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View: India hasn’t moved to an ideological corner, BJP’s come closer to the mainstream

The challenge for BJP is to retain hold over the political Centre while adhering to the party’s ideology.

, ET CONTRIBUTORS|
Updated: May 27, 2019, 06.48 AM IST
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Interestingly, BJP has rarely, if ever, objected to the word ‘socialism'.
Opinion about the results of the elections to the 17th Lok Sabha are divided between those who believe that India has moved closer to BJP, and those who see BJP moving closer to what the Indian Republic has come to represent. Has a significant plurality of the electorate come to accept the Hindutva ideology of BJP? Or, has BJP diluted its ideology of establishing a ‘Hindu rashtra’, accepting the values espoused by the Constitution?

The truth, perhaps, is that a bit of both has happened. A similar question was asked when the communists won elections and formed governments, first in Kerala and then in West Bengal. Like BJP, the undivided Communist Party of India (CPI), too, rejected some of the fundamental ideas defining the Constitution of the Republic. In 1950, on Soviet supremo Josef Stalin’s advice the then CPI gave up armed struggle in Telangana, and subsequently the communists joined the democratic mainstream. In the elections to the first (1952), second (1957) and third (1962) Lok Sabha, CPI emerged as the single largest party of Opposition.

In the 1950s, and even in the 1960s, the communists were asked if they accepted the values that defined the Constitution, just as over the past two decades BJP has been asked that question. Interestingly, the question has often been asked if in West Bengal and Kerala the voters were ideologically Leftist or whether the CPI (M)/CPI, in fact, represented regional sentiments. Welcoming the victory of four communists from Tamil Nadu, a senior CPI(M) leader claimed last week, “Communism will remain alive here as long as people follow Periyar’s teachings.” Tamil Nadu’s voters had not moved closer to Karl Marx. CPI and CPI(M) had moved closer to Periyar.

Between the Lines
Those who view last week’s results as a consequence of BJP moving closer to the political Centre from the Right of the ideological spectrum are not as alarmed by the result as those who worry that the central tendency of the electorate as a whole may have shifted to the Right. In this context, the repeated avowal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the values espoused by the Constitution in his victory speech last week would have been aimed both at reassuring BJP’s detractors and warning BJP’s hardcore supporters.

Many have expressed concern at Modi deriding the notion of secularism even as he affirmed his adherence to the values of the Constitution. The relationship between the Constitution and secularism has remained a prickly issue for BJP ever since Indira Gandhi amended the Constitution during the Emergency to insert the words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ in the preamble of the Constitution. The issue was discussed at great length in the constituent assembly, and finally the preamble in the original Constitution declared that India is a ‘Sovereign, Democratic Republic’.

It was in 1976 that Indira Gandhi got Parliament to pass the 42nd constitutional amendment, with the entire Opposition parties leadership, barring the CPI, locked up in jail. The 42nd constitutional amendment declared that India would henceforth be a‘Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic’.

Secular Values
Interestingly, BJP has rarely, if ever, objected to the word ‘socialism’ but has repeatedly objected to Congress’ practice of secularism, dubbing the party and its ideological fellow travellers ‘pseudo-secular’. Whatever the semantics and politics of the argument, the fact is that if BJP views itself as a ‘natural and national party of government,’ then it should leave no one in doubt that it remains wedded to the principles and values espoused by the Constitution.

To criticise Congress for its ‘pseudo-secularism’ is alright. Even All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) president Asaduddin Owaisi, criticises Congress for its version of secularism that has time and again bordered on what some call ‘soft Hindutva’.

The issue is not about political posturing or ‘minority appeasement’, or even minorities’ welfare. It is about ensuring national unity and integrity, and national security. India’s commitment to secular values has been an important weapon in the battle against the virus of Islamic radicalism and jihadi terrorism in Asia.

The big challenge for BJP, as for any ideologically defined political party, would be to retain hold over this diverse nation’s political Centre while adhering to the party’s own ideology.

The communist ideologue Mohit Sen once famously said, when urging his comrades to move from the fringes into the mainstream, that “India can be governed only from the (political) Centre”. BJP’s leaders and cadres will hopefully realise that their party, too, has benefitted from making a similar journey from an ideological corner into the national mainstream. The victory of 2019 is a consequence of that, and not a result of the Indian mainstream moving closer to BJP’s ideological corner.

(The writer is distinguished fellow, Institute for Defence Studies & Analysis, New Delhi)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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