What is one to make of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) pronouncement that it was willing to apologise for any harm the party has done to Muslims (other than to begin making a list)?
The party’s president, Rajnath Singh, said this a few days ago, when addressing Muslim voters. His party is expected to win the general elections in a couple of months and it doesn’t need the vote of Muslims in order to do this.
Different opinion polls have said the BJP holds more than 200 seats and the Congress holds only 100, reversing the position of the parties in the current Lok Sabha. The psephology has become very good in India and that means the BJP will form the next government.
Happily for it, the BJP is thought to be returning to dominate two major states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which it last did 20 years ago. Nationally, the party seems to be in better health than ever and the 200 seats will be its best Lok Sabha performance.
This is why I think it is a very good thing for Rajnath Singh to say this now. Anything by way of reconciliation is welcome from a party whose rise is rooted in its production of hate.
In the past, the BJP’s three main ideological thrusts were all negative. They were the Ayodhya issue (Muslims must not keep their mosque), the Uniform Civil Code (Muslims must not keep their personal law) and Article 370 (Muslim Kashmir must not keep its autonomy).
The pursuit of the first of these three resulted in violence that cost 3,000 Indians their lives without any benefit to anyone that the BJP can name.
In that sense, Hindutva has nothing positive to offer Hindus. It only fed them resentment. The Ayodhya movement, beloved of the Gujaratis, was always inclined towards vandalism rather than piety. This is clear from the fact that after they flattened the mosque, the BJP became uninterested in the issue.
Rajnath Singh’s statement, which despite being a good one, makes one assumption that must be qualified: that the BJP speaks for Hindus.
It is characteristic of the BJP that it assumes it represents all or most of a religion’s followers across India. And also that such a thing as antagonism and forgiveness between communities is possible and that the party is qualified to represent one of them.
Its thinking is like that of the Indian Muslim League, which saw religion as an irreconcilable difference.
The fact is that the BJP gets less than a fourth of India’s vote and that in 2009, it got less than a fifth. This means most Hindus don’t vote for Hindutva and of these many reject the party because of its beliefs and its actions.
But it is assumed by its functionaries that, as a party, the BJP speaks for Hindus, rather than all communities. Most in the party cleave to the idea of politics played along a communal divide. Things such as the riots between Jats and Muslims in Uttar Pradesh excite and animate them.
The younger BJP members don’t think differently and Varun Gandhi made some statements which got him into trouble (and where he was later acquitted, claiming the tape he was recorded on was doctored).
The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s image is so polarising that he doesn’t even need to speak on the communal issue any longer, having done it all his life.
He has sufficient credibility as a Hindutva hero for him not to lose that edge.
Muslims and many other Indians of all communities, including Hindus wary of religious division, look on the BJP with alarm. This is why is it right and proper for the party to reach out to them and assure them that they may have done something wrong in the past. And more importantly, that they will be more mindful of not doing such things in the future.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2014.