Sunday, Dec 22, 2002
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THE PRIME Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, indicated a few days ago that Muslims had not criticised the Godhra carnage enough, and worse, even now (after the massacre of 1,000 and more of their co-religionists in the by-lanes of Ahmedabad, Baroda and elsewhere in Gujarat) they were not repentant.
Of course, the Hindus were not called upon to repent for the systematic massacre that followed Godhra.
It was as clear a signal as possible that when it comes to Hindutva Mr. Vajpayee is as loyal a `swayamsevak' as anyone else.
If he had any doubts at all (not about Hindutva but about its efficacy as a political weapon), the Gujarat results have surely renewed his faith in the way shown by his former mentor and head of the RSS, M. S. Golwalkar (the Sangh Parivar always refers to him as `guruji'), that India was, is and will always remain a Hindu Rashtra where the Muslims and other religious minorities can at best hope to be tolerated if they behave themselves. They must earn the "goodwill of the majority community" as the current RSS chief, K. S. Sudarshan, reminded us in a speech from Bangalore not so long ago. He was not going to allow himself to be marginalised or permit the people, especially the Hindus, to mistake his moderate mask for his real Hindutva self.
After all, "tolerance" and Hinduism have been synonymous for centuries, and in Gujarat they were only "reacting" to Godhra, just as they simply reacted to the assassination of Indira Gandhi nearly 20 years earlier by burning alive some 3,000 Sikhs. The Bhagalpur blindings, the almost daily police custody deaths due to torture, the "encounter" killings, not to speak of hunger deaths when Government godowns are overflowing and centuries of atrocities against Dalits, all confirm how peaceful and non-violent our society is.
Of course, the myth of Hindu tolerance has been very ably helped along by the well-documented history of fanaticism within the Muslim community and its clerics who used every opportunity to maintain their stranglehold.
From tomorrow, the Bharatiya Janata Party's national executive committee will be meeting here for two days and there is no doubt that the key point in the discussion would be the path to electoral victory shown by Gujarat.
There is hardly any doubt that a sizable section of the BJP now wants the party to ditch the NDA agenda for governance. The Deputy Prime Minister and Hindutva ideologue supreme, L. K. Advani, and the BJP president, M. Venkaiah Naidu, have talked about "300 seats in the Lok Sabha in 2004" for the BJP alone.
And with the party's defeated and demoralised allies at the Centre expected to remain silent they are only interested in ministerial berths the BJP knows that no matter what it does there is little danger of its Government collapsing at the Centre.
After all, the former Prime Minister, P. V. Narasimha Rao, tried to make development a poll issue he failed miserably. Mr. Vajpayee may be fond of saying "vikas (development)" and "samriddhi (prosperity)" should become key words in any electoral contest.
But, in fact, his party has always depended on whipping up religious passions to further its political influence, and every now and then Mr. Vajpayee feels the urge to publicly display his approval. Thus, the first signal from Mr. Vajpayee after the Gujarat results was his disapproval of Muslims. If Hindutva is the way to political power, Mr. Vajpayee and his party have no problems, even if the country is plunged into chaos.
Over the last four years since the BJP came to power in 1998 it has tried to project itself as a moderate party with economic reform as its agenda. But all through these years it has been careful to ensure that the Hindutva flag is kept flying by other wings of the RSS, especially the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal. And every now and then the Prime Minister publicly signalled to them to carry on, he was with them.
Apparently, at the topmost political level a decision has already been taken to allow Praveen Togadia, Ashok Singhal and others of the VHP to carry on their communal propaganda. After all, it is all for the good cause of expanding the BJP's political base. While naturally the BJP will take no responsibility for what the VHP or its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, say or do they are separate organisations, the BJP leaders argue they will be encouraged to rapidly spread the Hindutva ideology. Another major campaign on the Ram temple is expected to begin soon.
The BJP has deliberately tried to confuse Hindutva with Hinduism and Hinduism with tolerance, secularism and nationalism. The Hindutva exponents have thus repeatedly claimed to represent 85 per cent of the Hindu population in this country, and more recently the Sangh Parivar outfits, including the RSS, the VHP and the BJP, have claimed to be "the nationalist forces".
After the Gujarat results the RSS claimed not just success for the BJP, a political party, but victory of the "nationalist forces delineated by the ideology of Hindutva" against "the other pole of Hindu-bashing perverse secularism which feeds on pampering... religious minorities". The BJP's strategy has been and this will become sharper after the Gujarat results to appropriate the "nationalist" and even "secular" political space and all its symbols. Simultaneously, its high decibel propaganda has suggested that all other opposing political parties and persons are anti-national, Hindu-bashing, minority-appeasing pseudo-secularists.
And no doubt, the Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, is the new hero of the Hindutva brigade who will be used extensively for campaigning in the next round of Assembly polls.
The irony in this deliberate twisting of facts is that the RSS and its organisations none of them lifted even one little finger during the struggle for Independence from the British have tried to hijack the legacy of national leaders such as Sardar Patel (who had banned the RSS) and Mahatma Gandhi (who stood for Hindu-Muslim communal harmony and was finally assassinated by Nathuram Godse who believed in the RSS ideology).
What the party is thinking will become clear in the round of Assembly elections next year, especially in the four States where it will be in a direct fight with the Congress.
The elections will also provide an opportunity to test the efficacy of Mr. Modi's style outside Gujarat as he is sure to be asked to campaign extensively.
In Himachal Pradesh, the party will be drawing up its strategy to counter the anti-incumbency factor. It has plans to bring in new faces by denying re-nomination to a large number of its sitting MLAs and it will try to bring about peace in its warring factions led by the Chief Minister, P. K. Dhumal, and the former Chief Minister, Shanta Kumar. And if the Congress makes the mistake of raking up Godhra and Gujarat, the VHP and the BJP have plans to unleash a Gujarat type of campaign.
In Madhya Pradesh the party hopes the Cabinet Minister, Uma Bharti, will do what Mr. Modi did in Gujarat.
Sooner rather than later, Ms. Bharti will be used to release the Hindutva venom and use it as effectively as possible to dislodge the Digvijay Singh Government entrenched for the last nine years.
In Delhi the fight will be tough, party leaders admit, and in Chhattisgarh the BJP will have to find ways to out-manoeuvre the clever Ajit Jogi who has virtually decimated the BJP in his State.
But it is in Rajasthan that the BJP is hoping to make its next big electoral win. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat's elevation as Vice-President, the presence of several `jat' leaders in the Government, the comparative youthfulness and dynamism shown by the new State unit president, Vasundhara Raje, and above all, a big helping hand from the VHP is what the party is counting on. The winning of three Assembly byelections in the State is a pointer. And Hindutva is sure to run like a common binding thread through the different strategies in the four States all its other cards have failed, this is the trump.
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