June 14, 2021

India: Bharat Bhushan on why is the BJP encouraging defectors from other parties before the coming UP assembly elections of Feb 2022

Business Standard, June 14, 2021

Why BJP welcomes turncoats under the benign gaze of RSS

Bharat Bhushan

Is Jitin Prasada’s exit from the Congress, eight months before the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls, realistically a major gain for the BJP and a terrible loss for the Congress? Defeated in three consecutive elections, Prasada’s credentials as a popular Brahmin caste leader are weak. Neither is the BJP short of Brahmin faces in UP. To claim that his entry will correct public perception of the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath leaning excessively towards Thakurs and help the party electorally is an absurd spin.

So why is the BJP encouraging defectors from other parties in Uttar Pradesh?

The party needs to change the optics before the UP polls. After its West Bengal debacle and consequent erosion in the invincible image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP must once again demonstrate that it is a party attractive to power seekers. Defections from other parties help to showcase it as a potential winner and put potential challengers psychologically on the back foot. As the BJP loses political energy, weakening the Opposition makes it appear stronger.

However, pre-poll defections do not always work when the prevailing public mood is hostile. If the people are angry with a party, they tend to vote against the incumbent and care less about the opponent’s attributes.

The UP assembly elections, due next February, will take place under extraordinary circumstances. Almost every voter has either lost a family member, a relation or a friend to the pandemic. There is palpable anger against the BJP government. Images of people distraught outside hospitals for lack of beds and oxygen, river-bank burials and attempts by the local administration to snatch away saffron shrouds, or Ramnami Chadars from corpses to hide the dimensions of the tragedy are vividly imprinted in the public mind. If voter anger against Yogi and the BJP persists till the polls, then even a hundred defectors to the BJP will not help.

Criticism that the BJP stands to lose its ideological purity by promoting defections misunderstand the party. It is not a normal political party. It is a front organisation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) whose sole agenda is to create a ‘Hindu’ nation. The BJP is only a political instrument required in a democratic political system for achieving that goal. There are numerous other RSS fronts in the fields of education, history-writing, cultural reform among tribal communities, trade unions, beef militias, etc. which are united in their aim of homogenising Hinduism and chipping away at the diversity of the Indian Republic to conform to their majoritarian imagination.

As a political instrument, the BJP can be modified, altered and adjusted depending on the prevailing circumstances. The RSS will not come in its way as long as it increases its ambit of influence. It did not mind when its predecessor, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, merged with the Janata Dal to defeat Indira Gandhi. It got some brand rub-off from the other secular parties that merged with it to defeat Indira Gandhi. That made it somewhat kosher in the public mind. Although the public perception of the BJP changed, the RSS did not.

The BJP is allowed to shape-shift as needed: sometimes as an instrument of building a Ram Temple; a bastion against ‘minority-appeasement’; an effective military shield against an adversarial Islamic Pakistan; or as a party that believes in “Sabka saath, sabka vikas” (Development for all) and the harbinger of development and “achhe din” (a bright future). As long as the strategic goals of the RSS continue to be pushed forward incrementally using the state machinery, the BJP can refit, recast and reposition itself to effectively pursue that mission.

RSS ideologue Govindacharya was needlessly reviled for revealing the essential truth--that Atal Bihari Vajpayee was merely a mukhauta (mask) used by the RSS. So is Narendra Modi or any other BJP leader.

If the RSS were bothered about the ideological purity of its instruments, it would not have allowed the party to field defectors as candidates, induct them into the Council of Ministers in states where BJP has formed governments through defections. In Assam the BJP chief minister is a defector from the Congress and not from the RSS stable of politicians. Clearly, it suits the RSS to let the BJP grow beyond its ideological confines.

The RSS, the real political power seeker with a mission, is therefore, happy to operate with those with no RSS-antecedents like Yogi, Biswa Sarma or Suvendu Adhikari or encourage alliances with predominantly Christian not-averse-to-beef tribal parties of the North-east. Defections also allow the BJP to renew itself. Himanta Biswa Sarma has, for example, helped extend the reach of the party in the North-eastern states through alliances and defections.

The fortunes of the main national Opposition Congress will not be affected substantially by the defections of power-seekers, including that of Jitin Prasada. That is inevitable when the party has fallen on bad times and is unable to offer any prospect of power. In any case, the majority of those in the Congress are in the party not for ideological reasons but in the hope of power and pelf. Should the Congress come to power in Uttar Pradesh or even at the national level, “ghar wapsi” or reverse defections from the BJP are more than likely. Witness the return of the TMC defectors to the mother organisation in West Bengal.

To challenge the BJP effectively, the secular political parties, especially the Congress, must first understand its puppet masters and their political vision (even while it claims to be only a cultural organisation). Only then an alternative, secular, inclusive and democratic vision can be presented to the people.

For this the Congress party and others who want to challenge the BJP will have to strategically rethink their policies and programmes instead of waiting to constitute a Manifesto Committee two months before every election. That alone will provide their grassroots leaders with specific issues of public interest for political mobilisation. Merely promising free money and free food will not be enough as they can be easily outmatched by those already in power.