On Ayodhya and Hindutva falls the shadow of elections. On Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its militancy falls the shadow of Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Mr Vajpayee may have been a lifelong sevak of Hindutva and the sangh parivar, but he is too canny a politician to let ideology overrun the compulsions of maintaining a coalition when elections are round the corner. It is also clear from the proceedings of the national executive council of the Bharatiya Janata Party, held in Raipur, that the wise men of the party have decided to put power before saffron. Or to put it in another way, they have accepted that the cause of saffron will be better served if the BJP under Mr Vajpayee enjoys another stint in power. The support to Mr Vajpayee and what he stands for was overwhelming in Raipur. The downsizing of Hindutva was evident in the way the party’s top echelon side-stepped the issue of a legislation on a Ram mandir in Ayodhya. The side-stepping, although endorsed by the national executive, bears the hallmarks of a characteristic Vajpayee move. Mr Vajpayee has always laid claim to a middle-ground where negotiation and consensus prevail over confrontation and militancy. This is in sharp contrast to a similar meeting in Palampur, 14 years ago, where the then party president, Mr L.K. Advani, had declared Ayodhya to be the “election mascot” of the BJP. Power has tempered ideology.
The VHP may not accept this, but its own stridency has pushed the BJP towards greater moderation. The BJP as the almost natural party of governance, given the Congress’s dysfunctionalities, can no longer afford to be gung-ho in its advocacy of anti-Muslim sentiments. It has thus carefully distanced itself from the VHP. The BJP and the VHP have become akin to two alienated cousins in an ideological parivar. The BJP has to tailor its ideology according to the needs of maintaining the National Democratic Alliance. If the BJP is to make another bid for power it can only be as the leader of the NDA. Without the alliance, the BJP will always be in the position of not quite there in terms of numbers. The deliberations in Raipur can only be understood in the context of the NDA and the elections. These have been compounded by Mr Vajpayee’s personal predilections and his antipathy to the VHP which is amply reciprocated by the latter. Mr Vajpayee cannot speak and act like an ideologue. He has to be seen as a statesman who puts pragmatism before ideology and realpolitik ahead of emotions. Mr Vajpayee has donned this mantle for his second innings.