This election season, the term ‘traditional BJP voter’ is being repeatedly used by analysts as well as journalists to describe the mood of the nation.
After 2014, the phrase ‘Modi supporter’ has gained currency in Indian politics, and is now interchangeably used with the ‘traditional BJP voter’.
But is a ‘traditional voter’ of the BJP also a ‘Modi supporter’ or do they represent two different categories of supporters within the BJP? Since when did the ‘tradition’ get entrenched? Where was this ‘traditional voter’ in 1980 or 1985?
When was the ‘traditional BJP voter’ born?
Before 1980s, this ‘traditional voter’ was yet to be recognised. In 1977, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh merged with the Janata Party, but its DNA, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), was never dissolved.
It became a contentious issue when the Leftists, led by Madhu Limaye, demanded that the Jana Sangh members give up their RSS membership. The Jana Sangh leaders refused, which led to a split in the Janata Party. The Bharatiya Janata Party was finally formed in 1980.
The BJP retained its Jana Sangh identity by keeping the prefix ‘Bharatiya’ and claimed the legacy of the Janata Party by keeping ‘Janata’ in the newly-formed party’s name.
To further reinforce its links with the Janata Party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) declared ‘Gandhian socialism’ as its ideology. Without giving up the allegiance to the RSS, the BJP tried distancing itself from a strident Hindutva stand.
The party ideologues met to discuss the humiliating defeat and concluded that the ‘softening’ of Hindutva by adopting ‘Gandhian socialism’ was the cause. One may ask – where was the so-called ‘traditional voter’ at that time?
In 1986, Lal Krishna Advani was named the BJP president, but the party did not have an issue that could distinguish it from the rest, mainly the Congress.
Around the same time, another organisation of the Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), had resolved to launch a movement to build a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.
Advani saw political potential in the movement and the party decided to support the VHP in its campaign. That is how the ‘Mandir Wahin Banayenge’ slogan became a clarion call. But to take the issue to its true political end, yet another slogan was required. ‘Garv Se Kaho Hum Hindu Hain’ thus became the new identity of the party. Rajiv Gandhi government was put on the mat by this campaign.
Rajiv Gandhi, who got embroiled in the Bofors scam, was additionally trapped by the Ayodhya movement. The twin attack on his government, which had as many as 415 seats in the Lok Sabha, proved politically fatal. In the 1989 election, the BJP strategically supported V.P. Singh.
The anti-incumbent (anti-Rajiv) mood was captured by the BJP and the party won as many as 85 seats — an increase of 83 seats, from just two in 1984-85. It is in this election that the so-called ‘traditional BJP voter’ was born. To consolidate this mood and vote bank, Advani launched the ‘Rath Yatra’ in September 1990.
On the face of it, the party was demanding a ‘mandir’ in place of a ‘masjid, but the underlying message was believed to be anti-Muslim.
The movement had violence built into it and the idiom was provocative. Advani articulated it by aggressively accusing the government of appeasing Muslims. That is how the rhetoric of ‘pseudo-secularism’ was brought into the political discourse. This became a characteristic of the ‘traditional BJP voter’.
When then-chief minister of Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, did not allow the ‘Rath Yatra’ to proceed further and arrested Advani, the BJP painted Hindus as victims of the secular forces. The slogan ‘Garv se Kaho’ at once became a cry of the self-styled Hindu victims. The Hindutva identity was getting entrenched in the upper castes.
Rise of neo-Hindutva
Rajiv Gandhi’s technology and computerisation drive (1985-89) followed by Manmohan Singh’s liberalisation policy was giving rise to a new middle class, which chased dreams of becoming ‘global’.
Now, this NRI middle class with aspirations of an American lifestyle was suffering from an identity crisis in a foreign land. And, this class at once embraced ‘neo-Hindutva’, which was centred on the idea of Hindu pride. A chunk of ‘traditional BJP voters’ belong to this category as well.
Over the years, the Hindu pride ideology has resonated with the urban, educated, upper class society in India too. This class is often identified with its fascination for the corporate world, for everything American, and its over-valuation of the ‘killer instinct’. And, many among them are now a part of the ‘traditional BJP voter’ community.
Thus, there is no one way to define a ‘traditional BJP voter’, and sweeping generalisations by the media as well as TV commentators may prove inadequate to analyse the election results on 23 May.
The author is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha. Views are personal.