Sunday, September 11, 2011

BJP's New Hue

IIPM Mumbai Campus

With an eye on resurrecting its political fortunes at the Centre, the saffron brigade has donned a liberal cloak and begun to train its focus on Muslims and Dalits

In an incident that can only be termed intriguing, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, on November 15 this year, visited Ahmedabad's Muslim-dominated Juhapura locality, which is often referred to as “mini Pakistan” by the locals. The occasion was a Sufi music and qawwali programme at Sarkhez ka Roza, a Mughal era tomb, organised by the Gujarat government under a special drive to preserve and maintain heritage buildings. More interestingly, the tomb was especially chosen for the programme at Modi's behest. It was for the first time after the 2002 Gujarat riots that Modi had come calling here. On this visit, he spent a considerable time with Muslims of the locality.

December 6 is a special day for the BJP. Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Hindu organisations celebrate it as shaurya diwas throughout the country, and BJP leaders make their presence felt in large numbers in these programmes. It is the day of Ambedkar’s death anniversary as well. This time around, the BJP top brass forgot Ram Lalla and chose to put the temple issue on the backburner. It instead focussed on Ambedkar. While Lal Krishna Advani bowed his head before Ambedkar’s statue in Parliament, prominent BJP Dalit leader Satya Prakash Jatiya demanded that Ambedkar’s parinirvana site, the place where he died in New Delhi, should be accorded the same status as Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial. The party's other Dalit MPs in their letters to the Prime Minister echoed Jatiya's demand.

On December 12, organisations associated with VHP organised a yagna and a meeting of sadhus for the construction of Ram temple in Delhi. It was incumbent upon the local BJP leaders to make the programme a success. BJP's national organising secretary Ramlal convened several meetings of the cadre. However, on the day of the programme no BJP leader of repute was seen on the dais. Even the handful who turned up preferred to sit off the stage. Usually, such programmes see a huge gathering of big and small BJP leaders.

These incidents are pointers to the fact that Nitin Gadkari’s BJP is changing. It has been a year since Gadkari took over the reins as party president and the outcome of his policies is clearly visible. With an eye on the future political gains, the party is keen to shed its staunch Hindutva image and look more liberal. Gadkari aims to increase the party’s vote bank by 10 per cent by 2014 to wrest power away from the Congress.
The change in the party’s policies and programmes is a result of this thinking. Gadkari is eyeing the Muslim and Dalit vote bank which has traditionally been with the Congress and of late with other secular parties. Hence, instead of the temple, the party wants to make development and good governance its key issues. Gadkari has also coined two new slogans that embody the party’s new focus, “politics for development” and “antodaya” (meaning the development of the marginalised). For the latter he has established a special Antodaya cell in the party. For the politics of development, he has instructed all BJP workers to play a facilitatory role to government departments running development schemes.

Actually, it is now more of a compulsion for the BJP to come out of its hardline image, discard old issues and talk of development. At a time when Congress leaders, including Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, are making development the focus of all party policies, it is but natural for the BJP to follow suit. As political analyst Dr Subhrokamal Dutta puts it, “In a democracy, the politics of the opposition is determined by the agenda of the ruling party. If the ruling party is talking of development, the opposition should ideally do the same.”

But the question is: is RSS happy with the recent development of BJP distancing itself from the temple issue? According to sources close to Gadkari, this change in politics enjoys the support of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Even otherwise, Gadkari, who became the party chief at the behest of RSS, consults the organisation in every matter of importance.

As soon as he became the party chief, Gadkari initiated a process of dialogue with Muslims. In almost all his speeches he would cite the example of BJP ruled states, especially Gujarat, where development-oriented policies of the government had helped Muslims progress through an increase in their income and employment. By putting aside the temple issue and by stressing development programmes initiated for the benefit of Muslims and Dalits, the party is sending out the message that it is no longer a party unfriendly towards them. Mohd Idris Khan, a Muslim BJP leader in Ghaziabad, UP, and former district president of the party’s minority front, seconds this observation. “Although there have been many schemes for the development of the minorities right from the time of Kalyan Singh to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but Muslims were largely apprehensive of the party's motives. By pushing aside the temple issue, the party is ensuring that more Muslims come into its fold,” says Khan. The grant of aid to madrasas in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat is one of the steps that have been taken to woo the Muslims.
Senior BJP leader and former cabinet minister Shahnawaz Hussain says, “Through our work we are trying to remove the misconceptions that had been put into the minds of Muslims about the BJP. As a result, in the recent Bihar elections we have won a majority of Muslim-dominated seats. We have the support of almost 21 per cent Muslims there. In the panchayat and municipal council elections of Gujarat, our candidates have won on more than 100 Muslim dominated seats.”

To attract Dalits to the party, the BJP has started celebrating the birthdays and death anniversaries of several Dalit icons in a grand manner. It has also decided to raise issues pertaining to Dalits. This year, for the first time the party organised grand programmes on Valmiki Jayanti and on Ambedkar Diwas.

The BJP has understood that in today's coalition politics, Ambedkar is more relevant than Ram. In the BJP-ruled states special programmes are being formulated for the uplift of the Dalits but the focus is on educating them. The party believes that once educated, the Dalits will be more aware and parties like the BSP will not be able to exploit them.

National president of the BJP SC front Dushyant Kumar Gautam says, “Special funds are being allocated for the education of Dalits in BJP-ruled states. Our governments are giving scholarships on a large scale to Dalit children to encourage them to go abroad for higher studies.” It shows the aprty's changed perception of the “swadeshi”. The party’s earlier stance was to oppose the videshi (foreign).

Gadkari sees the party’s future in Ambedkar and Antodaya and not in Ram Lalla. Though a faction of the party is extremely unhappy with the policy alteration, Gadkari does not seem to care as long as he enjoys the Sangh's support.

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