Modernising The BJP
Of late, right of the centre and conservative parties in the world have been doing rather well in elections. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has returned to power in Japan. Saenuri party in South Korea has retained the Presidency by defying all gloomy predictions. The Republicans might not have defeated President Barak Obama in the United States, but the fact remains that they lost the race very narrowly. In fact, the Republican party is in a much better health than it was in 2008. In Britain, the Conservative party, under Prime Minister David Cameroon, has further consolidated its position within two years of returning to power after a long stint in opposition.
What about India? When one talks of a Conservative party in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party comes immediately to mind. But then, strictly speaking, is BJP a conservative party? Conventionally speaking, there are four essential features of a typical conservative party as far as its ideological commitments are concerned: limitations on the governmental power, particularly in domestic matters; faith in the country’s traditions, particularly in matters pertaining to morality or ethics; a deep sense of nationalism; and fervent opposition to socialism, particularly its extreme version of communism.
How does the BJP score on all these attributes? It passes on the first three points—its emphasis on “integral humanism” does not jell well with an all powerful government; its “Hindutva” presupposes faith in the country’s culture and civilisational legacies; its commitment to nationalism has been never in doubt, given its positions on Kashmir and various security issues. However, it is on the aspect of socialism/communism that the BJP presents a confused picture.
Notwithstanding its perceived right-of the centre image, it is perhaps ignored that the BJP, going by its constitution, strives for the so-called Gandhian Socialism, a branch of socialism based on theories of Mahatma Gandhi. I doubt whether Gandhi ever used the word socialism in popularising his thoughts, be it” Hind Swaraj” or “Home Rule”. That is why one wonders how and why the BJP used the word socialism, particularly when Gandhi talked of decentarlisation of political and economic power. In fact, socialism is the very anti-thesis of the first criterion of a conservative party that the BJP wants to be. Secondly, in this 21st century, does the BJP have a skeptical approach towards technology and large scale industrialisation, often associated with Gandhism, though there are many Gandhian scholars who view such an interpretation is a superficial way of looking at the thoughts of the Father of the Nation?
The point that I am making, and there are quite a few political observers like me, is that the BJP seems to be a confused party as to where exactly it stands. I doubt whether there will be many among the present day leaders of the Party who believe in the term “Gandhian Socialism. It is like asking the Congress members to wear Khadi, shun acquiring property and giving up drinking alcohol as per the norms prescribed by the Congress constitution. But then, no BJP leader, if I am not wrong, has ever questioned the party’s socialist commitment. And that, in turn, could be attributed to the fact that more often than not the BJP leaders display a streak of inferiority complex in them; they are not confident of their strength and genuine supporters and will go to any extent of earning a few good words from their political enemies, most of whom are of the left of the centre thoughts—ranging from the Congress to Maoists.
In my considered view, the lack of self-belief is the principal reason why the BJP, the principal opposition party of India, has been utterly ineffective in capitalising the people’s anger over issues such as unending price rise, rampant corruption, terrorism, Maoism, foreign policy debacles and deteriorating regional environment against one of the most lackluster governments in independent India’s history. And when you have no belief in your capacity and concrete visions, you will only think of your personal positions and power and end up in inner-party fighting and intrigues. No wonder why one often hears in the political corridors in Delhi that some of the stalwarts of the BJP are the best friends of the Congress, indeed.
With Atal Behari Vajpayee retiring and LK Advani losing the magic and reverence he once possessed, the BJP may have many talented second-generation leaders, but none of them, busy as they are with infightings and intrigues, have been able to present before the country an alternate vision. There is no more a Vajpayee who once dared to debate on India opting for a Presidential form of government. One does not hear these days Advani going deeper into the national issues and suggesting reforms in our electoral system, including financing of political parties. I do not think Vajpayee and Advani of yesteryears ever indulged in the so-called identity politics—the politics over caste, community and creed. But look at the BJP today. It supports caste-based reservations and census. It also supports the so-called Women Reservations Bill, which is one of the most absurd and anti-democratic measures that will automatically result in two-thirds of incumbent members of the legislatures—one third women and one third men—being forcibly unseated in every general election, thus jeoparadising the possibility of sensible planning to contest and nurture a political constituency.
If the BJP generated confidence in the 1990s, it was essentially due to its sincere projection that “it is a party with a difference”. Not any longer. The BJP is just like any other party. It has virtually fallen apart as India’s right of the centre conservative party. The urban middle class, its natural constituency over the years and whose size is growing steadily, has now doubts over its future, thanks to the party’s anti-liberalisation rhetoric. The BJP is ambivalent about free-markets, because it confuses pro-market policies with pro-business policies. In fact, if you do not believe in giving few select businessmen the monopoly over things, something the BJP pronounces publicly, the best way to do so is strengthening the market forces and lessening the role of the government. But in reality, the BJP has now surpassed even Communists in blocking the paths of liberalisation.
“Aspiration is the engine of progress. Countries rise when they allow their people to rise. In this world where brains matter more, where technologies shape our lives, where no-one is owed a living …the most powerful natural resource we have is our people. Not just the scientists, the entrepreneurs, the engineers … not just the teachers, the parents, the nurses … but all our people: including the poorest, those who’ve never had a job, never had a chance, never had hope. That’s why the mission for this government is to build an aspiration nation … to unleash and unlock the promise in all our people. And for us Conservatives, this is not just an economic mission—it’s also a moral one. It’s not just about growth and GDP…it’s what’s always made our hearts beat faster—aspiration; people rising from the bottom to the top. Line one, rule one of being a Conservative is that it’s not where you’ve come from that counts, it’s where you’re going”.
The above is the part of the much lauded speech that British prime minister Cameroon had delivered a few months ago in a meeting of the Conservative party. I think it is high time the BJP leaders started similarly focussing on the “aspiration” of Indian people. India needs an alternative-national party to the Congress which has a fresh vision that will take the country forward. As Cameroon said, in politics, conservatism does not mean anti-modernism and backward looking. The BJP needs to realise this lesson. They have to present before the Indians an action plan and convince them why they should vote for it. But in devising this action plan, they must encourage a series of internal debates and unconventional ideas involving as many party leaders, both at the central and state levels, as possible. One is told that when the BJP, or for that matter its earlier incarnation of Jan Sangh, was small, it was more open to internal debate. Not only that trait has now vanished, many rigidities also have set in, particularly since the 1990s when the BJP assumed power at the Centre and in more States.
One sincerely hopes that BJP’s new President Rajnath Singh will revive the tradition of internal debate and reconsider party’s recent positions on many burning issues facing the country in light of new facts and circumstances.
By Prakash Nanda