For a National Detente
THE new BJP president Bangaru Laxmanís olive branch to Muslims is a welcome gesture. Though part of a strategy to emerge as a mainstream party to fill the void being created by the withdrawal of the Congress (I), the move needs to be watched. The party will be judged by its future course. A genuine quest of building rapport with the largest minority should surely reflect in cooling down communal tempers, keeping the boisterous allies under check, resisting the temptation to use emotive issues for electoral gains and revoking controversial projects of saffronising the syllabus etc.
It is not unexpected of a political party to change track, ingratiate new sections of people, woo the jilted voters and even make long-term policy changes. In the BJPís case all this is happening because of being a party-in-power. But even otherwise the policy of permanent hostility has outlived its utility as is evident from peace initiatives in Palestine, between Koreas, and on home ground, the talks between the BJP-led government and the Hizbul Mujahiddin in Jammu & Kashmir. The world is not a static place. Scientific and economic changes are dictating changes in ideological perspectives and softening the absolutist tendencies. Past foes are hugging each other and barriers are melting between people. Murder, mayhem, demolitions, extermination and pogroms, can no longer be part of an ideology. Symbiosis includes cultural co-existence too. And no nation can claim itself to be ethnically pure.
The current amorphous state of polity is obviously the principal motive behind Mr. Laxmanís call to Muslims. The BJPís vote base is all likely to shrink in any future election. Casteist forces in Uttar Pradesh are waiting for their biggest onslaught, what with the ruling party in that state having expelled its most charismatic leader. The Ram Mandir cow cannot be milked anymore. Performance of the government with a chief minister with evanescent memory at its head, has been thoroughly lacklustre. Moreover, bickerings within are eroding the party discipline. The BJP is showing all the ills, the Congress developed after 40 years of being in power. Finally, the Muslims are no longer in the awe of the Congress. They are voting tactically to negate the communal poison with casteist antidote which however is not healthy in the long run. Laxmanís clarion call to induct Muslims into the BJP is therefore a sure sign of its worry even if it is too early to interpret it as willingness.
Needless to say that the move is all likely to be interpreted as a political stratagem. The Muslim worries emanate from the BJPís dependence on the Sangh Parivar, the fountainhead of its ideology and the more raffish elements whose activities in Gujarat and other places has earned a bad name for this government in the international media. However it must be admitted that the BJP in power has been much sober in its handling of controversial issues. Much unlike the long reign of the Congress (I) when the administration looked the other way during communal riots, the communal tensions now are being attended immediately. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayeeís action in restoring Sri Krishna Commission despite pressure from an ally like the Shiva Sena, delinking the question of Kashmir from Indian Muslim (an obsession during days out of power) etc. can be seen as positive signals from the Government that seems keen to put up a responsible face. Even Home Minister L. K. Advaniís words regarding protection to minorities in the parliament were quite reassuring.
While expendiency is a recognised element of political morality, the BJP would do well by eschewing political opportunism. It must shirk the Congress game of appeasing Muslim leaders who owe their leadership not because of grassroots work but because of religious rhetoric or the pulpit. The community aspires to be equal citizens with access to all the resources in equal measure. Its needs are similar to other sections of people i.e., education, employment, decent housing, finance for self-employment etc.. It however has a distinct culture, language and faith. Minor accommodations here and there are part of this nations culture. The BJP recognises them in relationship with the Akalis and the Sikhs. If the BJP could devise a broader vision in this direction, it can live down its past as a party of only the majority community too vulnerable to sectarian appeal.