The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Between the official election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat and the actual modalities of the campaign being spearheaded by Mr Narendra Modi, the chief minister of the state, falls the shadow of the language of hatred. The central leadership of the BJP has insisted over the head of the state party unit, that the carnage in Godhra and the pogrom that came in its wake should not be made into issues for an election campaign. The election manifesto is silent on the matter. But the reality outside the manifesto is dangerously different. The campaign is actually mounted around Godhra: there are huge posters of Godhra, cut-outs of burning coaches, and even T-shirts with the Godhra incident depicted on them are being sold. Godhra is thus very visible in Mr Modiís campaign and it is also too audible in his rhetoric. The BJPís decision to remain silent on Godhra for the duration of the election campaign can be read in two possible ways. One is the way in which the partyís critics read its activities through the filter of conspiracy. Nothing the BJP does is straightforward. The silence thus becomes a deliberate sleight-of-hand since the party knows that Godhra is central to the campaign irrespective of whether it is mentioned in the manifesto or not. The other way to see it is to view the BJP as a multi-layered party in which many different pulls are exerting pressure on decision-making at the national and the local levels. Saddled with the responsibilities of governance, the BJP in New Delhi is trying to break out of the stereotype that relates it with violence and religious fanaticism.

Interpretations apart, what cannot be denied is that the manifesto in no way departs from some of the major assertions made by the BJP to advocate Hindutva. It has declared its intentions to train young men in violence to counter terrorism. Another way of saying the same thing is that the party is preparing its cadre to carry out tasks normally assigned to the police and the army. It is oblivious that there are enough precedents in history to show how this kind of militarization of youth destroys civil society and is abused. One has only to think of Nazi Germany. The manifesto, not unexpectedly, is shallow on issues of governance. Economic reforms and attempts to woo back investors get only a cursory mention. The BJP may be a party caught in the cusp of a transition from a party of agitation to a party of governance, but it knows that its only winning ticket in the election lottery has Hindutva emblazoned on it. The old saying that the more things change, the more they remain the same may still hold true for the BJP.

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