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The BJP and Military "Stability"

Vijay Prashad

Joseph Goebbels, Propaganda Minister of the Nazi government in Germany,
declared at the time of the first pogroms in 1933 that at the very least
the fascists are not boring. More than a decade later, the great German
philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote that "fascism was the absolute
sensation." That is, in the Third Reich "sensation has submerged,
together with differentiation between qualities, all judgement." Adorno
meant that the generation of news by the media relied upon sensationalism
for two reasons. First, the sheer bulk of news makes only sensational
news memorable and so, people who want to appear in the news must be
outlandish. Second, the sound-bite method of reportage makes it hard for
the public to make reasoned judgements of the material presented to
them. This is so because we often provide quotes out of context and
political statements without any sense of history. Election time is, in
my opinion, an intensification of Adorno's pithy remarks and the fascist
like character of Hindutva makes sensationalism all the more prevalent today.

For sensational remarks, Bal Thackery ('supremo' of the Shiv Sena and the
closest ally of the BJP) stands alone. On 30 December 1997, told Reuters
that "I say to hell with democracy. Democracy has ruined [India]. There
is too much of freedom without knowing the exact meaning, and the
spelling too. Unless and until your people know the meaning of democracy
and freedom, you are not supposed to give the people what they demand and
ask." The anti-democratic ethos of Mr. Thackery carries over into the
tradition of the BJP and its Hindutva allies. After all, M. S.
Golwalkar, as neo-Manu, noted in 1966 that the "Brahmin is the head, King
the hands, Vaishya the thighs and Shudra the feet. This means that the
people who have thus, four-fold arrangement, i. e. the Hindu people, is
our God" ("A Bunch of Thoughts," p. 25). As India (much celebrated for
its history of democratic rule in this half-century) goes to the polls,
let the population keep these sentiments in mind as they see the lotus
symbol on the rolls.

In recent weeks, too many people seem to offer the banal sentiment that
this time it appears inevitable that the BJP and its allies will
triumph. This judgement is based on two erroneous principles that I will
explore in this opinion piece.

Multi-party rule
The first mistaken belief is that states can and should be ruled by
single parties rather than by multi-party coalitions. Democracy must not
be squandered for the sake of an expedient search for "stability."
Multi-party coalitions allow many voices to enter governance and to place
needed checks and balances on those who rule (especially in such vast
countries as India). The collapse of the Congress led to the National
Front experiment, but that failed in large part because its members had
an opportunistic attitude towards the coalition. The United Front, in
contrast, has held together and its constitutents appear to have created
a modus operandi essential to political rule. The other successful
coalition is the Left Front government in West Bengal that has survived
for two decades through the creation of mechanisms for the management of
intra-front problems. These coalitions show that the form is worthwhile
and democratic.

The BJP recognized in the early 1990s that it would be unable to win
sufficient support in most states to ensure its victory in Delhi.
Therefore, over the years, it too has cultivated a platform for various
parties who ascribe in some measure either to its ideology (Shiv Sena) or
who are eager to take power in Delhi at all costs (George Fernandes'
Samata Party). In seven states the BJP has created alliances that make
little sense in terms of its own manifesto. For a party wedded to
national unity, it embraced both the Akali Dal in Punjab (whose history
of mild secessionism is well-known) and the Tripura Upajati Yuva Samiti
(whose militancy is the stuff of legend). For a party that claims to
oppose corruption, it is now in alliance with Jayalalitha's AIADMK, it
embraces dissident Congress leaders (whose entry into the BJP is simply
to ensure the maintenance of their fiefdoms) such as Aslam Sher Khan and
Anadi Charan Sahu and it allows considerable space to opportunistic
fence-sitters like Navin Patnaik and Suresh Kalmadi both of whom have
floated their own parties in alliance with the BJP rather than risk
complete submission to it (the Biju Janata Dal and the Pune Vikas Aaghadi).

