December 18, 2009

Why does India need a strong BJP?

http://www.merinews.com/article/why-does-india-need-a-strong-bjp/15791150.shtml

An interesting way to look at the evolution of political parties in India is to try and understand each party's idea of India, their views on the relative powers of the Center and the states, the class and caste base of the leaders and the voters.

CJ: SHAILESH Thu, Dec 17, 2009 04:17:29 IST

AS ALL the hyperbole about elections 2009 recedes, I think it is appropriate to objectively discuss the elections. Some of the things that are interesting are the failures of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left (seemingly parties with committed voter bases) to enthuse the voters, the inability of psephologists and markets to predict the results and the decline of regional parties. I think no person is (or should be) politically neutral, it is necessary to have a stand as long as the stand is not dogmatic and as long as one is upfront about this and doesn’t pretend to be unbiased.

This piece is about the necessity of the BJP in Indian society. An interesting way to look at the evolution of political parties in India is to try and understand each party’s idea of India, their views on the relative powers of the Center and the states, the class and caste base of the leaders and the voters and their views on key issues of national importance – security, corruption, economy etc. This usually gives a good idea of what these parties stand for.

The BJP’s idea of India has always been one based on a strong nationalism. India is one strong entity, all Indians share a common culture (as per the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and key intellectuals in the BJP, one based on Hinduism) and should be governed by the strong civil and personal laws (hence, an ideological commitment towards the uniform civil code). All regions in India should have the same rights. The BJP’s voter base has historically been the educated, urban middle class and largely committed to free market economic policies.

Rajagopalachari’s Swatantra Party India’s first and only openly capitalistic party. But the BJP’s economics never supported the capitalism of the rich and the incumbent businesses often nurtured by the license quota raj. This was a free market policy for the shopkeepers, small businessmen and entrepreneurs; who largely formed its voter base.

My case is that India needs a strong BJP, as much in the opposition as in power. From time to time, voters may choose to vote it out of power, but the relevance of the BJP remains.

Why it is so?

The need for a strong, secure India:
The BJP’s governing ideology naturally makes it committed to national security. Security implies not only external security, it also includes the ability to deal with internal threats like the Naxalite movement.

The need for a balanced, free market economics: India needs a party committed to free markets subject to reasonable regulations, a party with a belief in competition, the rights of the small entrepreneur and moderate taxation. The record of the Congress on all of these remains questionable. While the government under Dr Singh might be pro-market, whether the Congress Party itself believes in those policies remains to be seen. At the same time, beliefs in a free market should not be dogmatic; for instance, the Congress Party’s support for financial sector reforms, foreign investment through the back door.

The need for a correct definition of secularism: No reasonable person can question the secular character of India. But the definition of secularism is ambiguous. While the constitution meant it to imply a state that didn’t support any religion, it has been twisted to imply a state that appeases minorities. I hate to be controversial, but anybody who doubts this should read about the Shah Bano case which gave rise to the BJP’s demand for a uniform civil code; the case was not about complex legal issues, it was about an old, divorced lady’s right to maintenance and whether a religion could be allowed to ignore that. Rajiv Gandhi overruled a court verdict to pass a legislation declaring that the right to maintenance was not absolute. It is a rather twisted notion that a party demanding similar laws for all religions is considered communal.

The need for anti-Congressism: The BJP promised to be a party with a difference – free from nepotism, factionalism, dynasty worship and an institutionalisation of corruption, a party committed to the freedom of institutions meant to safeguard democracy. A party with strong internal democracy where the grassroots workers could truly aspire to be the leader. The extent to which the BJP has achieved this remains questionable; what can’t be denied is the relevance of these ideas.

In spite of this, why has the BJP stagnated? The problems are many: A failure to articulately communicate its stand on key economic issues, a failure to contain the fringe elements within the Sangh parivar and a disconnect with the youth. Also, the party with a difference is falling prey to what has best been described as ‘The Congressisation of the BJP’. An inability to sufficiently adapt its stand on key issues, not being able to give up obsolete issues and a failure to build a cohesive second rung (though it has succeeded in building an extremely talented one). The party also needs to consider why do the kids of BJP supporters not vote for the BJP? Why is the BJP seen as a party for the old? Why has the party’s core urban voter grown disenchanted with it? Why does the BJP seem like a creature caught between trying to be someone she is not and not being able to give up the idea of who she really is?

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