The rough edges of extreme political views are inevitably ironed out by the pressures of office. The classic illustration of this is the transformation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal. In the Sixties, the members of the CPI(M) were the fire eaters of Indian politics. Today, the policies pursued by the CPI(M)-led Left Front government have a distinct Nehruvian flavour to them. Similar is the trajectory being followed by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the sangh parivar. Both emerged on the Indian political scene bearing the birthmarks of Hindu fundamentalism. Aggressive Hindutva and a hatred of the Muslims were projected as their trump cards. The BJPís tenure in office has successfully eroded this identity mark. There are occasional outbursts of Hindu militancy in the words and activities of certain BJP leaders like Mr Narendra Modi but they are rare in the pronouncements of Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mr L.K. Advani and absent in the policies formulated by the National Democratic Alliance government. The BJP under Mr Vajpayee has not only distanced itself from the more extreme sections of the sangh parivar like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad but has also worked towards demarcating itself from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, seen by many as the parivarís core organization. Hindutva, Mr Vajpayee has repeatedly emphasized, is not very high on his list of priorities. But good governance is.
Thus it will not surprise anyone that Mr Vajpayee announced in an election rally in Madhya Pradesh that people should cast their vote on the issue of development rather than on the issue of religion. It is also noteworthy that the BJP-led NDA government kept itself at more than an armís length from the VHPís movement in Ayodhya on October 17. The BJP offered the VHP no encouragement and the NDA cooperated with the Uttar Pradesh government to prevent any kind of disruption and outbreak of violence. The cooperation with the UP government is significant since UP is now ruled by Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Samajwadi Party leader known for his hostility to the BJP. This cooperation indicates the premium the BJP puts on governance and the maintenance of law and order ó a far cry from its day in opposition when Mr Advani breathed fire sitting on a motorized chariot. The context has changed, time has moved on. As a political party committed to the art of the possible, the BJP knows that to stand still is to court disaster and to support extremism is to display irresponsibility. Adapting to the times is the art of politics.