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Mainstream, Vol. XLVII, No 41, September 26, 2009

BJP etc.: The Death of Ideology

Saturday 26 September 2009, by T J S George

Power is the sole purpose of politics in India. Without power, parties crumble. The implosion ripping the BJP apart shows how comprehensive the crumbling can be. It is easy to say that the BJP’s self-destruct is its internal affair. But there are two reasons why it should be every Indian’s affair.

First, the BJP was the only national formation that rose to challenge the Congress which inherited its all-India mantle from the independence movement. For our nascent democracy, the two-party choice was bad enough given the country’s size and diversity. It grew worse when one of them developed into a family oligarchy and the other pursued a communal divide-and-rule policy. The worst may happen now if the challenger leaves the arena and the voter is left with a choice of one. That will put us on par not with China but North Korea, for though China has a one-party system, it has no family rule.

We would not have come to this pass if the Congress had accepted Mahatma Gandhi’s advice and disbanded itself upon the attainment of independence. That would have facilitated Jawaharlal Nehru leading a progressive Centrist party and Sardar Patel a conservative platform. Trade unionists and sundry radicals would have found their own Left-of-Centre perch in such a dispensation, giving democracy a natural environment to grow.

But Nehru saw himself as the one-size-fits-all Prime Minister, not challengeable by competitors. So he kept potential challengers like the Sardar under his wing and never allowed brother prog-ressives like Jayaprakash Narayan, Rammanohar Lohia, Narendra Deva to grow under his banyan tree. These great national leaders got frustrated and withered away. It is specious to blame Nehru for the partition of India as Jaswant Singh has made fashionable. With greater justification, he can be held responsible for thwarting the development of a progressive party in India and thereby making Indian democracy lopsided.

The second reason we should be concerned about the BJP’s plight is that it underlines the collapse of ideology in Indian politics. The Congress never had one. Nehruvian socialism was not an ideology, but a policy. Even that was abandoned in due course. The Communists held on for a while, but the temptations of parliamentary politics finally overwhelmed them. Today the Polit-Bureau is thunderously ideological but in Bengal and Kerala where the comrades practise what they do not preach, communism has gone five-star, indistinguishable from capitalism.

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The BJP, too, fell victim to the politics of power and corruption. Consider Karnataka. When the BJP won the last State elections, it showed no qualms in taking renegades from other parties and rewarding them with ministerships. No trace of ideology here, unless “Anything-for-Power” is recognised as an ideology.

To its credit, the BJP has understood that the hardline Hindutva ideology that gave it an initial momentum is no longer viable. It has acknowledged Narendra Modi and the Gandhi boy from UP (who wanted to cut off the hands of other religionists) as major vote-losers for the party. The obvious solution is for the leadership to boldly adopt an inclusive ideology treating all Indian citizens as equal. But they have neither the guts nor the vision to do so. What they have is the even more defeatist idea of the RSS “taking over” the BJP. Interestingly, this idea came from Arun Shourie, the man who had caused haemorrhage in the first place by projecting Narendra Modi as the next Prime Minister. With leaders like this, the BJP needs no ememies. If the party does not survive such negative thinking, it will only vindicate P.V. Narasimha Rao’s pragmatism as expressed in his novel, The Insider: “Elections in India are a choice, not of the best, but of the least worthless.”

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