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BJP Acts Strangely:VARUN GANDHI NEW POSTER BOY, by T.D. Jagadesan,9 April 2009 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 9 April 2009

BJP Acts Strangely


By T.D. Jagadesan

There were no flags of the Bharatiya Janata Party when Hindutva’s new poster boy Varun Gandhi enacted his surrender drama in Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh recently where he is going to be the party’s Lok Sabha candidate. People were waving saffron flags of the Sangh Parivar and chanting “Jai Shri Ram”. Interestingly, party flags carrying the “Lotus symbol” were conspicuous by their absence.

But, if the absence of the BJP’s overt presence of Pilibhit led one to assume that the party had taken the Election Commission’s advice seriously and had decided not to field Varun for his “hate speech” against minority Muslims, one would be clearly wrong.

It’s a calculated move for the BJP to be ambiguous in its response to the entire episode because Varun Gandhi’s attempts to emerge as a hawkish Hindutva fad and remind one of yesteryear’s L.K. Advani and Narendra Modi, has the potential of yielding rich electoral benefits, at least in U.P. The reckoning is that Varun can become the rallying point for the demoralized cadre in the State, once considered the saffron party’s bastion.

With Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party ruling the roost, the BJP faces the danger of getting wiped out of the State in the forthcoming elections. If the Mayawati Government goes ahead with firm action against Varun, as has been indicated by its slapping an attempt to murder case on him, the BJP cadre could gain a fresh lease of life through a new issue and certainly derive political mileage.

The BJP, supposedly the party “with a difference” is today bereft of a distinct ideology that can really make it look different from the others and catch the fancy of the electorate. As the Assembly elections subsequent to Mumbai attacks made it obvious, the party’s main poll plank – campaign on terror-- has no takers. The party now wants to compete with the Congress on the plank of development and governance.

In this competition, the BJP is indulging in the “image-making exercises”. We are flooded with visuals of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, 82-year-old Advani posing with dumbbells in a gymnasium to demonstrate his fitness, images that would fit in what they hope would be a catchy poll slogan--a strong leader and a strong nation.

Memories of Advani’s Ayodhya rath yatra criss-crossing the country in the name of Lord Ram, leaving thousands of innocent people dead and deep scars on the social fabric of the nation in its wake are not matters of a distant past. Being an articulate leader with a good command over the language, Advani could proclaim the party’s divisive communal politics to be a “cultural renaissance”, and whip up passions on communal lines to fetch votes.

Advani, who under Vajpayee wanted to be known as the “iron man”, dishing out tough messages to Pakistan and the minority community within the country (the two are synonymous in the Parivar’s dictionary), changed track once it became evident that he would be leading the party to the next polls. He lost the party presidentship after his visit to Pakistan where he gave a “secular” certificate to Mohammad Ali Jinnah. But staged a comeback well in time with the endorsement of the Sangh Parivar, as the party’s prime ministerial candidate.  

No one knows what changed the Parivar and its opinion on Advani’s Jinnah remarks. Looking back, one could only surmise that it was a well-written political script with a definite objective: to help Advani acquire the image of a liberal, so that he can be the rallying point for regional parties.

The second most important leader of the saffron clan, Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, whose ascent in Indian politics was directly dependent on communal politics, is equally busy promoting himself as a liberal leader, ready to take over the party as Advani’s successor. Modi is already getting an endorsement from the captains of industry as a prime ministerial candidate.

Now, the BJP portrays this “Hriday Samrat” of Hindus as the perfect role model for others in the party. In his zeal to emerge as a liberal leader, he too has lately been keeping the Parivar at bay in matters of governance. These days Modi does not mind demolishing unauthorized temples and structure that become hindrances in the path of progress and prosperity.

Whether one believes in its communal politics or not, the reality is that the BJP had mobilized sizeable section of people in northern India in the ’80s, particularly among the youth in the name of Ram Temple. The temple is nowhere in sight, despite the party capturing power in UP and the Centre. The outfits of the Parivar have attributed their political outfits’ loss of support to the dilution of the Hindutva agenda.

Its traditional vote base is shrinking, more dramatically so in UP, with 80 Lok Sabha seats, where the party has been pushed to the periphery. Today, the hero of its temple movement, Kalyan Singh, who had owned responsibility for the Babri Masjid demolition, is making efforts to remain relevant in politics as a backward caste leader. He has once again ditched the BJP to team with Mulayam Singh, whom the BJP often dubbed as “Maulana Mulayam” for championing the cause of the minority community.

Varun Gandhi, whose only credentials lie in his surname, has suddenly given the saffron party hope and emerges as a potential leader, who can take on the hawk’s role, at least for UP. Well, BJP President Rajnath Singh often tries to articulate the party’s hardcore agenda, but he cannot be sold to the electorate. Varun can fit the bill, more so when his cousin Rahul is being sought to be projected as the Congress’ future.

The moot question is whether it is the administrative will or political expediency that has brought about Mayawati’s aggressive and tough posture on the Varun issue. With the minority community playing a decisive role in getting her a simple majority in the 2007 Assembly polls, the move would help her in making a point. While the law will take its own course, we shall doubtless see a lot more twists and turns in the case. Varun is clearly the BJP’s man of the moment.

The politics of masks--- play both liberal as well as hardliner is not new to the Sangh Parivar. As the yesteryear hawks of the BJP, Advani and Modi have reached out for the liberal mask, the party needs the hardliner positions also to be manned. Though the BJP may not have scripted the Pilibhit episode, they are probably now thinking that they could not have written it better. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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