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Wednesday, September 24, 2003

India and the BJP

Two posts from Brad here and here on the subject of India and Cancun. In the middle my 'partner in crime' Kaushik . What can I say, I didn't agree with Brad version 1, and in Version 2 he is the perfect gentleman. Non of us are supporters or admirers of BJP, but what we need is a bit of perspective. Along the way, having stuck my neck a bit in the noose, I did seek some independent opinion. First from Indian muslim and blogger ubaid who answered me as follows:

The BJP's time in office has been a mixed bag, they seem to be serious about the economy but they also seem to be haunted by the spirit of hindu nationalism that is still alive and kicking in the party. The Godhra massacre bears ominous testimony to the BJP's willingness to appease its extremist sections. My concern in recent months has been the spate of
bombings in Mumbai, my home town, the memories of the serial bomb blasts in 1993 may be ten years old but they are not forgotten. If Islamic extremist groups get bolder it can only result in heightened tensions and an unstable business environment. Hopefully the law enforcement agencies will nip this problem in the bud.

To which everyone can have there own opinion, but what Ubaid says is clearly pragmatic and non-dramatic. And then Vivek, one of the participants in the debate at Brad's place, who wrote to me as follows:

Hindu-Muslim relations in India, as you can probably guess, are an extremely knotty subject. Actually I try and never refer to the problem as such. For it implies the existence of two distinct and homogenous groups--quite far from the reality for most Indians. I also avoid this characterization to avoid playing into the hands of BJP ideologues who love to see it this way. A united Hindu community dealing with a monolithic 'other' ignoring differences in castes, language, region, culture.

However, you are right Brad flew off the handle the other day. The rise of the BJP is actually a much more complex phenomenon than just Hindu's hating Muslims. I would argue that it is more social and economic than religious. For most part, the BJP is very much the sort of petty bourgeois party like the Republicans. But with a Nixonian twist. It has very successfully exploited the resentment (envy?) that many urban Indians feel towards the deracinated "South Delhi, South Bombay" elite. Nixon did something similar, and from what I gather Likud does it in Israel to beat Labor. In rural India the BJP has benifited from caste polarization that occured in the late 80's. Upper caste rural voters in states in north/west India, under increasing pressure from assertive and organized lower castes, vote for the BJP.

A typical BJP supporter would be urban, middle-class, meritocratic, genuinely religous, right on national security, socially conservative, very uncomfortable with cosmopolitan-irrelgious-western (European) liberalism. No different from conservatives elsewhere. And not neccessarily Nazi.

The problem, however, comes from the other social/ political groups which claim kinship to the BJP--in particular the Shiv Sena, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. Their ranks are filled up under-employed urban youth--the sort of lumpen element that made the trip to Ayodhaya in 1992 to break the mosque. It is they who I fear most.

I'm afraid, I don't quite agree with Ubaid about the BJP being serious on the economy. Despite extravagant promises before they came to power their economic performace has been no better than previous governments. Besides, the BJP has never distinguished itself with clear, coherent thinking on any matter--the economy is no different. It seems to be some unseemly mix of Buchhan style protectionism and Cheneyesque corporatist. I would very much question their commitment to genuinely free markets and free trade. But to give the devil its due, their performance hasn't been terrible.

Again pragmatic. So now, let's get a little perspective on this, and take things calmly.

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