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Still the hindu rate of growth
To attract more voters the BJP is actually softening its right-wing stance and trying to focus on issues like development. But Hindutva is the party's only card, writes Sidharth Bhatia
The Shiv Sena is seen as one of the more reliable partners of the Bharatiya Janata Party, one that has stayed with it through thick and thin. The relationship - at the state as well as at the national level - has not been without its share of problems. The late Bal Thackeray had made sure that the Maharashtra unit of the BJP remained a junior ally and lost no chance to remind it of its inferiority. The BJP's leaders chafed at this, but had no option except to humour Thackeray. Yet, despite these pinpricks, for over three decades, since the Shiv Sena resolutely moved towards Hindutva, the two sides stuck together, even as many other allies have deserted the BJP.
So when Uddhav Thackeray says something about the BJP, it needs to be taken seriously. In true Sena style, Thackeray junior has been forthright and direct with his questions: why is the BJP not talking openly about Hindutva? Why are Narendra Modi and his supporters hiding behind the garb of secularism?
The Congress and other critics of Modi say this often enough, but that is obviously seen as one party taking potshots at the other. But this time round this criticism is coming from a friend and partner and the question squarely addresses the BJP's reluctance in coming out into the open about Hindutva. This coyness is easy to understand, of course: the BJP knows that declaring Hindutva as the main plank will attract criticism and perhaps push away some of the fence sitting voters who want to move away from the Congress but are uncomfortable with religious fundamentalism.
The BJP's core supporters, goes this argument, already know where the party stands on it, so there is no need to spell it out. Better to keep it on the backburner and concentrate on "development". So Narendra Modi, whose government was in power when the gruesome violence took place in Gujarat in 2002, is now the messiah of economic progress, admired by tycoons and techies alike, shedding his Hindutva mask.
But Uddhav Thackeray has a point when he accuses the BJP of hypocrisy. Far from repudiating Hindutva or even shelving it for tactical reasons, the BJP and its mascot are out there showing why Hindutva continues to hold a particular enchantment for them. How else to interpret the day long love-fest between Modi and the sundry sadhus and sants where they unabashedly hailed him as the coming messiah, "endorsing" him as the best man to run this country. Call it by any other name, but this is Hindutva at its most unalloyed.
On the other hand, Modi also makes speeches to gatherings of industry magnates who have the highest regard for him even if they don't openly back him like the sadhus. Doesn't that show that he has jettisoned Hindutva? Not really. Like any other politician, Modi's speeches are designed for his audience, including women and students. But the fact is that never has he - or for that matter any other BJP leader - actually said the time for Hindutva is over, let alone repudiating this core value. In the past Hindutva helped the party reap handsome rewards, so why needlessly throw it out of the window? Besides, the hardcore constituency will be most upset if the party distances itself from it. Hindutva remains part of the BJP in spirit. But to return to Thackeray's question -why not come out and embrace it fully?
The BJP may be making a strategic mistake here. By not declaring Hindutva to be a fundamental tenet of its existence, it risks becoming a pale shadow of itself. As an opposition party, its record in the last nine years has been patchy at best. Many an opportunity to rattle the UPA government, which has shown amazing ineptitude and poor judgment, has been frittered away by the BJP. And it cannot call itself a corruption-free party. Those who want to vote against the Congress will be looking for a strong alternative;the BJP does not inspire much confidence on that front.
In which case, why not stick to its Unique Selling Proposition, which is Hindutva? An open admission will bolster the confidence of the faithful and there is absolutely no reason to think that the neo-Modi supporters find Hindutva abhorrent. In fact, that is the very quality about him - and by extension the BJP - they may find attractive. Those who have been cheering Modi's speeches and think of him as just the kind of strong, muscular, no-nonsense leader India needs are not unaware of his Hindutva leanings and the stain of the riots on him. That might well be part of his attraction for them. Any attempt to flaunt the secular card, such as L K Advani's weak effort to appear above the Hindutva fray, will turn the BJP into Congress Lite.
Will the BJP boldly go down the route suggested by the Shiv Sena chief? At this moment, the chances of that happening are low to negligible. The party has to first work out whether it wants to showcase Modi or not. So far his PR onslaught appears to be self-designed and self-propelled, and has yet to receive the official stamp of the party and its RSS backers in Nagpur. The question of waving the Hindutva flag will have to wait till then. But by that time, it may be just too late for the BJP.
The author is a Mumbai-based journalist and political commentator
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