Article 370 and back the agitation launched by Jammu Praja Parishad.
Over the years, Article 370 became the stick for the BJP to run down Jawaharlal Nehru, alleging that his Western Constitutional idea of India sat at odds with that of the RSS which was banned by the Nehru government after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
For the BJP, Article 370 has been a lightning rod. But political compulsions forced it to keep it on the backburner when it had to run coalition governments during 1998-2004. The RSS, on its part, tried to push the Ram Temple during that period but could not make much headway beyond hobbling the Vajpayee government.
A full majority government in 2014 offered hope to the BJP cadres. However, the party’s numerical challenge in Rajya Sabha — the party had less than 50 members in 245-strong Rajya Sabha in 2014 — restrained it from pushing its agenda on Article 370. In fact, it experimented with a coalition government in J&K before it fell to ideological differences midway during its term in June last year.
The enhanced Lok Sabha majority in 2019 buoyed cadres’ expectations and offered more elbow-room to the BJP. Though the Common Civil Code remains a contentious issue, the BJP used the re-jigged numerical strength in both Houses to tinker with the Muslim Personal Law by pushing through its Triple Talaq legislation. The failure of mediation attempts at the behest of Supreme Court has got the Ayodhya case back to centrestage — a verdict on the title suits is expected later this year.