The saffron wedge
The Right needs to shed its Ram Janmabhoomi-era identity politics and embrace real conservatism

Sukhminderpal Singh Grewal/www.bjpindia.in

Bharatiya Janata Party Jat Leader Sukhminderpal Singh Grewal attends village sports Indergarh Distt. Moga (Punjab)

Article Highlights

  • India's BJP appears to oppose government not out of principle, but for the sake of opposition

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  • BJP's failure to emerge as a modern conservative party is disappointing

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  • Why can't the world's largest democracy throw up an Indian equivalent of America's Republicans?

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Two decades after the Ayodhya movement propelled the BJP from the fringes to the centre stage of national politics, the party has failed to fulfil what ought to be its natural role: as a centreright alternative to the left-of-centre Congress. Whether it’s the recent opposition to FDI in multi-brand retail or earlier attacks on the Indo- US nuclear deal, the Goods and Services Tax Bill, or fuel price rationalisation, the BJP appears to have followed a single point agenda since losing office in 2004. It opposes the Government not out of principle, but for the sake of opposition.

For those who believe that India needs a robust alternative to a Congress steeped in dynastic politics and short-sighted populism, the BJP’s failure to emerge as a modern conservative party is disappointing. Why can’t the world’s largest democracy throw up an Indian equivalent of Britain’s Tories, America’s Republicans or Israel’s Likud?

Where is the Indian political grouping that emphasises growth over equity, seeks equality of opportunity rather than outcome, celebrates the private sector as an engine of economic prosperity, and champions the cause of a strong military? In a polity dominated by platitudes about the poor, who will take up cudgels for the middle class? In a strategic culture where the ghost of Jawaharlal Nehru’s Third Worldism refuses to disappear, who will espouse a pragmatic foreign policy that places India’s national interest—in particular the twin challenges of an authoritarian China and a rising tideof radical Islam—ahead of solidarity with other post-colonial nations?

To be sure, if you tilt your head and squint just so you might see the outlines of a modern conservative party in the BJP. Like many conservatives, BJP supporters tend to wear heir patriotism on their sleeves.  (The NDA’s ill-fated India Shining campaign of 2004 was as much a celebration f national pride as an appeal for votes.) The party plays up its respect for the armed forces, and senior BJP leaders such as Jaswant Singh and B.C. Khanduri began their careers in the army before switching to politics. Largely unconcerned about alienating Muslim voters, the BJP, like other conservative organisations, supports relatively tough anti-terrorism laws. Some may even find the Indian equivalent of family values reflected in Sushma Swaraj’s prominent bindi and sindoor-smeared scalp.

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Sadanand Dhume is a resident fellow at AEI

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About the Author

 

Sadanand
Dhume
  • Sadanand Dhume writes about South Asian political economy, foreign policy, business, and society, with a focus on India and Pakistan. He is also a South Asia columnist for the Wall Street Journal. He has worked as a foreign correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review in India and Indonesia and was a Bernard Schwartz Fellow at the Asia Society in Washington, D.C. His political travelogue about the rise of radical Islam in Indonesia, My Friend the Fanatic: Travels with a Radical Islamist, has been published in four countries.

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