Power trips

The spectre of the 16th Lok Sabha has already begun to haunt political parties, especially the BJP. After having lost the Delhi throne twice, consecutively, the party has geared up to thwart the UPA’s attempt to hit an electoral hat-trick. To do this, the party leadership is desperate to champion the cause of anti-corruption and make its crusade against corruption an electoral plank. Of late, the saffron brigade has demonstrated astute political shrewdness in their overt support to the Anna bandwagon, a well-calculated strategy to eventually hijack the anti-corruption movement that has supposedly gained popular currency.

BJP veteran leader L.K. Advani’s “arrest me as well” challenge on the floor of Parliament and his eloquent declaration to launch a nation-wide rath yatra against corruption need to be seen against this backdrop. Although the Supreme Court ruling in the Gujarat communal riot case brought some psychological respite to Narendra Modi and gave some breathing space to the BJP, nonetheless, the court ruling also marked a subtle setback to Mr Advani’s life-long political ambition to enter 7, Race Course Road as the possibility of projecting Mr Modi as a prospective party candidate for prime ministership brightened.
It is apparent that the BJP, and Mr Advani in particular, have always been euphoric about rath rides to work miracles at the hustings. Undoubtedly Mr Advani’s first rath yatra helped his party in improving its political fortunes, though the extent of damage it did to India’s socio-cultural and political fabric is unparalleled and definitely beyond repair. Mr Advani’s 1990 rath yatra — from Somnath, Gujarat, to Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh — sowed the seeds of communal malice, completely shattering India’s accommodative, tolerant and synthetic cultural edifice so painstakingly weaved bit by bit over centuries!
The concept of rath yatra in the domain of Indian electoral politics is essentially the brainchild of N.T. Rama Rao who had effectively capitalised on his celluloid image of a mythological hero with divine powers and used his legendary “Chaitanya Ratham” as a tool for political mobilisation. Unlike the sectarian, divisive message spread by Mr Advani’s yatra, NTR sought to unite the people of Andhra Pradesh, symbolising the region as Telugu talli (Telugu mother) and invoking the twin sentiments of Telugu pride and Telugu jaati (Telugu community) as political slogans that virtually bundled out the Congress from the state political scene.
Drawing inspiration from NTR, Mr Advani ventured to orchestrate a similar exercise, unfortunately to push the Indian society into fear and turbulence. Curiously enough, his pedantic formulation of concepts such as “pseudo-secularism” and “minorityism” have worsened the situation.
How far the proposed anti-corruption yatra helps the BJP realise its political dreams remains to be seen. Equally important to watch is whether the proposed yatra will really carry forward Anna Hazare movement’s underlying quest for a corruption-free society in India, or simply turn into yet another political gimmick. Will it address the issue of two BJP-ruled states where the chief ministers had to exit on account of corrupt practices? Or will it, to begin with, resort to an organisational scan in order to clean up the party of the vestiges of bribery that cost the party its president Bangaru Laxman (he had to leave office even before properly settling down after being caught with the booty in a Tehelka sting operation)?
It may augur well if the movement for a “corruption-free India” starts from the saffron home itself, by the BJP making public the fate of the huge public donations that poured into its coffers for the construction of a Ram mandir in Ayodhya. The gesture will go a long way in impressing upon the powers that be the significance of the issue of black money in foreign banks.
Intriguingly, Mr Advani has chosen an issue of wider concern that cuts across political divides. But the moot question that irks the common mind is how far the yatra, given the sectarian outlook of its charioteers, will be successful in generating an all-inclusive movement.
The heterogeneous and multicultural characteristics of our society cannot be glossed over. No bigoted political outfit, like the BJP, can sustain such a society, and no insular yatra, like the one the BJP plans to undertake, can generate the desired popular fervour. In electoral calculations, pragmatism coupled with accommodative spirit has always proved to be a successful strategy and the success story of the Congress under Nehru’s leadership is testimony to this.
Unfortunately, the sectarian tendencies that developed in the Congress’ style of governance in the post-Nehru phase essentially derailed the party from its secular-democratic path, resulting in a gradual displacement of its large support bases — minorities and dalits. This in effect marked the beginning of the steady Congress drift into a virtual political wilderness.
The consensus culture of the Nehruvian variety is the need of the hour. BSP chief Mayawati’s effort at emulating that consensus model, in a new garb called “social engineering”, to attain political nirvana is a glaring example.
But is the BJP leadership prepared for a change of heart? In fact, both Bangaru Laxman and Nitin Gadkari, soon after taking charge of the party, raised an olive twig, indicating the party’s desire to create space for Muslims, dalits and other minorities. However, what deterred them from completing the virtuous task remains a mystery. To reserve a place in the pantheon of secular-democratic politics, the BJP needs to exorcise itself of the demon of divisiveness and change its perspective so that it is able to see things in a frame of social solidarity, recognising human rights and distributive justice as the ideals.

Mujtaba Khan is a professor at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

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