THE BJP's claim of being a party with a difference rests on certain idealised notions, carefully nurtured and propagated. Other parties clam-our for power at any cost, while the BJP's pursuit of politics is dictated by the farsighted agenda of realising an alternative vision of India. Other parties readily compromise on their principles, while the BJP is uniquely virtuous inasmuch as it prefers a splendidly moral isolation to the capture of power. Other parties are only too willing to provide sanctuary to all types of shady characters, whereas the BJP puts a premium on the integrity of its members. All other parties share the faulty Congress vision, characterised by myopic appeasement of Muslims going in the name of "pseudo" secularism, and the BJP cherishes its own idea of India which is not only authentic but also essential for undoing the damage wrought by the self-serving Congress and its paler versions.
The USP of the BJP lies in this 'difference' in terms of vision and behaviour. In fact, this 'difference' has been its self-proclaimed rai-son d'etre. Objectively speaking, however, the BJP has been no different in its political behaviour. Only, it has stridently been detailing an alternative vision rooted in a fundamental rejection of much of what constitutes the consensual idea of India. Quite frankly, such an alternative is welcome—it provides a foil to the consensual model, a critique of its presumptions and, if need be, an alternative to the prevalent political vision and the very idea of India. A party with a serious commitment to its ideology would continue to play the role of a critical reference point till it is called to try out its own vision, to try out a new consensus around what it considers to be authentic and genuine. But, is this what the BJP is trying to do?
The temptation to answer that question in the affirmative is indeed great. But the reality is far more complex and disconcerting. Instead of trying for a different kind of consensus, the BJP is attempting to appropriate and usurp that very consensus which it has been deriding constantly. Worse, this appropriation in no way reflects any genuine subscription to the assumptions and ideas implicit in this consensus. So far as claims of a higher measure of political morality are concerned, they are more a myth sustained with the help of a media which, due to its social composition, generally shares the fears and anxieties of the BJP. Much before the so-called aberration of UP, the party had managed a majority in Rajasthan through not-so-moral means. When UP happened, it indicated only a higher degree of a pre-existing amoral disposition which has now been given the attractive name of 'Pragmatic Idealism.'
Had the BJP demonstrated an inclination towards putting the "contentious issues" on the back-burner after having won a mandate on its own, it certainly would have been a welcome shift! As of now, the BJP's denial of a hidden agenda is at best only a tactical posture. One has to admit to the credit of BJP leaders that they have never spoken of reconsidering their position on the very nature of Indian nationhood, its identity and culture. It is from this position only that the contentious issues are framed. Then why has the BJP committed its government to a consensual National Agenda? Is it just a matter of political expediency and opportunism? Most BJP-baiters would have us believe so. It is opportunism but not of a here-and-now type. This apparent expediency is dictated by the BJP's long-term strategy and agenda, which is not so hidden after all.
The present consensual rhetoric of the BJP reflects the bitter realisation that its aggressive and exclusionist politics can take it only this far and no further. Significantly, its own vote share has stagnated. Now the option is either to make peace with this plateau or to somehow control the formal mechanisms of political power and exploit them in replacing the existing notions of consensus with exclusionist and aggressive ones. BJP ideologues are quite correct in their assertion that their party evolves its strategy within the framework of a long-term plan. Herein lies a lesson for those who either innocently believe the consensual rhetoric of the BJP or attribute it to the desperation of some individuals. It is in fact only a tactical move in a coolly thought out game.
The mercurial growth of the BJP can at least partly be attributed to its acceptance among sections of the upwardly mobile and vocal middle class. The perpetual undercurrent of sympathy for its viewpoint amongst mediapersons, officials and other sections of the intelligentsia would have been impossible without this acceptance. In fact, the party's imagination of India is coterminous with the self-serving perceptions this class holds as a natural Truth. The dexterity of the BJP as a political formation lies in its capacity to present these perceptions not only as natural but also as just. It is in a way trying to reassure its middle-class core by going soft on corruption. The message is clear: corruption is only a means to score a point or two over political opponents. Once in power, the BJP is not going to hinder upward mobility, which at least the Indian middle class can't even imagine without in-built avenues of corruption. In this respect, the BJP is quite seriously committed to Congressising itself.
The BJP's insistence on being different brings to mind that effective ad for some brand of ketchup. Remember an effervescent Javed Jaffrey insisting repeatedly, "It's different, it's different!" And poor Pankaj Kapoor almost crying in desperation: "Will somebody please tell me the difference!" Naturally nobody is going to spell out the difference for him or for the consumer. He must sample the product to experience the ever-ineffable difference for himself. It is good to have the BJP in power from this point of view. Now we have the chance of a lifetime to feel the difference.
The only caution, however, is to keep in mind that the BJP has the capacity to just look different where it actually is not and be different where it really matters. The reason is simple, yet most fundamental. The RSS and its various offshoots have deliberately chosen to adopt the cunning of Kautilya instead of the wisdom of Vyasa. Had their choice been that of wisdom, they certainly would have made a positive contribution to Indian polity with their tremendous organisational skills and intellectual capabilities. But as of now, that unfortunately is not the case. At present, the BJP is indeed no different....
(The writer is a Professor of Hindi at JNU, Delhi)