Monday, June 21, 2010

The MODIfication of BJP

The recent episode, between Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi, may seem blown out of proportion with both parties over reacting to each other. But it can be better understood from the prism of national politics and ideological battle in the opposition space. The clever manoeuvrings of the congress party and its umbrella structure, under which many conflicting ideologies can live in harmony, leave very little for other parties to distinguish themselves from the Congress party. This is perhaps one of the reasons for the excessive saffron tinge in the BJP. Leave that out and there are very few differences between Congress and BJP. This argument could hold water in the 80's and 90's but not in 2010.

Today, the voter is much more aware of the policies, programs and the track record of the political parties. This has made it possible for the common man to distinguish between the bark and the bite of the various parties. It can make a fine distinction between JD(U) in Bihar, BJD in Orissa and BSP in Uttar Pradesh on one side and Congress on the other. The saffron hue present in the BJP acts to its disadvantage and blurs the fine points of distinction between the BJP and Congress. The BJP has produced more efficient administration in many states and is more democratic in its structure. Yet it is a sad case of being good in practice but bad in rhetoric. The rhetoric of the BJP still revolves around the dead issues of partition, Mandir and Hindu right wing issues. Such issues do not strike a chord with the voters any more and the fiery leaders spewing venom at election meetings do more harm than good to the party.

It is time that BJP charts its own course independent of the right wing organizations of the parivar. It is time for the party to clear up the excessive saffron hue from the party to let the voters see its progressive face. It would take a tough and very courageous effort to do so, but it is the only way BJP can remain relevant in the current Indian politics. Narendra Modi may come handy in the exercise. His administration has been hailed by many as the most modern and responsible in the nation. His disconnect with the VHP and sangh also makes rounds in the media often. Yet he is painted as a saffron boy, in league with the infamous Varun Gandhi. The recent episode in Bihar, was a test of the acceptability of Modi in NDA. He failed badly, primarily because of the saffron hue that ties him down to the Godhra riots. It was sad to see the message, of the success of his administration in the economic advancement of the minorities, being hijacked by other contrived issues.

Modi will need to do a lot to wash of the sins of 2002 riots. The shriller the paeans of the efficiency of his administration, the more grave become the charges of connivance in the riots. Modi needs to take a leaf from the congress and emulate their example in comforting the Sikhs after the 84 riots. For one, he should shed his overly macho image of an ultra right wing saffron leader who will not bow to the public opinion. He should publicly express regret for the happenings of 2002. He should display more flexibility in accommodating other opinions, if he ever wants to be at the helm of the most diverse nation on the planet. At the same time he needs to come up with a precise policy on the issue of minorities. The BJP has always accused the secular parties of appeasing the minorities but it never came up with a coherent alternative model. Modi needs to clearly pen down the alternative and come with a white paper on the development of minorities in the years of his rule viz a viz their progress in other states. Modi also needs to fiercely battle for individual liberties and make it clear to the voter that under him, the law of the land shall remain sacrosant and the frenzy of the mob shall be under check (Gujrat has seen many cases of defiling of paintings and other means of expression). His rhetoric needs to be more focused on the bread and butter issues than on Sonia Gandhi or Ram Temple. He must prove his mettle as a good administrator by achieving the best social indicators for Gujarat in the country (currently Kerala beats Gujarat in many respects). While the central government is still debating about the food security, Gujarat should go further and ensure universal health care, urbanization of rural areas and other perks of the developed nations to show the strengths of its administration. India is racing forward to become a developed nation. Modi's Gujarat must beat India by a large margin, for her people to take notice. Let the saffron mist be cleared from the air and let the people of India have a better look at the development model, programs, policy and ideology of BJP sans saffron.