I have to admit - the Bharatiya Janta Party has always been a bit of a mystery to me.
It came to the forefront in the 1990's, when I was still a student. I have a very distinct memory of heading out the front door on my way to school, when I saw the front page of the newspaper. It was December 7th and the photograph of the Babri masjid's broken dome had me staring at it for a long, long time. Something was so off. I still carried childhood memories of the 84 riots, which had directly affected us Delhiites and I had this feeling of dread now as I stared at the headlines.
There and then I formed an opinion of the BJP and LK Advani in particular. They were terrifying, demonic and poisonous to India.
Then came 1998 and the BJP led NDA came into power. Even more bewildering. Had the rest of the country not seen the same headlines all those years ago? I was older now...on my way to college and more able to understand Indian politics (or so I thought). I guessed that they'd come into power because the previous government had been so god awful. That did nothing to remove my sense of dread.
As the months and years progressed, I began to see an interesting face of the party. People like Jaswant Singh and even PM Vajpayee seemed to be rational and sensitive thinkers. They didn't want to exterminate all non-Hindus, they didn't bark like rabid canines, they wanted to take buses and trains to Pakistan, they welcomed 'the outsider' when it came to their economic policies - what the heck was going on? Who were these people? Maybe the BJP wasn't all bad...after all, it was the 'secular' Congress that was at the forefront of the Anti-Sikh riots, right?
Then came Gujarat 2002. Not only was the violence shocking, but as the facts began to trickle in, it seemed almost engineered by the state government. Narendra Modi, it appeared fairly clear to me, had a huge role to play in the extent of mayhem and destruction. Why, then, was he still in power? What was up with Vajpayee? Why has Modi, since then, gone on from strength to strength in his party? I had a chance to visit Gujarat in 2007 and the worst riot-hit areas were still chilling to drive through. The burnt buildings, the absolute silence in places where residents had refused to return...it was eerie and deeply upsetting.
In terms of personal impact, I remember the BJP's entire stint in power as being one where communalism coloured every aspect of our daily lives. I remember RSS workers becoming more active in my colony, my Christian neighbour getting threats. I remember school books becoming more 'Hinduised'. I remember being more conscious of the religion of those I interacted with. If someone was Muslim, the awareness was heightened. I remember going for a shoot in Old Delhi's mosque area and my crew feeling afraid - something that had never happened before and has mysteriously not happened since the Congress returned to power.
After the recent unravelling of the BJP and the public brawls and downright childish bickering, it now appears that there have been 2 BJP's all along. A Dr. Jekyll-Mr.Hyde game with Hindutva. It's got me interested enough to read up a bit on the genesis of the party and research its ideology. Turns out it's a combination of something called 'Integral Humanism' and Gandhian Socialism. What?!?! Are you serious? Wasn't it an RSS guy who bumped off Gandhi? What the hell!
When Jaswant Singh speaks of Hindutva, its a beautiful concept that I can actually see myself agreeing with. It is deeply linked with the ideals of Advaita Vedanta, which I fell in love with in college. It exists far beyond the notion of 'religion' and has nothing to do with whether you and I think cows are the highest form of divinity. It does not see Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Christian-Dalit-Brahmin. It is a philosophy that one lives by. It is literally a song for the spirit to sing every waking moment. And this is what the BJP is supposed to be built on.
I've thought a lot about it and for me it boils down to what I learnt, studying philosophy in college. Vedanta literally means the 'end of the Vedas' and its that part of the teachings that contains its most subtle and sublime philosophies, couched in fairly enigmatic jargon. In Ancient times (and even now, in the Brahmin tradtion) that's where the Guru came in. He was literally the divine translator...the dude who was responsible for making sure duds like you and me didn't misinterpret the teachings. Without said dude, it was all a bunch of symbolism and fancy-schmancy wordplay. Without said dude, duds like us got lazy and turned to the easier bits of the Vedas, the stuff that talked about the cows etc. (ok, I'm over oversimplifying things, but youknowwhatImean). Without said dude, for us, that's what espousing Hindutva became...just that and nothing beyond.
Unfortunately it's the ideas that lie 'beyond' that are the basis for the BJP's espousal of Integral Humanism. Hindutva actually echoes a core value that separates us from Western political philosophies like capitalism and communism (both of which have not really been super-duper hits in ensuring a happy populace) - that society is to built on a more holistic foundation than just material, one where the spiritual aspect is just as integral to social structures as economic-political ideals. It is a uniquely inclusive way of looking at the world and is so far removed from divisive religious fundamentalism that they might as well exist on two separate planets.
Somewhere, straddling these two planets lies the BJP and with every tremor on either surface, it stretches itself more and more and more. Perhaps there will be a breaking point and it'll come undone altogether. But one hopes, really hopes, that the two worlds will come closer and closer and closer until one of them (the angry, boiling, red hot one) is cooled by the other one and India finally gets a political party that can truly consider itself worthy of being in the opposition.