By Rupa Sengupta
Jan 11, 2013
Come, come. Let's not fret about godmen and other patriarchs. Did we really expect misogyny to stay mute when confronting nationwide outrage over Indian women's plight? Losing ground in fast-urbanising and globalising India, change-haters can't but treat the female of the human species as soft targets. What should worry us more than the Asaram Bapus of the world is that India's second largest — and main opposition — party can't seem to decide whether we live in modern times or the Jurassic age.
BJP spokespersons have been quick to bash spiritual guru Asaram Bapu for saying the Delhi gang-rape victim should have importuned six inebriated men by calling them "brothers". Yet, they've gone blue in the face defending RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's remark that rape occurs in India, not Bharat. Criticising the godman, they suggest they're gender-sensitive. Yet, siding with Bhagwat, they appear to endorse the view that bread-winning is a man's, not a woman's, job.
The BJP once unveiled the idea of "India Shining": enterprising cities, towns and villages linked by golden quadrilaterals — a vision that's impressed certain reputed economists, no less. Whether or not it had substance, the slogan signalled that the BJP wanted all Indians to dream big. Was Bharat separate from that hope-driven India? If the BJP returns at the national helm like it hopes to, must girls tear up their job applications merely because the party's ideological buddies — or is it bosses? — in Nagpur seem to want women kitchen-bound?
The question is valid, since the BJP hasn't taken an unambiguous stand. Some party members have echoed the RSS chief by blaming "western culture" for women's woes. Others don't categorically state if 'westernisation' — read westernised women — encourages sex crimes. Instead, there's obfuscatory spiel about Indian "sanskar" teaching "res-pect" for women — or, more recently, about rape of grown-ups but not of minors being "understandable", as suggested by a BJP MP. The tactic's old. It's called beating around the bush.
Obfuscation's become something of a habit with the BJP. Take its sophistry when asked why it opposes UPA-II's reforms despite the NDA regime having been refreshingly reforms-friendly. Time was when the BJP provoked thought about the Congress's time-worn monopoly on power and its left-of-centre policy mix of state paternalism and crass populism. Whether or not you agreed with it, it managed to gradually overcome poli-tical untouchability simply by initiating national debates, be it on "pseudo-secularism" or security. Hit by graft scandals, discre-dited for communal politicking — from Bhindranwale to Shah Bano — and facing leadership crises through the 1990s, the Congress was in such straits even the controversy-dogged BJP could become a political default option.
Having Atal Bihari Vajpayee around helped. More so when, as prime minister, he sidelined saffron hardliners, largely focussing on development, security, foreign policy shifts, India-Pakistan talks and Hindu-Muslim rapprochement on Ayodhya. A statesman in the Nehruvian mould, Vajpayee's effectiveness stemmed from keeping the sangh parivar at bay. On Gujarat 2002, he appeared utterly irresolute. But, broadly, the post-1999 Vajpayee-led BJP tried to pitch itself as a moderate right-of-centre outfit that could run a disparate coalition and keep an arrogant Congress on its toes. Post-Vajpayee, the script altered.
Ever since, the BJP can't seem to tell Nagpur where to get off — recall L K Advani's Jinnah episode. This, despite the fact its political ends can't be served by 'back to basics' ideology in an India that cares less about saffron evangelism than material prosperity. Consider that, despite causing in-house rifts, scandal-hit Nitin Gadkari remains BJP chief simply because he's said to have RSS backing. One politically costly result is the BJP's loss of face on the corruption issue. Another is uncertainty about its free hand in leadership choices in the run-up to 2014.
Interestingly, Gadkari recently projected Madhya Pradesh's Shivraj Singh Chouhan as a model chief minister, setting tongues wagging about the latter's possible elevation up party ranks. Was this because Chouhan's proved an effective admi-nistrator? Or is it because he's pleased Nagpur, what with "surya namaskar" in schools, Hindu religious texts in syllabuses and tough talk on conversions?
And now it's speculated Gadkari may win a second term as party president and even throw his hat into the overcrowded 'I-for-PM' ring. Presumably, that'll prevent organisational dilution of the colour saffron.
How does the BJP come across even to those who aren't overly enamoured of the Congress? It seems churlish in opposition, putting protectionist hurdles in reform's way for expediency's sake. Internally, factionalism reigns. Politically, it appears confused: should it talk "vikas" or Hindutva or fall between two stools doing both? Nor is it the deft NDA big brother it used to be.
Take the latest BJP-JD(U) spat. It's over JD(U) general secretary Shivanand Tiwari saying Bhagwat's views on married women are "primitive". The BJP decries his comparison of Bhagwat to MIM's Akbaruddin Owaisi. But it doesn't spell out how it would describe the RSS chief's depiction of women as 'contractually' bound to homemaking.
What the BJP does today is make the Congress-led UPA look good — and to think the latter's been battling corruption scandals, uninspiring leadership and comatose policymaking! If belatedly, at least the UPA's got its sights on reforms. It's pushed need-based welfare across the social board. And if the dynasty-driven Congress kowtows to its own pre-eminent parivar, the latter doesn't harbour an image of society where women grind the chakki while men go out to work or play. Twenty-first century India needs national parties with liberal outlooks and modern values, packaging economic reform and social progress.
On that score, it's advantage Congress.