The BJP's Response to Dalit Protests Only Emphasises Contradictions in Its Hindutva Ideology

The consistent doublespeak, especially on tricky issues, poses a Herculean challenge for the party to shed its old image and emerge as a modern, soft right-wing party.

BJP supporters at a rally. Credit: PTI

BJP supporters at a rally. Credit: PTI

At a recent national writer’s meet organised by the RSS-affiliated Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation (SPMRF), BJP president Amit Shah credited his party’s success to its ideology. While saying the BJP is the only political party based on an ideology, he pilloried other parties for either turning into a family-centric association or a single caste group, clearly hinting at the Congress and the Yadav-dominated Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

Describing how the BJP borrowed from the Jan Sangh’s doctrine of the punar nirman of the nation on the basis of a common culture, knowledge and ways of living as opposed to the Congress’s idea of nav nirman that, according to him, shunned all of India’s past glory, Shah hinted at how the revivalist doctrine was one of the main reasons for the party’s exemplary performance.

The BJP has in the past faced much flak from secular and democratic groups for its professed Hindutva ideology. The event at SPMRF was, therefore, meant to arm at least 300 sympathetic bloggers and writers with an ideological grounding to counter opposition. Shah’s speech also indicated that the party wants to peddle a soft-right approach in the political arena as opposed to its hardline Hindutva philosophy.

Most opposition groups have, however, dismissed Shah’s renewed interest on punar nirman as yet another indirect way to revive Hindutva, or what the Sangh parivar calls cultural nationalism.

Speaking to The Wire, Manoj Jha of RJD said, “First of all, Amit Shah’s understanding of ideology and the role of ideology in politics is actually archaic. He doesn’t know that even the so-called dynastic political parties have a very strong ideological mooring, failing which no political party can survive in a democracy like India”.

“When Shah referred to the BJP being an ideological party, he told only a part of the story. If you unpack his ideology, it is nothing but a combination of discrimination, division and decimation of marginalised communities,” he added.

Taking a dig at the RSS, Jha said, “If you look at the character of politics in the entire South Asia, it has a very strong resonance with leaders and their families. At least, these members go to people to seek votes. But what do you say about a family which does not contest elections, but manipulates the outcome of the elections. I am obviously referring to the family in Nagpur – the RSS.”

Ideological contradictions

While Shah urged BJP sympathisers and members to profess the party’s ideology, he stopped short of explaining whether the party would reconsider its standpoint on discriminatory caste practices and its idea of a Hindu majoritarian state. Most observers believe that the recent political developments necessitated explanatory remarks from Shah, as ideological warriors of the party continuously face great difficulties on the ground in trying to shed the existing prejudices attached to the party, most of them related to it being perceived as an anti-Dalit and anti-minority party.

Speaking off the record, a Patna-based political scientist, while referring to the widespread Dalit unrest across various parts of the country, said, “Shah will have to reaffirm to its supporters that BJP’s ideological anchor is rooted in social inclusion. It has been silent on this aspect while it has been extremely vocal about economic inclusion, at least on paper. It has to clear this ideological confusion for the sake of its own supporters”.

The BJP’s recent responses to the Dalit unrest in Una, Mumbai and UP have been ambiguous. While union finance minister Arun Jaitley apologised in parliament for BJP leader Dayashankar Singh’s derogatory remarks against BSP leader Mayawati, most BJP leaders maintained a conspicuous silence over the incidents in Una and the mowing down of the historically important Ambedkar Bhawan in Mumbai.

The only strong response condemning the Una incident has come from the party’s Dalit face, Udit Raj. Hitting out at the gau rakshaks, Raj said, “It is surprising that some ‘gau rakshaks’ consider Dalit lives to be of lesser value. Somewhere there is ban on entry of Dalits in temples, somewhere Dalits are killed for skinning of dead cows and somewhere Dalits are exploited for agitating”.

He asked why the gau rakshaks, who call themselves “protectors of the Hindu religion” and “proponents of Indian Nationalism”, do not protest against caste atrocities. While his views on caste atrocities are well-known, Raj did not respond to the questions from the media on why his party’s rank and file have, in many places across north India, become the foot soldiers of the cow protection campaign, allegedly funded by the Sangh parivar.

Even as Raj came forward to address the Dalit unrest, another BJP legislator from Goshamal constituency of Hyderabad, T. Raja Singh, justified the thrashing of Dalits in Una on the same day. “Jo Dalit gaay ke maas ko le ja raha tha, jo uski pitai hui hai, woh bohut hi achhi hui hai (Those Dalits who were taking the cow, the cow meat, those who were beaten, it was a very good thing to happen),” Singh said. In a video uploaded on his Facebook page, Singh addressed Dalits as ‘galeez’ (filthy). Singh is not new to controversies and is a known campaigner against Muslims in Hyderabad.

The BJP’s refusal to pin such leaders down has been viewed by some as tacit approval of such statements, and as plain encouragement of its age-old Brahminical Hindutva ideology by others. At the same time, electoral compulsions have forced the BJP to woo Dalits like never before. One of the most recent campaigns that the BJP has supported in poll-bound UP is the Dharma-Dhamma Chetna Yatra. The yatra, led by Buddhist monk Dharma Viriyo – a known supporter of the BJP – will tour more than 1500 Dalit colonies to garner support for the saffron party.

Recent political developments show that the ideological foundation of the BJP and its performance as an electoral party contradict each other. The consistent doublespeak, especially on tricky issues, poses a Herculean challenge for the party to shed its old image and emerge as a modern, soft right-wing party. Unless the party stops talking in multiple voices, its renewed thrust on waging an ‘ideological war’ against the opposition may not find many takers.