For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under the heaven, says the Bible. How true. In the forties of the 20th century socialism was the battle-cry of the young and leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia, Ashok Mehta and others were focused in presenting it as the final solution to India’s visible poverty, though, years later, a disillusioned Jayaprakash Narayan was to opt out of politics to join the Bhoodaan Movement launched by Acharya Vinobha Bhave. Jawaharlal Nehru himself conceived a socialistic pattern of society, howsoever poorly defined.
Those were the days when socialism was the accepted tool for the establishment of a just society. India looked upto Great Britain as a model where the Labour Party was entrenched in power. The catchy slogan was: “Turn Right and you will be left; Turn Left and you will be right”. Nationalisation of core industries was the ‘in thing’. But the concept had its day and not long after, its failure to deliver became painfully noticeable. It took Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government to make an about-turn to win the approbation of the nation. Here was a bold and drastic move but it saved the United Kingdom from a downward slide into economic chaos. India took its own time to admit its error and it took a Narasimha Rao to initiate liberalisation of the economy. Again it was a bold move and necessitated by circumstances and it went down well with Indian industrialists and entrepreneurs.
Similar was the case with the ideology of secularism which India proudly professed to practice as a counterweight to the crass communalism that the Muslim League had advocated so brashly. It only served to promote the ideology of Hindutva as a unifying force across all castes and creeds. Now time has taken its toll. Both terms have had their day. Presently, they only provoke a yawn. Ennui has set in. What, in the circumstances, should the BJP do to win back public support? Is there a need for a sea-change in the BJP mind-set? If there is, what should it be—and aimed in what direction? Reading its Vision Statement which the media for reasons best known to it ignored, the BJP was on right lines. But is that a correct assessment of the situation? Has change become inevitable?
There is, one must admit, a certain inevitability about it, as Mahatma Gandhi, no less, was to find out. By 1945 he had become expendable to the Congress. He had become a superfluity someone the party could do without. Is much the same happening to the BJP’s top leadership? Are people demanding a change? Is there an undercurrent of demand for a new, re-vitalised, creative and dynamic party that can offer stiff competition to a Congress still reeling under an unexpected victory at the polls?
It is in this context that one must remember a statement recently made by General Musharraf that calls for attention. He said that the time has come for both India and Pakistan to “come to terms” with history. What he obviously meant was that both Hindus and Muslims must learn from the past to build a better future. One reason why the BJP could not cash in on the growing unpopularity of Mayavati and Mulayam Singh Yadav among Muslims was that it was not foreseen and if foreseen not taken into account. The Muslims were feeling rudderless. If the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party had given them no relief as they saw it, the Congress seemed the only party one could turn to. This had nothing to do with ideology. Muslims had turned en masse towards the Congress following Partition out of a sense of guilt, in a plain case of self-preservation. The just concluded elections have shown the same signs. Against this background two points stand out for consideration: Is the BJP willing to give up or tone down its dedication to Hindutva to win Muslim votes? Alternately, can it convince the average Muslim that Hindutva is an over-riding sentiment that transcends religion and has more to do with India’s ancient culture that propounds sarve janaha sukhino bhavantu as an eternal way of life? Discarding Hindutva would be an act of hypocrisy that may create its own backlash.
At the same time, the BJP cannot duck the issue. For any success in the Muslim belt, the peoples’s feelings have to be taken into account. In such a situation the BJP has a hard task ahead. Would it help to recruit a younger leadership as the Congress is now engaged in? It may, but it is wise to be wary of the hype that the party is indulging in. The Congress has indulged in blatant dynasticism as will be seen from some ministerial appointments such as those of Jyotiradiya Scindia, D Purandeshwari, Ajay Maken, Jitin Prasad, Bharatsinh Solanki, Tushar Chaudhury, Praneet Kaur, Sachin Pilot and Agatha Sangma. Such is the character of the Indian people that it feels comfortable with dynasticism , howsoever much it is run down. To the people it means continuity.
The Congress in this regard, has an advantage: The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is easily identifiable and has connective history behind it. The BJP can boast of none such. But that should not be treated as a disadvantage but as reflective of the truly democratic nature of the party. The BJP, in that sense, has no reason to feel despondent. It speaks for all the people in the fullest sense of the term. In the elections just concluded the BJP has been the victim of circumstances beyond its control. At the same time, the BJP must remember that politics is essentially cyclic in nature as has been proved time and time again. Its immediate plan should be to re-establish its connectivity with the masses, especially Muslims and dalits who may have felt neglected especially at the taluqa and village level. Known primarily as an urban-centric party, the BJP must find out why it failed in cities like Delhi and Mumbai. Let this be remembered: The Congress is over a century and a quarter old. The BJP has yet to establish itself fully into the nation’s sub-consciousness. One thing it should be pleased with: the nation has opted for a two-party system. BJP is the ‘other’ party. It can be ‘the’ party if it can work its way out of the present situation when the next elections take place, with foresight and right planning. That is both its duty and its daunting challenge. It has all the talent. What it needs to do is to exercise its will.