The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has announced it is boycotting all public programs of home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde until he apologizes for accusing the right-wing BJP and RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the ideological model of the BJP, of conducting terror training camps and promoting "Hindu terrorism".
There is nothing new in what Shinde said during a strategy session of the Congress Party in Jaipur last month. What is new, however, is the timing. Shinde made his controversial statement following the appointment of new BJP President Rajnath Singh, who was chosen to lead the BJP, India’s main opposition party, at a very crucial time. Elections are due in many states this year and general elections are scheduled to follow early next year, and this is the second stint for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
By raising the pitch on the issue of Hindu terror, the BJP is showing a new stridency and a glimpse of its emerging political strategy. In short, the party aims to polarize Hindu votes during the election year. This is an old tactic for the BJP, trying to regain relevance by exploiting religious divides.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the party used religious nationalism and polarization to expand its base. This succeeded to an extent in 1998 when it came to power in Delhi under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India’s first BJP Prime Minister. In 2004, however, it lost ground when it ran for reelection on its record.
Now out of power for almost nine years and embroiled in deep internal bickering, the BJP is playing the same card in a bid to return to power. A few days ago BJP representatives held meetings with radical Hindu groups to discuss reviving the old demand to construct a Ram temple at a disputed holy site in Ayodhya where the Babri Masjid mosque once stood. The politics surrounding this issue (the “temple movement”) catapulted the BJP into India’s national consciousness in the 1990s.
The question is, can the BJP play the temple card? And what does this approach say about the state of affairs within the BJP, India’s main opposition party?
The term “Hindu terror” first entered the popular consciousness a few years ago following the arrest and subsequent confession of Naba Kumar Sarkar, known as Swami Aseemanand, at a lower court in Delhi. In the confession, Aseemanand accepted responsibility for the Hindu organizations and individuals that executed a series of terror attacks between 2006 and 2008.
A former member of the RSS, Aseemanand confessed that Hindu organizations were responsible for a series of terrorist attacks in Malegaon (2006) and Maharashtra (2008), the Samjhauta Express bombings (2007), a bomb blast at a Sufi shrine in Ajmer Sharif (2007), the Mecca Masjid bombing (2007), and an attack in Modasa, Gujarat (2008).
Muslim groups were blamed for these incidents, which led to the arrests of innocent people from the minority community. The case exposed a deep-seated prejudice again Muslims among the Indian bureaucracy. As some of those arrested for these attacks have RSS ties, suspicious have been raised about the intentions of the Hindu right.
Since then, the Hindu right have distanced themselves from this image, however, and now insist that the term “Hindu terror” is in fact an insult to all Hindus.
Ultimately, terrorism is not exclusive to a certain religion, but it thrives under intolerant ideologies. In a country as diverse as India, cultural nationalism in any form is inimical to the nation’s multicultural identity.
The BJP’s bane is its link to the RSS, which holds back India’s second-largest party from effectively becoming a progressive alternative to the ruling Congress Party.
Instead of breaking free from stale ideologies, by associating with the Hindu right, new BJP President Rajnath Singh is pushing the party further into the past.