From JNU to Bihar: The Trajectory of the BJP

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Indians in large number voted Narendra Modi, and the BJP, to power in 2014 because they were fed up with the corrupt, dynastic and paralyzed governments of the UPA. Majority of Indians not affiliated to any political party perhaps preferred to see Indian democracy taking on the shape of a two-party system like in Britain, the USA or elsewhere. Since India is a very diverse country, the two major competing parties had to be coalitions of scores of ideologies, persuasions or aspirations.

The BJP had, after a fairly long and tortuous history behind it, morphed into a national party capable of challenging the Congress; it became an umbrella party, an alternative to the Congress.
But unfortunately, the BJP also adopted all the ill-practices, methodologies and habits of the Congress -- it became, in one sense, a mirror image of the Congress.

Lately, it has become clear that within the BJP the faction led by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah seized all initiative, monopolized all decision-making and elbowed out party men and women from whom it felt even remotely threatened. This phenomenon isn't surprising in itself as it happens all the time in every political party whether of the Mullahs (as in Iran) or of the Communists (as in China and Russia) -- not to mention the parties of Lalu, Nitish or Sonia. Nevertheless, the Indian voters had reposed their faith in the leadership of Narendra Modi and not so much in the BJP.

Finding himself at the crossroads of history, Narendra Modi appeared to have been overwhelmed. Instead of standing tall as a national leader, he chose to become a leader guided by a close coterie. That’s the sign of a factional leader. He promoted and relied on a team which hardly had its ear close to the ground; it didn't have an all-India perspective. Under its stewardship, the party compromised on principles, didn’t build its own independent base by broadening the coalition with non-party secular voters. The party refused to reach out and integrate Muslims in the mainstream of the party. Worse, it was marred by internal inter-caste feud, jockeying for leadership and corruption. It was inevitable the BJP would face the consequence as it did in Delhi and Bihar.

On the other side, the genuine initiatives of Narendra Modi or the BJP government were stonewalled by a hostile opposition of the Congress and the Left parties for their own reasons. For them, legislation in national interest took the back seat and a showdown with the BJP became a priority. Rather than tackling the challenges with smart political moves, including dialogue and campaign, the BJP strategists seemed to rely only on raising the hyper-nationalistic and anti-Muslim fever to ensure winning over the votes in all parts of the country and for all the time. This strategy didn't work in Bihar and they should know this wouldn't work in all the states where elections are due.

In the latest JNU episode too, the BJP should have played its hand in a way as to isolate the fringe separatists, Jihadists and their sympathizers on the Left and in the Congress. It could have taken help of the ABVP cadre on the campus -- never available in such a number before -- and launched a constructive educational campaign. It could have become a partner in an enlightened debate across the party lines which is the most admired tradition of JNU..

As an illustration, in any dialogue on nationalism in India, the explanations given by luminaries like Swami Vivekanand, Tagore, Aurobindo and Gandhi to Maulana Azad, Ghaffar Khan or Zakir Hussain, would triumph, because all of them had one thing in common: they all emphasized the benevolent and constructive definition of nationalism. Violence and militancy had no place in their version of nationalism. It was different from the nationalism of Hitler, Stalin, Lenin or Mao. The BJP and its student wing could have promoted this line of argument on the campus and expanded its base.

Instead, the BJP over-reacted against the separatist and anti-national slogans raised on the JNU campus. The union home minister brought in sedition charges against the student leaders. It was like bringing in a sledge hammer to kill a mosquito. As a result, sympathizers turned cold.

To make matter worse, a number of allegedly pro-BJP lawyers and hooligans physically roughed up the JNUSU president who was being produced in a court of law. What reputation did they bring to the party or to their national leader? Imagine, if the Congress or the AAP goons had done the same to one of the ABVP leaders in Delhi!

In order to stay as a viable umbrella national party and defeat the Lalu-Nitish-Congress coalition in Bihar, the BJP will have to revive its cadre, image and message. To be a mainstream organization, it will have to shed its strictly pro-Hindu RSS image.

That will not be an easy task. However, people hopelessly frustrated with the current hackneyed government in Bihar still pin a lot of hope on the BJP despite its right-wing pro-Hindu leaning. The Left doesn’t offer a solid alternative.

The forthcoming Panchayat election in Bihar offers yet another chance to the BJP to rise to the occasion. It can put its organizational strength and skills to constructive use.


Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.

Dr. Prasad administers a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.

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