The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A modernist creed goes ill with politics based on religion. The BJP is caught in the traditional divide between the modern and the popular

If Hindutva has become a hydra-headed monster, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the political wing of Hindutva, finds itself with at least two faces. One face of it looks in the direction of modernity. Men like Mr Arun Shourie, Mr Arun Jaitley, Mr Yashwant Sinha, Mr Jaswant Singh and even the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, want to make the BJP a responsible party capable of reforming India and making it into a powerful modern nation-state. The tinge of saffron does not detract from the modernizing thrust of their project. On the other hand, there are others ó the names of Mr Narendra Modi and even perhaps Mr Murli Manohar Joshi come to mind ó who can exert a backward pull on the BJP. A pull that takes the BJP towards mass mobilization based on religion and and makes it not averse to the use of obscurantism and violence to secure political ends. In the middle are men like Mr L.K. Advani whose feet are implanted on the modernist side but who is cynical enough to jump on the Hindutva bandwagon to get political mileage. Another way of articulating this fundamental cleavage in the BJP is to state it as a difference between the modern and the populist.

The difference between the two is significant for the dilemma that the BJP faces. Those that represent the modernist trend, with the exception of Mr Vajpayee, are not exactly popular leaders. They are the thinking manís politicians, urbane and suave, not exactly the kind of persons who win elections in India. Those who represent the other trend are the rabble-rousers who rally the masses on the basis of religion. The latter have been the BJPís principal vote catcher. This precisely is where the problem lies. Mr Vajpayee, as his recent utterances make clear, realizes the dangers involved in using religion as a vote winner in a country like India. He has in mind the experience of Gujarat where the use of religion for political purposes led to violence and destruction. The BJP has ridden the tiger of Hindu fanaticism and gained electorally but can it continue to do so if it wants to make Bharat into India' Can it get off the tiger and survive and succeed politically and electorally' A wily politician like Mr Vajpayee as well as some of the younger intelligent leaders of the BJP know that the questions do not have easy answers. But on their engagement with these issues lies the future of the BJP and even perhaps of India.

The difference between the modern and the populist also affects other political parties in different ways. The Congress knows that it cannot get elected some one like Mr Manmohan Singh, the proponent of a modern Indian economy, from even south Delhi. In India, populism, and not the modern, pays electoral dividends. The divide between the popular and the modern, going back to the differences between Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and his protégé Jawaharlal Nehru, indexes the immaturity of the Indian polity.

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