The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The most important impact of success from the point of view of the victors is the irrepressible desire to repeat the success. The Bharatiya Janata Party cannot be blamed if it is keen to replicate elsewhere its resounding victory in Gujarat. Even without invoking any conspiracy theory, so popular among Hindutva baiters, it cannot be denied that the elections in Gujarat were a kind of experiment. Early this year, the state had been lashed by the worst kind of majoritarian violence imaginable. This violence was projected by hardliners within the sangh parivar as revenge against the carnage perpetrated in Godhra. This became the nodal point of the campaign led by Mr Narendra Modi who had no manner of doubt that the atmosphere of aggression and fear produced by the violence best suited his party. He had thus dissolved the legislative assembly and called for fresh elections. The results proved that he had read the situation correctly. In Gujarat, violence did not lead to a rejection of Hindutva. On the contrary, the majority of the people of Gujarat have embraced the ideology and its implications. It is a matter of debate whether the equation between majoritarian aggression and electoral success is specific to Gujarat or if it is applicable to other states. The mood of the national executive of the BJP suggests that influential sections of the party believe that Gujarat is a kind of magic formula.

There is also an internal logic to this enthusiasm. Before the Gujarat triumph, the BJP’s electoral fortunes had been on a downward slide. The party is out of power in 15 states. It was struggling to arrive at the right mix between governance and ideology, between being the party of responsibility and stability and the party driven by hatred and violence. Those who advocated that ideology is more important than governance have argued consistently that Hindutva is the BJP’s unique distinguishing mark. The obliteration of that mark or even covering it up leaves the BJP without an identity. Without Hindutva, the BJP begins to look too similar to its rivals, especially the Congress. To these people, the campaign in Gujarat and the fruits it brought were the proof that they needed. Hindutva is BJP’s winning card.

It would appear that Hindutva has won within the party. But Gujarat — call it “experiment’’ or call it “experience’’— has a deeper significance than just the triumph of Hindutva. In Gujarat, the heady ideology of Hindutva was laced with violence and terror directed at one particular community. This had the support of large sections of urban and rural people. It remains to be seen if the BJP, as the party in power in New Delhi and at the head of a coalition, will try to recreate this dangerous combination to gain electoral dividends. This is where the Gujarat success story could change the nature of Indian politics. The BJP belongs to a wider ideological formation and many constituents of that formation privilege Hindutva and anti-Muslim sentiments above everything else. Dealing with such elements might be the worst legacy of the Gujarat elections for Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

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