The most significant interventions of the UPA Government are:
- The re-creation of a "secular" vote and the re-establishment of "secular" priorities. This has involved the rolling back of many initiatives undertaken by the NDA in the educational and cultural spheres. A systematic ideological cleansing has been undertaken leading to the removal of functionaries appointed by the NDA and their replacement by committed secularists.
- Attacks on important Hindu institutions, particularly the arrest and harassment of the Kanchi Shankaracharya. Ministers have insulted Hindu icons like Veer Savarkar. Christian evangelists have taken ad vantage of the new dispensation and become more aggressive in their proselytizing agenda.
- Minorityism has made a definite comeback. The furore over the Religion Census was a clear example, as has been the laxity over illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
- The undermining of institutions for partisan or expedient ends. T he office of the Prime Minister has been significantly devalued and the Raj Bhavans have been made extensions of the Congress Party. The post of National Security Adviser has been devalued.
- A subtle shift in India's economic priorities. The Union Government has reverted to a high tax and high spending, agenda. In addition, a massive welfare programme has been launched with significant political undertones. 'The slow whittling down of the public sector under the NDA has been reversed.
- Although there has been no significant foreign policy shifts, India has come closer to addressing flee concerns of the West over Jammu and Kashmir. The trend towards accepting the LoC as the international border has been given a fillip.
It is important to note that as far as the international community is concerned, the UPA represents a continuation of the NDA agenda. There is a growing belief in the world that regardless of which government is in power, the inherent strengths of India will find expression. Western strategists now expect both India and China to be the driving forces
of the global economy by the middle of the 21st century. And while there are concerns over
China's ability to cope with political change, there are no similar fears about India.
During the 2003 thinkers meet, there were enough indications of the Hindu disquiet with the NDA, particularly the BJP. Predictably, these came to the surface after the 2004 general election. The post-mortem of the results has led to a spate of recriminations and charges of betrayal.
The main accusations against the NDA/BJP were:
- Disinclination to press aspects of the Hindu political agenda, particularly over Ayodhya.
- Inability to create an intellectual and political climate conducive to a Hindu resurgence. The temptation of leaders to be copycat secularists, particularly on issues centered on Pakistan.
- Behavioural shortcomings of political functionaries that undermined claims of being a "party with a difference."
Although the intensity of the recriminations have waned, it would be fair to say that the Hindu movement as whole has not undertaken a collective appraisal of the 2004 general election results. There have been exercises conducted by the BJP and the RSS but the broad outcome of these deliberations have not been shared with other Hindu organizations. Consequently, a mood of bitterness still prevails witness the frequent charges of "betrayal" levelled against the BJP.
There are a few important questions about the general election that need to be addressed in order to achieve a strategic clarity for the future.
Was the NDA defeat purely an outcome of bad election-management- wrong slogans, inappropriate alliances and over-confidence?
Is there any evidence to suggest that a greater emphasis on Hindutva would have made a difference? Is the national mood inimical to political assertions of identity?
Can the BJP do without alliances?
What should be the level of inter-dependence between the BJP and grassroots Hindu organizations and outfits of the Sangh?
While the answers to these issues are important, it is important to look ahead and
draw lessons from the experiences of the past six years. I would like to underline a few themes that come to my mind.
The Hindu movement has suffered from a lack of intellectual rigour, which, in turn, has allowed its opponents to exercise a stranglehold over public discourse. Only too often, emotions have substituted for arguments. In addition, the idiom of discourse of the Hindu movement has been archaic and inadequately grounded in contemporary trends. This has led to the Hindu movement being at the receiving end of opprobrium in international circles. It is ironic that while Hindu religious leaders enjoy a global clout, the same degree of respect does not rub off on the Hindu movement. There may be a need to consider creating institutional structures to sharpen the intellectual presence of the Hindu movement.
Both Hindutva and the Hindu movement have become synonymous with the RSS. While this is a tribute to the RSS's dedication and its network, it also creates a problem. Over the past two decades, the Hindu movement has grown in different spheres. The advent of dharmic TV channels has added to the appeal of contemporary Hindu thought. To translate this groundswell into effective interventions in public life, it is worthwhile considering the creation of a discernible Hindu Coalition. I am advocating a synergy between the organizational rigour of the Sangh and the fierce energy and monumental appeal of individual Hindu missions. The Acharya Sabha was a step in tile right direction and it needs to be supplemented by corresponding unity among the laity. Reading the lessons from the role of the Christian Coalition in American public life may well be instinctive.
My central conclusion is that we need a coherent Hindu voice in public life today. Let us try and explore what we need to do to make it possible.
March 6, 2005