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Monday, October 25, 2021

Can the BJP change?

The party needs to rethink its agenda and its manner

Written by Jaithirth Rao |
May 26, 2009 12:30:59 am

Dear Shri Advaniji: You have been graceful and gracious in defeat setting the stage for increased civility in our political discourse. You are planning to represent a patriotic and constructive opposition — a prerequisite for a healthy democracy. You and your colleagues are also grappling with the “electability” problem of the BJP. Is your party condemned to “almost win” but keep falling short of actually winning? In this context,here are some ideas from someone who may be more of a genuine well-wisher than the hysterical fanatics who claim to be so.

First,please keep the faith with the word “constructive”. Do not use any reason to try and vote out the present government. Vote against them only when you disagree on matters of principle. Your party’s opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal treaty was cynical,misplaced and,to many

observers,a tad unpatriotic. Everyone understood the blind opposition of the Left parties to improved Indo-US relations. Even your strongest supporters had to concede in private that your party’s position was nothing but petty politics with very dubious short-term gains in mind. Putting at risk a treaty which future American presidents and legislatures may not have approved,your party’s brinkmanship could have resulted in a unique opportunity being missed by our country. Similarly,on economic issues like VAT reform,it was unfortunate that in opposition your party took positions at variance with the position you folks held while in government.

On terrorism and security,I believe that you would have won the hearts of the electorate if,instead of criticising the government of the day,you had boldly announced solidarity and support for them. “We are in this together and if the enemies of our nation think that they can divide us,they are mistaken” would have been a brilliant position to take. It would not only have been constructive but would in all probability have increased your party’s popularity and electoral chances.

Second,I believe your party members have not understood the impact of televised parliamentary proceedings. Endless disruption and shouting do not give the impression of sobriety and maturity that I am sure you would like to project. Your personal gravitas gets seriously eroded when your colleagues behave in a chaotic style. It would have been so much more sensible and also politically advantageous if your party members had demonstrated a measure of calm deliberation and allowed the Left and the Third Front elements in Parliament to behave in an anarchic manner which is their hallmark anyway.

As far as addressing the issue of future electability is concerned,it might be worth considering abandoning the expression “Hindutva” altogether. Your colleagues may argue endlessly that it represents nothing but cultural nationalism. The fact of the matter is that there are not many buyers for this line of thinking. Tony Blair was able to make his Labour party electable only after he explicitly and loudly abandoned phraseology which had a hoary 70-year usage in his party’s history. You can and should make an emphatic statement that you have given up Hindutva with all its connotations and are instead rooting for Bharat and all citizens of Bharat. In academic circles,the currently fashionable word to describe our civilisation is “Indic”. I would commend this word to you. In the ’50s,the Jan Sangh talked about Hindi,Hindu,Hindustan. If you had not quietly given up linguistic fanaticism for Hindi,your party would not have had the breakthrough it has had in Karnataka. In a similar manner,walking away from Hindutva can help expand your base.

In four states,you have virtually no presence and for that matter no allies to speak of. Your former ally,the TDP,has openly confirmed that they are not willing to risk losing the Muslim vote because of association with you. The position of the Trinamool is similar. The only way you can address this is to induct many more senior Muslim leaders into your party and to communicate on a regular basis that in fact in the BJP-ruled states your party is ensuring a steady improvement for Muslims both economically (income,jobs,etc) and socially (education,health indicators,etc). The Sachar Committee report helped the Congress immensely in West Bengal even if this was just an inadvertent result. The Muslims of West Bengal realised that after three decades of blindly supporting the Left Front,they had not gained much and in fact had fallen behind Muslims in other states. This hurt the credibility of the Left parties with the Muslim voter. Your colleague Narendra Modi should for instance hold six-monthly meetings with Muslim intellectuals,businesspersons and civic representatives and present a report card of how Muslims are progressing and getting ahead in his state. He should contrast his government’s performance with that of other states where Muslims get lip sympathy,not real attention. Such an effort along with dropping the Hindutva plank will in a three to five year period improve your party’s prospects immensely and make you attractive to allies old and new.

Your party’s good performance in Karnataka should not lead you to believe that the anti-modern plank of units like the Rama Sene is a vote-winner. Like Hindutva,this too will become an albatross over time. While you have dissociated the BJP from the Rama Sene,it needs to be more emphatic. Many of your colleagues may justify the Rama Sene’s stances and others may argue that they are politically smart; the fact of the matter is that they scare away allies,deny you presence in several large states and dent the BJP’s electability.

Sober,constructive opposition in Parliament,imitating Tony Blair and dropping Hindutva,hard facts that demonstrate that BJP governments actually help Muslims in economic and social progress,getting away from direct or indirect associations that put off allies and reduce your political space — one hopes you will consider all of these in pursuit of long-term electability even though many in your party may

argue that returning to a hard line is the best course.

The writer divides his time between Mumbai,Lonavla and Bangalore jerry.rao@expressindia.com

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