There is only one thing that makes the NDA an alliance. Anti-Congressism. The enemy of my enemy is my friend is the glue that binds the various NDA partners together. As long as nothing else comes in the way, the glue is strong enough to hold the partners together. But as soon as other factors that matter in politics come into play, the glue ceases to bind. And the alliance comes unstuck.
The factor that is more important than even anti-Congressism and the one that raises its head every now and then is Secularism. It is because of the threat to secularism that the NDA gets rocked everytime the bogey of Hindutva is raised by the BJP. The BJP might taunt the concept of Secularism but in a complex heterogeneous country like ours, it is a better glue than any religion is. Secularism is the basis on which India stays united; had that not been the case, several Pakistans would have got created from within India by now. Further, Hinduism is hardly a homogeneous concept. There may be 80%+ Hindus in India, but a closer look will show that Hinduism is not what unites our people…..other factors like culture, language, customs etc do so. Had religion been the only thing that mattered, Bangladesh would never have been carved out of Pakistan. Caste is a far more important factor that Hinduism. Caste divides Hindus into heterogeneous units. The BJP largely appeals to the Brahmins. The rest feel alienated and migrate to caste-based parties like the RLD, the SP, BSP, RJD etc. Even those who are included in the Hindu set are hardly a homogeneous lot. For example, STs are tribals who have very little in common with traditional Hindu practice. The dalits may be added to the Hindu count but they have been converting themselves to Buddhism. The Jains may be conveniently added to the Hindu lot, but they are a very distinct lot. So this monochromatic concept of Hinduism is a myth. The identity of India can never be Hinduism….it has to be secularism.
No surprise then that Advani, a hardline Hindu voice of the BJP, could never make it to the PM’s position. Vajpayee was the one who made it given his secular credentials. Advani’s lasting imagery in the minds of all people – Hindus and others – is that he was the architect of the Babri demolition. He was right there at Ayodhya when the demolition took place; he was the one who gave those fiery speeches provoking ordinary people to undertake the dastardly act; and like a coward, he was the one who ran away from taking responsibility. Advani soon realized the fatal flaw of a hardcore Hindu ideology in politics; that is why he tried to make amends after his trip to Pakistan where he praised Jinnah. But a hardcore and highly traditional party like the BJP found Advani’s sudden praise of Jinnah to be too liberal – and too unpalatable – a concept. For a party smitten by religious jingoism, being kind even to historical figures was unacceptable. So eventually Advani succumbed and abandoned his liberal views. But it was already too late. Advani doesn’t stand a chance any more. Not with the Hindus, not with the secularists.
Nitish Kumar is being accused of hunting with the hounds and running with the hares. This is probably right and the BJP has reasons to feel that way. But this is hardly surprising given the high Muslim population in Bihar. Further, Nitish has reasons to be worried. I was in Bihar recently and was surprised to find that Nitish’s popularity is vastly exaggerated. The people of Bihar were initially happy with Nitish but they now want more. But with no power and no industry even now in Bihar, there are no jobs. The people are getting disenchanted. It’s a matter of time (maybe Nitish will get one more tenure as CM) before the JD (U) feels the heat. When push comes to shove, JD (U) will also use the standard Hindi heartland political strategy – divide the Hindus on the basis of caste and also reach out to the Muslims. In a scenario like this, the BJP would become a huge liability. Ideally, NItish would like to stay with the BJP for now (his government will become unstable without the BJP), but would like to keep his options open. Additionally of course, Nitish considers himself a better PM candidate than Modi (and I agree with this entirely).
The strongest allies of the BJP are those parties which are themselves based on religion. The Shiv Sena is a known Hindu party, so is the Akali Dal a Sikh party. No one else can be taken to be a strong NDA ally. Mamata’s TMC will think ten times before joining the NDA again (30% Muslims in the state). BJD is worried about too much Hindu jingoism too (the strong tribal population hardly has any Hindu persuasion). The other catchment areas for the NDA are states where the non-Hindu populations are small and hence Hinduism is not an issue – states like TN, Karnataka….out there, anti-Congressism is a stronger force than secularism and the BJP may well succeed in sewing together an alliance.
All in all, the NDA can hardly be called a cohesive unit. Anti-congressism and secularism pull in opposite directions. JD (U) is better with the UPA than with the NDA.
The real truth is that even before the NDA has come to power (and I doubt if it will in 2014….even though the UPA may lose it), the divisions have started to become bigger. It’s a reminder to the NDA that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others. The BJP is in a quandary. If it goes the Hindutva way, it will weaken the NDA and if it strengthens the NDA, its own core Hindutva philosophy goes for a toss. But then this is what happens when you make your party on religious grounds…..