BJP’s Changing Colour
Atal Bihari Vajpayee could be striving for the impossible. Trying to keep Bhagwan, Allah and Christ happy. Last Tuesday, when he filed his nomination from Lucknow, he had a traditional Hindu havan; visited the Christian College where he released a version of the New Testament in Avadhi; made a thundering speech declaring that “my religion may be different but my dharma is the same”; and ended his day at an Iftar attended by several of the city’s Muslim notables. Atypical day in the life of a politician whom BJP would have described as a “pseudo-secularist”. But that was in the old days. In the new-look BJP, smartened up for the polls, leaders are not just attending Iftars, they are even hosting them. And so what if the fare is vegetable pakoras instead of the mandatory kebabs? Some, like Vajpayee, are even photographed wearing Muslim prayer caps. A complete turnaround for a party that stormed the national stage by bringing down a mosque that unleashed a wave of communal madness five years ago. That too was in the old days. Today’s BJP aspires to be the epitome of sobriety and respectability. It is trying to reach out to an audience that has hitherto shunned saffron. It is telling disoriented floating voters that it is the only voice of sanity in the din of fractious coalitions. That the “ability” to bring “stability” is vested in Vajpayee, a man perceived as a moderate despite a life-long association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
BJP has posited its most amiable face for Election ’98. The only problem is that a section of the party itself has suggested that the face is merely a mask. This is perhaps the most intriguing contradiction that confronts the voter. On the one hand there is Vajpayee’s undeniable cross-party appeal, his formidable parliamentary experience and his dizzying mass appeal. On the other is the niggling doubt: Is Vajpayee and the newlook, moderate, responsible BJP for real? Or is it a cover for a communal agenda set by some high priests in Nagpur? Amaster strategy to wrest power under false pretences?
Vajpayee himself rubbishes all suggestions of the RSS being the puppeteer: “It is ridiculous to say that RSS will remote-control a BJP government.