Debating India

India wants a modern, pragmatic BJP

Wednesday 6 April 2005

New Delhi, April 6: Post-Independence India adopted the Westminster system of governance modelled on the one used in the country that ruled the sub-continent for so long.

However, what the founding fathers missed, and what they did not seek to alter in any way at all at any time, was the fact that in England the health of the Westminster model and the Parliamentary system that stems thereof was totally dependent on the existence of a viable polity where two main political parties exist.

That they be based on two opposing ideologies was acceptable. That they espoused varying agenda too was acceptable. But what was not part of the system and a thing that both parties abjured was that one would not try to drive the other out of existence. Monopoly of exercise of power is an antithesis in this system.

India adopted a new system where, with the exception of the Indian National Congress, there was no other political party in existence, with the possible exception of the Communists (who were condemned for supporting the British during World War II as Soviet Russia and India’s rulers then were allies against Nazi Germany. In fact, they campaigned actively against Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress).

The years that followed kept the flame of democracy alive in India with elections being held at regular intervals. But the result always threw up Congress as the winner.

From President Rajendra Prasad, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Home Minister Sardar Patel, none felt that a viable opposition to Congress party had to be built in the interest of India. All of them were too busy trying to build up their own power centres. In fact, their comments and actions more or less indicated that all those who were against Congress were against India. The identification of a political party, no matter how praiseworthy its antecedents, with the nation-state is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

History lesson is over. Now, take a giant leap into time and gradually come into the present.

For various interest groups in India who had political ambitions of their own, there was no choice but to go to the extremes to find a viable platform, since the secular and mainline agenda and ideology was already taken by Congress.

The fact remains that India, even in the years post-Y2K, the opposition is still trying to define their role - and failing abjectly. Jai Prakash Narayan successfully created an alternative, but most of them were ex-Congressmen and soon internal dissension, greed, envy and jealousy led to a collective hara kiri by the Opposition.

Since once-great leaders like Morarji Desai and his partners in the Janata experiment failed it left another huge vacuum for Congress to exploit.

Considering that no two parties, except the Congress and BJP, are acceptable to India as a whole, it becomes imperative for Vajpayee, Advani & Co to act the mature statesmen and try to transform, even metamorphose their party into a more acceptable avatar for people from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.

There is not much that they need do. What is required is a guts and sacrifice agenda. They must sacrifice the ambition of getting power in a hurry. What they need to do is show they have the courage to take the unpopular decision (for their cadres) of moving the party away from the religion-centric temple-heavy agenda that they have adopted since the 1980s.

In those days (1980s and 90s) constant drubbing at the hustings left BJP, a national party, with just two members of Parliament. But the important thing is that the BJP espoused an agenda that was free thinking, liberal and modern, with religion getting mere lip service. Not surprisingly, it was dropped when it did not succeed. Vajpayee and Advani did not realise, or sought to turn a blind eye to the fact that Indira Gandhi was on a comeback trail that nothing could stop. In fact, they should have understood that the path for her return was paved by the Janata Party. They did not see any profit in persevering with their modern agenda. To India’s cost.

They saw an opportunity in the Congress fiddling around with opening the gates of the Babri Masjid and hijacked the issue to generate a countrywide stir to race to power and stay there for so long. But the new agenda was too short-sighted and not really in India’s interest as it divided the country on religious lines.

However, losses in elections in the recent past, should have shown the BJP bosses that they have bled the Ram Temple for all the vote value it had. People have voted to keep religion confined to their home and to let pragmatic politics rule India. Now, the nation as a whole, by handing out a loss to the BJP in the 2004 General Elections, has given it another chance to re-invent itself.

It can be done! Power in BJP resides with Vajpayee and Advani. The party has an opposing projection of both the elderly but respected BJP statesmen’s stance on all issues. While it would be difficult to find too many differences in Vajpayee’s stand and those of most Congressmen on most issues, it is L.K. Advani who has crowned himself with the religiously extreme position and who had truly churned the temple issue into a frenzy. While he waxed hot, Vajpayee was always there to wane cold and deflect all accusations of extremism against BJP quite successfully.

While the years may not have been very kind to Vajpayee as his health is deteriorating, his deputy is still in the prime. The deadly duo can combine again to make a last stand to give India a rejuvenated BJP - a live and thriving alternative to the Congress.

The country needs a viable opposition to bring the polity together to throw up the best possible alternatives for India to chose from and lead the country into a better tomorrow. A divisive polity will be a calamity for the nation. Only the best Indian leadership can compete on an equal footing with the rest of the world.

The BJP now stands at the crossroads in its history that will forever decide whether the party survives into the next decade a force to be reckoned with, or fades into the recesses of the minds of old men.

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