There cannot be one agenda for electioneering and another for governance. The Bharatiya Janata Party is being forced to realize this not by its political rivals but from within the sangh parivar. The BJP came to power on the basis of Hindutva, which lies at the core of its ideology. It is only its allegiance to Hindutva that keeps the BJP within the sangh parivar. But once in power at the head of a coalition, the National Democratic Alliance, the BJP put its pursuit of power on the back-burner and emphasized the need for good governance. This shift immediately created a distance between the BJP and the larger ideological family to which it belonged. The more militant wings of the sangh parivar, especially the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, have expressed their dismay and annoyance at the dilution of the BJP’s ideological focus. A large part of their anger has been directed at the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who has repeatedly and in no uncertain terms said that Hindutva — or more specifically, the building of a Ram mandir on the site of the Babri Masjid — cannot be a priority of his government. The compulsions of preserving a fragile coalition, of course, lie behind Mr Vajpayee’s statements, but the importance of the latter’s commitment to upholding the secular ideals of the Indian constitution should not also be underestimated.
It is now clear that this attitude, of Mr Vajpayee and of the BJP, has pushed the VHP to the end of its tether. Mr Praveen Togadia, the most vocal and rabid of the VHP leaders, announced at a meeting that the VHP “was not seeking the permission of any political party for building a Ram mandir”. This shrill cry points to one thing only: the VHP is no longer waiting for support or endorsement from the BJP. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh also made its stand clear by announcing that if the path was not cleared for temple construction, it would launch a “massive mobilization of national will’’. It will not be unfair to suspect that these sentiments of the RSS and the VHP strike a chord in the hearts of the more hawkish elements within the BJP. There is an implicit appeal here to the BJP to retrieve its own unique ideological identity-kit. This cannot make things easy for Mr Vajpayee and for Mr L.K. Advani, both of whom have expressed their desire to get on with the task of governance.
What is most ominous for the BJP rulers is the defiance that is evident in the statements of the VHP. It has declared that it does not care if the Ram mandir pleases anybody or not. To fulfil its agenda, the VHP is willing even to transgress the rule of law. As the party in government, aspiring to project itself as the party of governance, the BJP cannot afford to stand by and watch the rule of law being flouted. With elections around the corner, it cannot also alienate the VHP or fracture the parivar. The BJP’s options are limited. The drive of ideology will erode its credibility and the basis of the NDA. The drive for governance might compel it to disown the parivar.