Facelift for the BJP?   (06 Sep 2000)

The views expressed by the Bharatiya Janata Partys new president, Bangaru Lakshman, at its national convention in Nagpur are a clear indication of the BJPs changing face. It looks like he wants the BJP to not only be a national alternative to the Congress, but to also share a similar ideology with the Congress.

Bringing Muslims and the weaker sections into the partys fold and giving up controversial issues like constructing a temple at the Ram Janamabhoomi in Ayodhya, Article 370 and the Uniform Civil Code, as is being suggested by Lakshman, will put the BJP on the same ideological plank as the Congress. After all, the Congress talks about minorities, scheduled castes and tribes in terms of the vote bank and has taken a consistent stand on the Ayodhya issue, apart from Article 370 and the Uniform Civil Code.

If the Sangh Parivar allows the BJP to be re-modelled along the lines suggested by Lakshman, there will be two secular and nationwide political blocks in the country — the BJP and its allies, and the Congress and its allies. All the regional parties and secular forces will not mind joining hands with either of the two if the need arises, to form a government.

There will be a debate on Lakshmans observations within the party and in the Sangh Parivar. I do not think the hardliners will let his views be implemented easily. Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray has already launched an offensive against the new BJP president and has even threatened to withdraw his party from its alliance with the BJP if Lakshman were to have his way.

There are many takers for Thackerays views within the BJP as well as in the Sangh Parivar. Which means that Lakshman will have to strive hard to get his concept implemented to widen the scope of the party.

Those who oppose his theory are apprehensive of losing the vote bank which has got them to where they are today — from two seats in the 1984 general election to 180 seats in the Lok Sabha. They firmly believe it was the surge of Hindutva which boosted the BJPs poll prospects in the last decade.

In my view, these people should understand the changing scenario in Indian politics. Since Hindus are by and large secular, the Hindutva plank cannot be a permanent feature to help any political party. It was a temporary phase which is over now. During the last Lok Sabha election, it was proved that the BJP did not lose any vote despite its giving up the Ayodhya issue. Which only means that the Hindutva card is not going to help the BJP in every election.

After having been in power at the Centre, the BJP cannot afford to remain a party of a particular community. It has to take a nationwide view with a liberal approach, taking all the communities into confidence and projecting a secular face. With this facelift, the BJP and its allies can always come into power alternatively and it will not be a one-time affair.

In fact, Bangaru Lakshman is not asking for the moon. He wants the BJP to adopt the same ideology which it has been practising as a ruling party. If one analyses the last two-and-a-half years of BJP rule, it has worked like a secular and liberal government. Even if the Sangh Parivar tried to raise issues like the growing dominance of Christians and other such matters, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his government did not support the Sangh Parivar.

I have not witnessed any incident in which the state has discriminated against any community. In fact, this is the beauty of our system — no government can afford to be communal, conservative or anti-weaker section. So when you are implementing the same ideology in the government, where is the harm in adopting it as the partys ideology?

Here I would like to categorically clarify that the BJP bringing Muslims into its fold does not mean that they should appease the fundamentalists and should compromise on the national interest. In fact, all political parties should be united on issues like combating the ISI, preventing the infiltration of Bangladeshis, fighting terrorism in Kashmir and adopting strict measures for population control.

No political party should yield to the pressures of fundamentalists belonging to any religion. Taking a tough stand against religious fanaticism is secularism and does not mean that the party wooing the people of any particular religion. We must learn from Turkey in this regard.