End of BJP’s victimhood game?
Must the BJP reinvent itself to become a centrist alternative to the Congress? For over a decade now, the saffron party has lived with regional groupings by obfuscating its core Hindutva ideology. But the mask comes off during election time, as it did after Varun Gandhi’s hate speech and closer to the voting date in Gujarat when it projected Narendra Modi as Prime Minister to the embarrassment of L K Advani and total disregard of alliance partners like the JD (U).
Even as BJP bigwigs feted Varun, Shahnawaz Hussain, the party’s sole Muslim face in the Lok Sabha, was left to fend for himself in Bhagalpur. He was in the witness box not just before Muslim voters revolted by Varun’s splenetic outburst. He simultaneously had to ward off communal insinuations unleashed by a BJP Brahmin in the Bihar government.
Shahnawaz has made it to Parliament despite the BJP, not because of it. The treatment meted out to him is all the more shocking as in the 14th Lok Sabha, he was allocated a seat behind Atal Bihari Vajpayee to remain within the reach of TV cameras as the party’s “token” Muslim face. The former Premier isn’t a member of the new House. It will be interesting to see where Shahnawaz gets to sit this time? Behind Advani, the stopgap Leader of Opposition or Sushma Swaraj, widely tipped to take over from him after a few months.
Talking of Vajpayee, his presence at the helm made the BJP somewhat acceptable to those opposed to its hard line Hindutva pitch. Many “secular” parties gravitated towards it because of the “Vajpayee magic” that’s now missing. JD (U) president Sharad Yadav wistfully spoke of it the other day while blaming the BJP’s defeat and that of the NDA alliance, on its negative campaign.
Quite clearly, the specter of Hindu victim hood the BJP choreographed over the years around the Ram Temple movement, the Kargil war, the terrorist violence and the so-called Muslim appeasement, has lost its appeal among the middle classes. In Maharashtra it lost to the Congress all million plus cities barring Aurangabad and Amravati.
Caste, religion, language and region are relevant. It’s just that voters’ now combine aspiration with identity. That’s where the Congress’s trinity of Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul scored over the BJP’s bhajan mandali— or call it the Ramlila brigade if you like.
Moral of the story: The BJP needs a new identity. And the knowledge that family surplus counts as much as the family surname.