Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | Limits to BJP’s domination? Bharat Ratna and Polls 2024

The Asian Age.  | Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Opinion, Columnists

BJP's strategic Bharat Ratna awards raise questions about electoral motives, regional impact, and the party's pursuit of dominance

In this May 19, 2017 file photo, Prime Minister Narendra Modi with agriculture scientist M S Swaminathan, in New Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday announced that Swaminathan would be posthumously conferred the Bharat Ratna. (PTI Photo)

The announcement in quick succession of four Bharat Ratna awards conferred posthumously on Karpoori Thakur, P.V. Narasimha Rao, Charan Singh and M.S. Swaminathan made it evident that it was done with the coming Lok Sabha elections in mind. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not been a stickler for political etiquette. These awards could have been announced any time between 2015 and 2024, and he could have deflected criticism about the political motives behind the announcement. The Prime Minister, however, takes pride in the fact that he breaks all liberal protocols without compunction -- and he is not bothered about the ulterior political motive behind the decision. Even those political observers in the media who are supportive of Narendra Modi felt compelled to take note of the politics behind the move.

The question that needs to be asked is: what are the electoral benefits the BJP and the Prime Minister hope to gain out of this. The award for Karpoori Thakur may not pay off because present-day voters in Bihar know only Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar. The BJP has gained more than a foothold in the company of Nitish Kumar over the last 20 years, and it is set in a way to overshadow the Nitish Kumar/Janata Dal (United) constituency. The Lalu Prasad Yadav/Tejashwsi Yadav and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) formation remains a solid Opposition bloc in the state, and conferring the Bharat Ratna on Karpoori Thakur is not going to change that. The award for Charan Singh is like saying “thank you” to Jayant Choudhury and the Rashtriya Lok Dal because they are all set to rejoin the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

The award for P.V. Narasimha Rao is primarily to snub the Congress Party and Sonia Gandhi/Rahul Gandhi. It is an inexplicable animus that the BJP/RSS leaders nurse against the Nehru-Gandhis at a time when they are marginalised in the politics of the country, and there does not seem to be any hint of a comeback by the family to power. Mr Modi believes in beating down a political rival and ideological enemy as completely as possible, which is what politics of the kind practised by Mr Modi and the BJP demands. Narasimha Rao had no political resonance in Telangana when he was alive and none after his death. The BJP is unlikely to increase its vote share in Telangana because Mr Modi had awarded the Bharat Ratna to Rao.

The award to M.S. Swaminathan only shows that the BJP has no clue about the politics of Tamil Nadu. The fictional symbol of the “Sengol” that has been placed in the new Parliament building, activating the Tamil connection with Varanasi, and now the Bharat Ratna for Swaminathan will have little, if any, political impact in the state.

The BJP cannot hope to make inroads into the state by making these vague gestures of goodwill in the name of India/Hindu cultural glory. Tamil cultural consciousness is rooted in a sub-soil of a deeply rooted regional identity. The attempt to homogenise Indian/Hindu culture runs counter to the Tamil spirit. The Hindi-heartland Hindutva brand of BJP politics will find it hard to penetrate the land of Pallavas and Cholas, or the traditions of Tirukkural and the devotional outpourings of the

Shaivita and Vaishnavite Tamil saint-poets. The religiosity of the Tamil country is a far cry from the politics of religion of the BJP and RSS.

Mr Modi is, however, persistent and persevering in hoping to convert the whole country to the Hindutva creed under the guise of nationalism. He may not succeed because he is violating the basic constitutional principle of the modern Indian polity, federalism, which respects the space of regional powers and regional voices. One of the hallmarks of the Modi style of politics has been talking incessantly about India’s civilisational glory and imposing political authority emanating from the BJP’s political base in the Hindi-speaking states. The imperiousness that marked the Congress in the 1950s and 1960s is perpetuated by the BJP under Mr Modi over the past decade. While the Congress’ imperiousness was mainly political, that of the BJP is of insidious cultural domination. The gestures of goodwill for Tamil without sharing political power will remain futile.

The BJP is able to gain a comfortable parliamentary majority without being dominant in the southern and eastern parts of the country. But Mr Modi is not satisfied with being in power at the Centre. He wants to see the BJP in power across the country. That is why he has adopted the strategy of reaching out to allies, whether it is the Janata Dal (Secular) of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda in Karnataka, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh, the RLD in Uttar Pradesh, the breakaway factions of the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra, the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab and the JD(U) in Bihar. There is a precedent for this coalition-building when the CPI(M) under the leadership of Jyoti Basu kept the Left Front, comprising the CPI, the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc going despite the overwhelming dominance of the CPI(M). There is also the difference. The CPI(M) did not ever try to weaken its smaller allies the way BJP does with all its allies except the Akali Dal.

Political scientist Rajni Kothari had described the Congress as an umbrella party where competing groups hung together. The BJP cannot become an umbrella party because of its inflexible ideological moorings. The party, however, has no option but to look for partnerships and allies in the political field and beyond. Mr Modi has been relentlessly working at building bridges to different factions across the country. The hubris that destroyed the Congress’ dominance was its belief that India had no alternative to the Congress. The BJP too is reaching its hubris levels due to its desire to impose Hindutva across the country under the pretext of uniting the country. Mr Modi’s latest gambit of using the Bharat Ratna award to reach out to different groups and regions in the country is a weak one because he is not able to hide his party’s desire to rule the country as the Congress did in the first two decades after Independence. The desire of a political party to dominate is quite natural, but there are limits to domination. The BJP under Mr Modi is moving towards the point of limitation.