By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent
NEW DELHI: Ironically, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been forced to deliberate on the political efficacy of the very strategy, which till not too long ago was projected by the party leaders as crucial to attract attention, media coverage and electoral victory. The party has been compelled to question its own approach towards its communal politicking because of its failure to return to power in Lok Sabha polls and also win lesser number of seats than it did in 2004 polls. Not surprisingly, at the partyâ€™s two-day National Executive meeting (June 20-21), the party decided to gradually change its political strategy. It was evident by the manner in which several party leaders held Varun Gandhiâ€™s â€œhate speechesâ€ responsible for the BJPâ€™s defeat. Varun, first time legislator from Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh), faces legal trouble for having made highly communal speeches targeting the Muslim community while campaigning.
At the end of the meet, senior BJP leader L.K. Advani said: â€œAt our office-bearers meeting, two eminent colleagues of ours affirmed their faith in Hindutva but cautioned against any narrow, bigoted, anti-Muslim interpretation being put on it.â€
During the meeting, Varunâ€™s mother, Maneka Gandhi claimed that her son must not made a â€œscapegoatâ€ and held responsible for the partyâ€™s poor performance. She faced strong criticism from BJPâ€™s Muslim leaders, who hold Varunâ€™s â€œhate speechesâ€ as responsible for BJPâ€™s defeat. During the â€œopen debate,â€ when Shahnawaz Hussain expressed his displeasure at constant leakage of partyâ€™s internal matters, Maneka interrupted him, sources said. She claimed that Hussain discussed partyâ€™s internal matters with media most often. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, another Muslim face of BJP, came to Hussainâ€™s defense saying that Maneka had spoken enough on Saturday. During war of words, Hussain and Naqvi blamed her sonâ€™s â€œhate speechesâ€ for being responsible for partyâ€™s poor performance. To control exchange of verbal missiles, BJP president Rajnath Singh intervened and asked Maneka not to speak out of turn.
In BJP Muslim leaders opinion, Varunâ€™s hate speeches led to polarization of votes in UP along religious lines, because of which the party lost several seats. The Muslims in BJP are also angry at Maneka for stating earlier that as Muslims were not BJPâ€™s â€œcore constituency,â€ her son should not be held responsible for partyâ€™s poor performance. Her claim that â€œMuslims do not vote for BJPâ€ was also refuted by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi and Maharashtra BJP leader Gopinath Munde.
Maneka was apparently the only party member who spoke in defense of Varun, who attended the meeting the first day and stayed away on the second. Distancing itself from Varunâ€™s â€œhate speeches,â€ labeled by his critics as â€œPilibhit brand of Hindutva,â€ the party adopted a political resolution with a new emphasis on its approach towards people belonging to other religions. â€œTheocracy or any form of bigotry is alien to our ethos. Hinduism or, Hindutva is not to be understood or, construed narrowly confined only to religious practices or expressed in extreme forms,â€ the resolution stated. It emphasized that giving equal treatment to all regardless of their personal faith is integral to Hindutva.
Irrespective of whether Varunâ€™s â€œhate speechesâ€ were responsible for BJPâ€™s defeat, the poll debacle has certainly forced veteran party leaders to accept that to move ahead politically, the party has no option but to give more importance to Indian secularism. Besides, with Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) reports having confirmed that CDs of â€œhate speechesâ€ Varun made while campaigning in Pilibhit on March 7 and 8 were â€œnot doctoredâ€ only spell greater isolation for him within his own party and political circles. Varun had claimed that CDs of his speeches were â€œdoctored.â€ Defending her son, Maneka rejected the FSL report. â€œThe entire tape is doctored, words have been interchanged…We will answer and prove in the court that the tapes are doctored,â€ she said on sidelines of the BJP meeting.
The FSL report, according to Pilibhit police, has paved the way for completion of investigation against Varun. Arrested in Pilibhit on March 28, on charges of making inflammatory communal remarks, Varun was released on bail from jail in Etah district on April 16, after he gave an assurance that he would not make any inflammatory speeches.
Undeniably, going by party leadersâ€™ past record, it would be unfair to hold only and only Varun and his â€œhate speechesâ€ as responsible for the partyâ€™s electoral defeat. As expressed by Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari: â€œForensic lab reports have political implications, they have legal implications, and eventually itâ€™s for courts to decide. But the larger political implication is that it has vindicated what this whole country has believed from day one — that Varun Gandhi, when he was uttering those hateful sentences, belittling and reducing the minority, was indeed reflecting the core ideology and the voice which emanates from the soul of the Sangh Parivar.â€ Notwithstanding the hard reality that are many in the party who still have to answer for the role they played earlier in fueling communal violence for political gains, the BJP appears to have finally woken up to the strong truth: its communal politicking has little appeal for the Indian voter.