BJP at 35…From a swadesi party to a global party

A nice BS edit. Didn’t realise BJP has completed 35 years in 2015. The article dwells on how the Party has evolved in the last 35 years or so.

I think the biggest shift has been how the party has moved from being a swadesi party to a party accepting global economic thinking. It will be interesting whether it will remain the case or it will go back to the swadesi thinking. The current party has too much of a stamp of current PM who being close to big business has shaped his policies based on latter’s thinking. So whether the core thinking has changed as well or not will have to be seen in future.  This shift in thinking even if temporarily is something of huge interest to political economy historians.

Rest of the political ideology etc remains more or less the same.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which emerged from the wreckage of the Janata Party in 1980, has turned 35. Three-and-a-half decades later, it holds an undisputed majority in the lower house of Parliament – only the second time since 1980 that such a majority has existed – and it is showing every sign of replacing the Congress as the default party of government in many of India’s states and at the Centre itself. This is, by any yardstick, a significant political achievement, and one that owes much to the determined efforts of the party’s founding generation – Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, in particular.

A 35-year perspective shows the developments at the BJP’s national meeting in a fresh light. It illuminates how much the BJP has, in its own way, changed. There is a dual logic at the heart of the BJP now, different from the monolithic party of yore – a divide that, in some ways, reflects the complexities of trying to become the default party of a country as complex as India. After all, the Congress also always spoke in multiple voices. In this case, the BJP has clearly moved to the centre in some ways – in terms of economic policy, for example. Consider this: the party of Mr Vajpayee, in the early 1980s, made a big deal of something called “Gandhian socialism”. Later, that became the party of “computer chips, not potato chips”, and of “swadeshi Budgets”. Today, however, under Narendra Modi, it speaks a less complicated language of manufacturing development and global investment. This represents a major move to the mainstream in this respect.

But it is accompanied by another move to the economic centre, also underlined at this national meeting. The party clearly wished to emphasise the “pro-poor” credentials of its government and its chosen policies. Naturally, there is little contradiction between being “pro-development”, “pro-industry” and “pro-poor”, if the policies in question are properly framed. But that’s not the point. The point is the rhetorical choice: again, the party has recognised that the political centre is a soft populism that was long the domain of the Congress, and has chosen to try to occupy it. There are two voices here: the voice that speaks of business-friendly policies and the voice that speaks of pro-poor policies, and the challenge is to reconcile them. Even if there is no real contradiction between them, the simple fact is that politically, they position a party in two very different discourses.

In the social domain, too, there are multiple voices. The prime minister, although an icon of hard Hindutva, has clearly tried to speak the language of inclusion after coming to New Delhi. The three core policy demands that fuelled the BJP’s rise to prominence – the revocation of Article 370, the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya and the drafting of a uniform civil code – are not a priority even though the party has a majority in the Lok Sabha. This suggests a move to the centre in some ways. And yet there is also the fact that the tone for the party in Uttar Pradesh is set by such men as the member of Parliament for Gorakhpur, Adityanath – a prominent speaker at the national council. While the party’s attempted move to the centre of national politics is welcome, there is a distance still to traverse.

The party has this really dangerous twin side to it. By keeping economics policy close to big business thinking, it has kept the most vocal criticism away. The economics camp is far more concentrated and can easily congregate and express their views on various media channels with most owned by themselves. The other social and political camp is widely dispersed and never easy to bring on a common platform. This is where the game is really being played and has been unsettling..

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