Monday, December 3, 2012

Opposition to BJP stronger than opposition to retail FDI….

Every single time it has been tested, it has been proven to be true. When opposition parties are pushed to decide if their opposition to the Congress’s economic policies is stronger than their opposition (hatred almost) to the BJP, they have responded (almost in unison) by siding with the Congress. The same thing is likely to happen now with the voting on FDI in retail in Parliament, with the BSP almost deciding to support the Congress. We have the habit of explaining this pattern away as simply “appeasing the Muslims” as if Muslims dominated Indian politics (they do, but only in some pockets). The reality is different; something that the BJP may find difficult to digest.

It’s similar to the situation that the Republicans find themselves in in the US. Because of the population shift (there are close to 30% non-whites now), the Democrats are sweeping every major state;
because a majority of non-whites prefer voting Democrat given the party’s more inclusive, liberal approach to immigration and other matters. In a similar way, now that the divisive flames of Ayodhya have subsided, the people have substantially moved away from the aggressively divisive and illiberal politics of the BJP. The Muslims represent just the divisive part of this. But the other sections represent the other part.

Why does Mayawati oppose the BJP? Her voter base hardly comprises Muslims; so that cannot be the reason. She is hardly dependent on the Congress for its revival; the Congress simply cannot do much for it. It’s also not as if the Central Government can bankroll the BSP, like it can the SP since the BSP is out of power. The outgoing CBI Director has already clarified that all cases related to SP and BSP are with the courts, not with the agency; the canard of the Congress using the CBI for its political advantage has been substantially debunked. If these are non-issues, why still does the BSP not support the BJP? She has no particular reasons to support FDI. In fact, if she opposed FDI, she could equally turn it into the same political rhetoric (FDI will kill the aam bania) that her opponents have been doing so. But still, she doesn’t do so. She doesn’t side with the BJP. Why is this so? The reasons go beyond the Muslim baiting the BJP loves to do. The BJP has always been a political pariah.

Of course when it comes to the issue of Muslims, no party wants to side with the BJP. Not SP. Not the BJD. Not the Left. Not even the TMC. And now increasingly, not even the JD(U). The only “strong” allies the BJP has left are the Shiv Sena (strong Hindu agenda of its own) and the Akali Dal (strong regional anti-Congressism and partly the opportunity created by the Congress’s anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984). Most disheartening of course is the tension in the relationship with the JD(U), with the BJP’s local outfit supporting Nitish Kumar even while Nitish Kumar is strongly opposing Narendra Modi’s thrust for PMship. This is tantamount to opposing the party itself, since Modi is now pretty much the foremost leader of the party. Why is the BJP in such a mess?

The reason is not difficult to find. The BJP is a party that changes positions all the time. So much so that it is difficult to predict what its next position will be. As pointed out recently in the Indian Express, the BJP had itself supported direct cash transfers through some sort of a national identity card in its 2009 manifesto. And yet, today, when quizzed on its stand on the subject, Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the “party had formed a committee to study the matter and would revert after areport was prepared.” How strange. Does it put things in its manifesto without considering them? The same thing happened with respect to the Lokpal, when the BJP initially opportunistically supported Anna in his demand for a common bill for both, the Lokpal and Lok Ayuktas, but later demanded that Lok Ayuktas be left to the states to design. No one today knows what the BJP stands for. Is it center-right or center-left in orientation?

All other parties have clear political stands. The Left is liberal in social issues, but extremely “left” in its economic stance. The SP is a party of Yadavs and Muslims. It is largely old fashioned and has consistently opposed women’s reservation and reservation for the lower castes in government jobs. The BSP is a party of Dalits and has consistently favored a few issues. The Congress is a pro-reform, secular party, largely sticking to this script since Rajiv Gandhi’s days.

Now there is one view that being “flexible” is a big virtue in politics. While that is true, what is equally true is that every party has to have at least one “core” principle on which it is founded. When one puts the BJP through this filter, the only enduring core principle that emerges is that it is a staunch, illiberal, Hindu party. Everything else may be compromisable, but its core Hindu proposition isn’t. Also, if one were to explore this further, one realizes that it’s not merely a benign Hindu party. In reality, it is strongly anti-minorities as well. This and only this is the BJP’s core principle. That is why Modi is described as “Hindu Hriday Samrat” and has emerged as the strongest BJP leader. That is why the BJP cocks a snook at secularists and forces the singing of Saraswati Vandana in MP. That is why it defends saffron terror as much as it opposes the Islamic version. That, of course, is also why it tore down the Babri Mosque and attacked Muslims in Godhra. Think about it. The only thing stable in the BJP’s political strategy is its pro-Hindu and anti-Muslim imagery.

Unfortunately, since the economic reforms began in 1991, the country’s population has moved ahead. People want fast economic progress; and are willing to shed old rhetoric on economics. That’s why the Left is in such a losing position. Likewise, people want peace in matters of faith; that is why they are unlikely to vote for the BJP even as they are disillusioned with the Congress. The Congress is benefitting from the new TINA (There is no Alternative). If you are a liberal secularist, supporting economic progress and reforms, you have no option to the Congress. The only thing that can stumble the Congress of course is corruption issues.

The real truth is that the BJP has always been the untouchable in India’s political landscape. It is now the reason for the Congress’s survival. Had the BJP not been there, opposition unity would have been stronger. Opposition for the BJP is so intense that no one wants to side with it even on issues on which there may be broader alignment.

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