The installation of the 'sengol', which is about the ruler’s commitment to dharma, in the new Parliament building appears to be part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan for the steady reintroduction of Hindu cultural symbols into the national discourse.
Terms like Amrit Kaal, and the naming of new projects and schemes with culturally-loaded imagery (Vande Bharat, Ujjwala, Kisan Samman Nidhi, Mudra), and the change in emblem for the Indian Navy — to name just a few —all point in this direction.
In an environment where the 'secular' opposition and international opinion have been demonstrably Hinduphobic, this gradual reawakening of India’s cultural soul was perhaps best done in homoeopathic doses.
However, when every such project makes the BJP’s opponents even more rigidly anti-Hindu, the BJP should ask itself whether its strategy of incremental change will ultimately work.
Dharma cannot be introduced by stealth or through the back door.
When 'secular opinion' gives no quarter to Dharmic ideas, something that did not happen even in the Nehruvian era, it is time for saying it like it is: India needs to be a Hindu nation driven by the ideals of Ram Rajya, which even Mahatma Gandhi would not have thought as being out of place.
It is worth recalling that in the initial years of the Jawaharlal Nehru administration, the Congress party was not shy of utilising Hindu iconography for its institutions. The party itself had cow-and-calf as its election symbol.
Mahavakyas from the Vedas and Upanishads, from Satyameva Jayete to Yato Dharmastato Jayah, Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah, to (LIC’s motto) had crept into our institutional theme songs.
The Nehruvian era saw no reason for being apologetic about Hindu symbolism.
Even though its rhetoric was 'secular', one can say that sarkari secularism was a concession to Nehru’s predilections, not the soul of the party and government he headed.
During the last nine years of Modi, the perception seems to be going the other way; the Prime Minister himself seems to be targeted as 'communal' and Hindu supremacist, while the state he heads is desperate to prove its secular credentials in everything.
Now, the party thinks it must woo the Muslim backward classes (Pasmandas) as vote banks in order to expand its voter base.
The BJP needs to rediscover its core if it has to stay relevant to India. Reason: the strategy of incremental cultural symbolism can be easily reversed after one electoral defeat.
The party needs to stand for one idea that cannot be defeated, and that is Hindutva, where the goal is not the suppression of so-called minorities, but protection of the country’s Dharmic ideals.
With Hindutva, even if the party loses one election, it can come back the next time. Without Hindutva, it has no reason for existence.
Let us understand the BJP’s evolution over the last 43 years to understand why it does what it does.
BJP Version 1.0 was created in 1980, in the aftermath of the collapse of the Janata Party experiment. At this stage, the party needed to reach back to its Jana Sangh roots and yet move forward as a modern party.
At that time, the party needed the crutch of both Gandhi and socialism in order to blend into the political narrative of secularism. Its philosophy was defined as “Gandhian socialism”, a phrase with no deep meaning.
BJP Version 2.0 emerged with the spearheading of the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation by L K Advani (who gave the emerging groundswell some political heft), and yet it could not break away from the 'secular' consensus.
In 1996, when the party became a contender for power, it chose Atal Bihari Vajpayee as its mascot, not Advani. But it was spurned by many political parties even after emerging as the largest single party.
By 1998, when Vajpayee headed the first BJP-led coalition, the party held on to its base not by promoting Hindutva, but by orchestrating the Pokharan blasts, and later winning the Kargil war with Pakistan.
BJP 2.0 was the party of recessed Hindutva, but in search of Nehruvian credentials. The introduction of Indian cultural symbolism began during the Vajpayee era, and this is the idea being carried forward by Modi.
BJP Version 3.0 is Modi’s iteration of the Vajpayee vision, but with one difference: the leader is now taller than the party he heads.
In a sense, this is happening because of the presidential nature of our electoral contests in the TV age, but it is also because Modi is a rare leader with the ability to communicate directly to the masses.
During the last nine years of Modi, the party has shifted to a welfarist paradigm, but with important course corrections in the second term.
After seeing the economic damage caused by his first-term initiatives (demonetisation, loss of business confidence, et al), the Prime Minister corrected the Leftward lurch by adopting more pro-business moves in the second term (tax cuts, more sops to the middle class).
The Hindutva issues that matter to the party’s core have been partly addressed with the success of the legal battle on Ayodhya and the abolition of article 370.
But this is where the engine is stalling and the opposition senses that it is in with a chance if it can band together for 2024. As Karnataka showed, the BJP’s welfarist measures can be trumped by even more egregious handouts to the poor and non-poor.
In Karnataka, the BJP did raise some Hindutva issues, but its political engine sputtered in the absence of good leadership. To win, Hindutva must be fused to good economics and good leadership.
But the start must be made with Hindutva. If the BJP does not embrace it fully, formally and unequivocally, it will gradually lose power (though it can retain it through a coalition in 2024. Reason: there will be nothing to differentiate it from the rest of the 'secular' political formations.
A case in point is the Shiv Sena, which has lost its moorings by teaming up with the Congress and the NCP, both anti-Hindutva parties.
This has happened because the BJP handled its relationship with the Sena badly after 2014 and was additionally eating into the Sena’s political space steadily.
Uddhav Thackeray can, conceivably, win one election along with his Hinduphobic allies and by using the sympathy factor in his favour, but his party has no future because it has compromised with 'secular' forces.
A similar fate awaits the BJP, if not in 2024, then later, if it gives up on its core ideology just to retain power.
There is a case for the BJP to reinvent itself in a fourth version, BJP 4.0, with two core principles as its differentiating ideology: the establishment of Ram Rajya where economic prosperity is fused with the idea of a rising Dharmic power.
It must seek to replace the preamble's bogus 'secularism' with a commitment to Dharma, Artha, Nyaya and Antyodaya.
The ideals borrowed from the French revolution ("liberty, equality, fraternity"), all goals never achieved anywhere, must be replaced with a broader Dharmic commitment to fairness and compassion.
Good economics and the protection of dharma go together. BJP Version 4.0 has to make a clean break from secularism and other things that hold Bharat back. The sengol installed in the new Parliament must not remain a mere symbol. It must involve an unshakeable belief in upholding dharma.
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