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BJP needs to balance ideological pursuits against complicated political reality

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Xie Chao 

Policies driven by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Hindutva ("Hindu-ness") ideology are highlighting communal divergences in India. In March, the BJP-led government in the northern state of Haryana passed a law banning cow slaughtering that makes the act punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Along with a similar law passed in Maharashtra, 20 out of 29 states in India now enforce a ban on beef.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP's position on secularism in India has sparked considerable controversy. The substantial Muslim minority are the primary consumers of beef, and India is the second largest exporter of beef in the world after Brazil.

India has the second largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and a recent study shows that by 2050, India will take first place.

Justice Kurian Joseph, a Supreme Court judge, recently declined to attend an important conference scheduled on Good Friday. He argues that holy days of all religions should be equally respected and questions why the conference was being held during a holy festival for Christians. Modi has told India's top judges to examine themselves and self-regulate in response.

About one year in office, Modi has moved into the unchartered water of social cleavage issues. Some of his policies arouse people's concerns about his and the BJP's position on communal and caste issues. Divisive policies are likely to open the Pandora's Box of social cleavage in India, the resulted controversies of which might jeopardize his own efforts for broader economic reforms.

Recently, the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill has become a hot issue in India. The BJP-led government is trying to get the bill through in the second half of the budget session that commences on April 20.

However, there are two major concerns about the bill that cannot be ignored. First, the most-hit tribal people by the bill are the Adivasis, indigenous peoples living on tribal lands and forests. Their lands are most likely subject to industrial and infrastructure development facilitated by the bill.

The second is that when the land is gone, the other backward castes, the poorest of the poor, are unlikely to get compensation because in most cases they cultivate the land but are not the owners.

In a general sense, the poor are taking the brunt of the bill while the richer are expected to benefit from the industrial project development. Another unexpected result is that the various parties of the opposition, which used to fight each other's causes, have come together now for a common one.

Sonia Gandhi, the Congress leader, has taken the chance to lead protests and solidify the opposition. What made Sonia's initiative more justified and sympathized were the latest racism remarks by Union Minister Giriraj Singh, who unwisely referred to her "white skin" bringing her the top job in the Congress party. The Modi government has tried to distance itself from the issue, but no doubt it has darkened its domestic image.

There are also other events that have affected the morale of the BJP. The party's recent alliance with the People's Democratic Party in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) has allegedly been based on the condition that it would side-step its core platform on removing article 370 of the Indian constitution. The article grants special autonomous status to J&K and it is in BJP's core platform to repeal it. The exchange of core ideological initiatives for power has put the party under constant criticism.

Further knocking party morale, the BJP's suffered a harsh defeat in the Delhi assembly elections, when the upstart Aam Aadmi Party took 67 out of 70 seats, leaving the BJP knocked down to just three places.

If 2014 was a year of celebration for the BJP, the situation since the beginning of 2015 have indicated more challenges ahead. The party plans to conduct a massive perception management exercise, projecting the Modi government as pro-farmer and pro-poor. But given the contentions within and outside the party, more adjustments have to be made for a balance between its core ideological pursuits and political necessities.

[The author is a PhD candidate in the Department of International Relations, Tsinghua University, and currently visiting at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. ]


Friday, Apr 17, 2015 12:13 pm


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