Harish Khare, The Hindu , Nov 22, 2006
The political change in America has relevance in India. For, the BJP and the rest of the sangh parivar have long sought intellectual respectability and political inspiration from the American right wing.
IN THE run up to the commercial release in India of the latest James Bond film, Casino Royale, one of the television channels decided to show the entire bouquet of movies on the character Ian Fleming created. The nightly treat began with one of the earliest adaptations, From Russia With Love, the hugely successful film that came to define the entire genre and showcased, for the popular mass audience across the world, the earlier clash of civilisations, between the very bad East and the very, very good West. The idea was to whet the collective Indian appetite for the latest Daniel Craig edition. But watching Sean Connery getting the better of the unimaginative Russians turned out to be a far from gripping experience. For one thing we do know now that the Russians have lost the Cold War, that the Soviet Union has suffered a meltdown; neither the tricks nor the gadgets looked even mildly mesmerising — because our own Bollywood imitation-doctors have liberally borrowed the scenes and the plots. More than that, a whole host of other bad guys has made their presence felt, while the good guys have managed to fall off their pedestal.
This rather longish prologue is intended to draw a parallel to the petering out of the appeal of the right wing that seeks to draw sustenance from old fears and anxieties. The right wing in the United States has suffered one of the most spectacular setbacks in recent history. The Republicans could not crank up the post-9/11 paranoia, and ended up losing more than control of Congress; the American right wing has lost that aura of invincibility.
By contrast, the right wing in India has opted to feel irrationally exuberant just because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won six mayoral seats in Uttar Pradesh. Since it was in Uttar Pradesh that the BJP found the support and votes for its "Mandir wahin banayenge" slogan, the sangh parivar and its various voices have decided to see the six mayoral seats as a revalidation of its right-wing Hindutva agenda. Ever since the BJP's defeat in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections — as dramatic as the one the Republicans have suffered early this month — the sangh parivar has been telling the party that it paid a price for straying from the strict and narrow path of Hindutva and that the only way for the BJP to recoup its lost political and electoral fortunes was to return to the RSS-VHP sleight of hand: a Hindu nation under siege from the Muslim ummah.
In the U.S., it is pointed out, the comprehensive Republican defeat showed the limits of what has been called "mobilise the base" strategy. That master Bush political manager, Karl Rove, is credited with the authorship of this strategy. The basic idea was to move the Republican Party to the extreme edge of its traditional centre-right space. The Bush-Rove team elevated the religious right to the very core of the Republican support constituency. To be sure, this political love affair with the religious right-Christian evangelical fringe began during the Ronald Reagan era. But these last six years have seen the religious right almost conceded a veto over the Bush-Cheney White House; it was this fringe that instigated the American misadventure in Iraq. The voters have put paid to the rampant "mobilise the base" strategy.
The political change in America has relevance here. The reason is simple. All these years the BJP and the rest of the sangh parivar sought intellectual respectability and political inspiration from the American right wing. After 9/11, the BJP thought it had the license to finesse the sangh parivar's old anti-minorities project, just because George W. Bush felt like giving in to a spot of Islamaphobia.
The BJP as the self-styled party of the right is unfortunately least equipped to understand the changed structure of global anxieties and the national mood. A part of the reason for this self-inflicted limitation is the unsettled leadership equations. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee-L.K. Advani duo has been unwilling to let go of its stranglehold on the leadership slots, while the incumbent president, Rajnath Singh, is happily in thrall of the so-called hardline, back to the base sections. Having to negotiate with the older duo for leadership space, Mr. Rajnath Singh has formed an alliance with the RSS brass. The ongoing birth centenary celebrations of M.S. Golwalkar provides just the excuse for the BJP to find virtue and relevance in the old and tired clichés.
No wonder then, buoyed by the six mayoral seats in Uttar Pradesh, the new BJP leadership has decided to make the death sentence for Mohammed Afzal the centrepiece of its political revival. It thinks it has stumbled upon the magic formula of "internal security." It has also concluded that there is a great Hindu unease and disquiet just because a gentleman named Rajinder Sachar has produced a report. The BJP leadership will do well to remember that its minority poster-boy Shahnawaz Hussain won on a "Hindu-Muslim" unity platform in Bhagalpur Lok Sabha constituency; and,in Bada Malehra (in Madhya Pradesh), its rival now, Uma Bharati, has moved to the far right of the Jana Sangh days.
The right wing, here and there, needs identifiable enemies who would be slain by honest, competent, nationalists. As Mr. Bush discovered, after a while "the enemy" stops appearing as menacing as he is portrayed in the right wing narrative, partly because the self-styled bulwark against evil is found to be lacking the requisite competence and imagination. To improvise upon a Max Weber formulation, once routinisation of anxiety sets in, the citizen is no longer vulnerable to fear-mongering from the ramparts.
The BJP has another problem. Its six-year stint at the helm of the Indian state was enough to cure a section of the Indian society of a romantic notion that the BJP leaders alone were ordained to be our national saviours. In office, the party turned out to be pretty ordinary. For instance, in the sangh parivar's narrative, Bharat Mata faces two pronounced "enemies," China and Pakistan. In this narrative, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's presumed follies in dealing with these two "enemies" forever aggravated our national security and slowed down our march to greatness and renaissance.
In office, the outsiders became the prophets of compromise and concessions. As Prime Minister, Mr. Vajpayee saw the wisdom of accommodating the Chinese on the Tibet question. Again, after going through the jingoistic phase of "Operation Parakram," the same Mr. Vajpayee summoned the imagination to travel to Islamabad to talk peace with General Pervez Musharraf and to sign the January 6, 2004, declaration. In office, the BJP became the party of continuity and status quo; now out of office, the BJP leadership is finding itself goaded into becoming once again a party of religious-nationalist dissent. And this nationalist dissent, too, gets narrowed down to a reversion to old anti-Muslim prejudices.
The BJP and the rest of the right wing fails to understand the new mood of national self-assurance and how this new mood is distinctly unreceptive to the old fear-mongering. A calm and self-assured India cannot be oblivious to the simple fact that Pakistan is not a compact, coherent, working nation-state that can mount any kind of lasting challenge to us.
If anything, we do know that Pakistan has become a victim of its own earlier stupid flirtations with jihadi terror. There is no point in distracting ourselves to the point of pointless hysteria over threats from this or that country. We have the technical c
ompetence and the economic clout to be able to sort out presumed or real threats, be these from Chinese business activities or from American nuclear policemanship. When the whole nation rejoices in the Tatas' takeover of Corus Steel, the appeal of the RSS' variety of national honour and pride has very few takers.
Apart from the crisis of relevance, the right wing here has an additional problem: the Left has pre-empted it in occupying the Opposition space in the national polity. With the Manmohan Singh-P. Chidambaram-Montek Singh Ahluwalia troika busy practising a market-centric economic agenda, the Left has refused to abandon its role as the principal opposition. This leaves only the very narrow band of religious divisiveness for the BJP to work on. At a time when Islam all over the world is feeling under siege, the right wing cannot expect the globally connected Hindu middle and lower middle classes to feel threatened by the minorities. Just as the new James Bond has failed to rekindle the Sean Connery type magic, the Indian voter is no longer going to be tricked by the right wing's new version of fear-mongering.