New India sees a new BJP in pursuit of core agenda
It isn’t just a “New India” that many are witnessing. The Modi-Shah BJP itself is so different from what the party was a decade ago as to be unrecognisable.
The abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution brings to the fore a new BJP, which has little in common with the party a few years back in terms of praxis.
The BJP-led government has not only fulfilled part of its core agenda in doing away with Kashmir’s special status, but has done it with stealth, not allowing people or even Parliament an inkling of what was coming. This style – last seen during demonetisation but now clearly associated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah – is different from the guarded approach of the party till 2014.
The BJP had always been a party with a core Hindu constituency, but it chose to draw a line between its core ideology and what was possible in a diverse polity. In short, the party was acutely aware that its core agenda would lead to criticism from the intelligentsia and tremendous unease among minorities.
The present BJP, however, is different. It has little patience with the niceties of democratic procedure, armed as it is with a brute majority and a turn towards the right among common people. But, it is also true that the change in the BJP’s style of functioning is also about the personalities of its leaders. While Atal Bihari Vajpayee was cautious in his approach – talking of a solution to the Kashmir problem within the ambit of democracy, humanism and Kashmiriyat -- the Modi-Shah duo decided to take the extreme measure of doing away with Article 370 in one go. Vajpayee was conscious of how his actions would be seen by the opposition, experts and global opinion, while Modi seeks to connect directly with an “authentic” people – generally Hindus – and does not care for the opinion of intellectuals or the opposition. On the contrary, being seen as an outsider to the entrenched establishment is what gets things going for Modi, in terms of his popular appeal.
The new BJP of the Modi-Shah duo is very different from the old BJP also because it senses that aggressive pursuit of the core agenda will yield better electoral returns.
The Jana Sangh – the ideological predecessor of the BJP – had a limited, urban, base in north India, its core Hindu-centric agenda notwithstanding. To be electorally relevant, it had to go for alliances with the Socialists and others in the 1960s and 70s.
This convinced the party – and its ideological successor, the BJP, which was formed in 1980 – that electoral success and pursuit of the core cultural agenda were incompatible. Despite the BJP’s rise in the wake of the Ram temple movement around 1990, the belief stayed, as it was the moderate Vajpayee who could attract allies.
It is this belief that the runaway electoral success of Modi, the hard-line face of the BJP, shook in 2014. The even greater success of Modi in 2019 has led to a new common-sense within the BJP: pursuit of a hard-line agenda will work better at a time of a palpable right-wing shift among Hindu voters.
Shah’s elevation as the new Home Minister of India was a sure sign that NDA 2.0 would be openly committed to the BJP’s core agenda.
One sign of the party’s new style was that the instant triple talaq Bill was the first to be introduced in this session of Parliament.
With the abrogation of Article 370 at one go, it’s clear that the government will seek to push the core agenda of the BJP as a core priority. A Ram temple at Ayodhya may well be the next on the government’s priority list, if the present signs are any indication.
The BJP had in its pre-Modi years sought to put core ideological issues – Ram temple, abrogation of Article 370 and the need for a Uniform Civil Code – on the backburner to attract allies. The first months of this government have, however, seen the core agenda being brought up as a priority.
And the electoral dominance of Modi’s BJP ensures that allies and opposition parties are also far more guarded in their responses to the government’s aggressive pushing of the ruling party’s Hindutva worldview through policies and legislation.
It isn’t just a “New India” that many are witnessing. The BJP itself is so different from what it was a decade ago as to be unrecognisable.