Sunil Adam is right (India Abroad, 2 January 1998) that the BJP "will
laugh all the way to the vote banks," but isn't the vote bank culture of
the Congress something that the party once vowed to abolish? In
September, L. K. Advani (BJP) noted that "if the BJP is looking like the
Congress, it is part of the democratic process. We are, after all,
witnessing the transformation of an ideological movement into a party of
governance." In other words, in order to rule, the party of Hindutva is
willing to absorb corrupt elements within the Congress and use their
venal thirst for power (at any cost) as a means to put its own
anti-democratic, anti-cultural agenda into full motion.

Party of "Stability"
The second error of judgement that appears in the internet and at
gatherings of Indians is that the BJP has mellowed since its 6 December
1992 days and it will now simply act as the party of "stability." The
desire for "stability" is championed amongst the elite particularly since
many have realized that the 1991 liberalization dynamic has made the
Indian economy reliant upon foreign capital investment. When Sakutaro
Tanino, Japanese Ambassador to India, told the Confederation of Indian
Industry that "the political situation [in India] has made our people
really apprehensive about investing" [India Abroad, 2 January 1998], the
Indian elite senses danger for itself. For this reason, perhaps, the big
business houses have begun to line-up behind the BJP. On 25 December
1997, major newspapers carried a supplement in honour of Atal Behari
VajpayeeUs 74th birthday, paid for by big business houses who are eager
to protect their interests. In September, BJP General Secretary
Kushabhau Thakre noted that "till recently we were described as a party
of shopkeepers, but we are now reflecting the needs of newer social
groups." Certainly, the party that found its major support from the
lower middle class in the 1980s is now feted by big business whose
interests run contrary to those of the "shopkeepers." One can be certain
of a conflict along those lines in the near future. The Left parties
note that the bill for the next election will exceed Rs. 8 billion ($211
million) and the party that collects the most support from big business
is clearly at an advantage. The BJP, as the new beloved of big business,
is slated to receive large funds.

Of course, all this is at odds with the people's demand for "stability"
and for better governance. By all indications, the people want an end to
corruption, to political violence (such as the Ranbir Sena massacre in
Bihar) and for greater equity in economic terms. The bulk of the
population can do without foreign investment, since their only benefit
thus far has been harder work for a marked decline in social conditions.
The media, nevertheless, chases "stability" of the elite form, asking
business and financial magnates what they think of the political situation.

To secure this image of "stability," Advani noted on 28 December 1997
that the BJP will continue the fight to demolish the shrines at Kashi and
Mathura. Further, he noted that the BJP will not let-up on Ayodhya.
This Vijaywada speech won him acclaim from his RSS controllers. The next
day, however, Advani retracted the statement and in recent days he has
stated that the BJP wants to "befriend the minorities." It is
disgraceful for a political party to use 11% of th country's population as
a means for political power. That the inflammatory rhetoric leads to the
death of innocent Muslims seems to have changed little in the ways of
Advani. Now that "stability" is on the agenda, the Muslims are once
again to be the object of BJP attentions. The sensational speechs, as
Goebbels noted, enables the BJP to make news every day and not to be
boring. Those parties that are concerned for the popular well-being are
unable to be fashionable since the tasks they have set for themselves
appear mundane. Better to be mundane and just than to be sensational and
unjust.

The desire for "stability" amongst the managers of the BJP led to the
recent and sensational entrance of 90 retired military personnel into the
party (22 December). At the event, one ex-officer noted that "the armed
forces can do anything better than others, whether administrative work in
the government or running the politics of the country." This sentiment
goes well with the anti-democratic statements of Thackery and it shows us
that the BJP means to be the agent for the entry of a military
"stability" to India.

Ek fasl paki to bhar-paya
Jab tak to yehi kucch karna hai

Some day a ripe harvest shall be ours
Till that day, we must plough the seeds

(Faiz,"RYeh Fasl Umedon Ki, Hamdam").

 



Vijay Prashad is Assistant Professor of International Studies
Trinity College
Hartford, CT. 06106-3100, U.S.A.
(860) 297-2518.

 

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Last updated: October 28, 2000 .