While the elevation of Yogi Adityanath last month as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh shocked many political commentators in universities across the country and newsrooms across Delhi and Noida — many BJP insiders appear not to have been surprised at the choice in the least, though most had voiced varying opinions on his chances before the final call was taken.
The mainstream media's notions of political correctness had expected that a "moderate" be placed in the chief minister's position, in an overall attempt to project the BJP as a governing, "development-oriented" party - a party of statesmen fresh with a clean slate, it seems - starting with the image-building of the prime minister, no less. That the post-election "image-building" exercise did not occur is a foregone fact - after all a large image can turn into a large effigy at the turn of the political tide. This article seeks to argue that the BJP has gotten down to business - at the home stretch of expanding and consolidating its base by communal, caste, and propaganda means, it seeks to implement its Hindutva-informed version of an ideal India. And the time for "moderate"-projection is long gone, as is it for reckless byte-sized speculation. Moderate politicians never really existed in the BJP, nor did they in its predecessor, the Jana Sangh, or even the Hindu Mahasabha as a matter of fact - as we shall see.
In the 1940s and 50s, most moderates were in the Congress, which formed the post-colonial status-quo, and a large chunk of the Congress Right was in agreement with the Hindu Mahasabha on matters such as communal issues, Hindu Code Bill, cow protection and Hindi, though the Congress right-wing did not see it fit to leave the party based on those differences, nor did they believe in the creation of a Hindu Rashtra without widespread consensus. It would appear that the Congress conservatives moderated their stance, while the Mahasabha had not moderates to speak of.
Further, it was not that the Jan Sangh or the Mahasabha were the only alternative to the Congress, - so moderates did not tend to join these parties. There were various socialist, kisaan-based parties as well as the Swantantra Party (the Communists being out of question for the moderates).
In the late 1960s, however, the Jan Sangh came to cooperate with a large section of parties across the political spectrum in state governments. A debate began within the Jan Sangh and the RSS over the purpose and practice of alliances with other parties for the sake of political power, if the larger Hindutva goals were not to be met by these.
Balraj Madhok was projected by the media as the "Hindu hardliner" as compared to Vajpayee and Nanaji Deshmukh ("moderates") in the 1970s in Janata politics based on how far they sought to go along with other parties. I repeat - the differences not ideological.
There was a generational gap over the issue. Deendayal Upadhyaya (President of the Jan Sangh) and MS Golwalkar (Sarsanghchalak of the RSS) found alliances as not much more than meaningless political stunts. The former was found dead on a railway track in 1968 and the latter died of illness in 1973. Deoras became the new Sarsanghchalak and Vajpayee became the main emissary of the Jan Sangh. The Jana Sangh, however, remained untouchable for the Prime Ministerial post despite being the largest constituent in the Janata Party government of 1977.
Earlier, the RSS/Jan Sangh had preached good "moral values", and ethics in a broad sense. They were backward when it came to actual political issues of equality and social justice, and unwavering when it came to issues crucial to the Hindu conservative cause. In short, they remained fundamentalists in saintly garb, despite whatever indecisive role they may have played in coalition governments at the state level.
In the long run, the BJP's "moderate nature" has been dependent on how much direct control the RSS exercised over it (it was looser in the 1970s with the Jan Sangh), and in the short run on coalition politics at the centre and state levels.
Since the 1990s the tag of being "extremist" went onto the Bajrang Dal and the Viswa Hindu Parishad. The paradigm had shifted. Post-Ayodhya and post-Mandal, society was polarised and there was an overall rightward shift in polity. There was no question of Vajpayee seeming a moderate compared to Advani and the latter as compared to Modi - all of them seemed "moderates" until 2002 shocked the country - and Advani had after all been installed as Home Minister.
As earlier, the ideology remained the same. Some members were more hesitant about political repercussions than others in the context of coalition politics, with the top leadership continuously having to raise the question: how much to play along, just to capture or stay in power? Projecting individuals as "moderates" was not an important part of their strategy as much as gritting one's teeth while holding tight the reins of the government.
However, based on their linear theory of right-wing palace intrigue, most pundits now say Yogi Adityanath's installment as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh is an attempt to window-dress the prime minister in a similar "moderate" way (Vajpayee vis a vis Advani, Advani vis a vis Modi, Modi as moderate vis a vis Adityanath and so on - the idiot's guide to dumb journalism). One would be inclined to disagree with this theory. Like all fairytales, image-building and posturing come to an end (there is zero intention of projecting moderation), and political action begins. It is a reality that journalists must come to grips with, rather than focus on short-term political points earned from this or that move. For the first time, the BJP is in power with a majority of its own, and there are no coalition partners to keep appeased. There are no "moderates" in the BJP, save for the turncoats that joined it recently, who in any case cannot be taken as defining the party, nor could be expected to have a real ideological say (this is, in fact, the first time that opportunistic moderates are joining the BJP in a large way - and newly minted turncoats tend to be yes-men). Even the old guard, some of them estranged and critical of the current BJP, such as Arun Shourie, Jaswant Singh and Ram Jethmalani - are not critical of the core agenda of the BJP (Hindutva, caste, neoliberalism) but are rather ruffled by the current regime on grounds of authoritarianism, nepotism and style of functioning.
As then, as now the agenda remains the same. The ones who stay out of the immediate limelight become "moderate" for being less vocal, or for minding their own business, thanks to a short-sighted media. The BJP wanting to look moderate is nothing but a figment of journalistic imagination - reading too much into things to create spaces for sensationalisation.
The author is a research scholar in modern and contemporary history at Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Updated Date: Apr 02, 2017 11:15 AM