The BJP Turns 30: Time for New Coke?

Journalist, author, and blogger Chandrahas Choudhury has an excellent, in-depth piece in Caravan Magazine, on the BJP’s 30th national convention, which took place this year in Indore. The party suffered losses in the Indian elections last year, so one is especially curious to see where they are going to go next.

I know some readers at least may not be interested in Indian politics, and I would recommend this piece by Chandrahas particularly for those who don’t follow Indian politics all that closely. It’s more in the vein of New Yorker articles, which blend closely observant journalism, personal memoir, and analysis, than what one sometimes sees in mainstream Indian journalism. Chandrahas also doesn’t write with the presumption that readers know all of the back-story already.

Here is how Rajnath Singh, the BJP’s former president, frames the debate:

Rajnath was not willing to concede, as some had argued after the failure of Advani’s campaign in 2009, the prospect of the exhaustion of the politics of Hindutva or a rethinking of the party’s self-definition. The BJP found itself today in a predicament, declared Rajnath, similar to that faced by Coca-Cola in the 1980s, when the company found itself steadily losing market share in the cola wars with its big rival–Pepsi.

Convinced that it no longer appealed to mass taste, Coke decided, fatally, to change its original formula. The company then produced and enthusiastically advertised a new Coke similar to its competitor–with more lemon oil and less orange oil– explained Rajnath, whose research on this subject appeared to have been very thorough. But, far from winning back those who had jumped ship, the new product was a disaster in the market, and Coke fell away even more. Only when, chastened, it reverted to its original formula and kept the faith in its original identity did it eventually make up its lost ground. For Rajnath, the BJP was now in the position that Coke was in the 80s. Learning from history, it had to avoid the temptation to abandon its ‘original formula.’

That original formula was, of course, Hindutva. (link)

Chandrahas doesn’t say it, but it might be worth pointing out at this point that Coca Cola tried this experiment as a market-leader. The “stick to your guns” strategy might less effective for a political movement that’s trying to grow, as opposed to maintain dominance. But even if Rajnath’s message fails to resonate, there are nevertheless some signs of life within the BJP — though they are coming from the party’s new president, Nitin Gadkari, rather than from more familiar figures:

More persuasively than many leaders invested in ushering in a new era, Gadkari returns repeatedly to first principles, to notes of warning and self-restraint. “We should think: what kind of political culture do we want to be a part of?” he asks, enjoining delegates not to go around touching the feet of leaders, especially his own. Past mistakes should encourage reflection about the thin line between atmavishwas (self-confidence) and ahankaar (arrogance). The party is to make a conscious effort to reach out to scheduled castes and tribes, minorities, the lower middle-classes and the poor. After all, isn’t this the true meaning of Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s concept of Antyodaya, or reaching out to the last man? Without actually crossing his predecessor, Gadkari was taking issue with Rajnath’s more static view of the party.

If Gadkari’s vision comes to be a dominant one within the BJP (and, needless to say, if Varun Gandhi is carefully managed & restrained), I suspect the Congress will shortly have its hands full with the BJP again.

Finally, I was intrigued by Chandrahas’s personal account of growing up in the era of the rising BJP:

When we were both 18, the party finally came to power at the centre, as the principal player of the National Democratic Alliance. Although far from being the kind of Hindu the party valorised, I found myself persuaded by the poise and intelligence of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who seemed to promise a government more vigorous than that offered by the moribund Congress. When his government embarked on a set of nuclear tests at Pokhran that year and declared India a nuclear power, I was not to be numbered among the skeptics. At discussions on university lawns in Delhi and later in England, against those who argued that the party was at its very heart illiberal and communal, I argued that the BJP deserved a chance to prove its worth.

What changed Chandrahas’ view of the party, not surprisingly, was Gujarat.

63 thoughts on “The BJP Turns 30: Time for New Coke?

  1. I hate pseudo intellectuals like Arundati Roy. But that does not mean, god forbid, that I cut my nose to spite my face.

  2. I think the problem with BJP and it’s supporters is illustrated in all it’s sad glory right here. All these comments trying to add nuance to the massacres in Gujarat as ‘not really that bad’, ‘credibility gap’, ‘Congress did it too’ are a good reason why some people recoil from the BJP. In all my years at SM, I have not seen a single Congress supporter or a secularist try to minimize the horror that was Delhi in 1983. I think any 3rd world country with existing ethno-religious strife experiences mass violence directed at minorities, be it Indonesia or India or Nigeria. So yes, violence against minorities has taken place under the Congress party governments. There is a big difference, however, between the massacre of Sikhs in 1983, Anti-Muslim violence in UP and other states directed against Muslims in India and Gujarat. For example, in Hashimpura, Meerut in 1987 during a Hindu-Muslim riot, the police (PAC) picked up 52 innocent Muslim men and then shot them in cold blood and threw them into a lake. I will of course now wait for SM commenter to add nuance to this tragedy. Anyway, Congress Party was in power in UP at that time. The difference between the Anti-Sikh riots in Delhi or the half dozen or so Anti-Muslim riots in different cities under the Congress on one hand and the Gujarat riots is the vicious ideology which formed the back ground of the riots in Gujarat. Watch ‘The Final Solution’ by Rakesh Sharma for context. Read the works of people like Paul Brass on why Gujarat was not your typical third world anti-minority violence. It’s just not a question of number of people killed. Anyway, at some level, I think it’s a good thing that BJP continues to attract people like Shilpa, RC, Yogafire, Lupus Solitarius. These people can, and probably are a force for moderation in BJP. I am not sure if minorities like Muslims and Christians in India would be better off if people like some of the SM commenters here were to leave the leave the BJP and it’s support base got centered in Bajrang Dal, RSS and VHP.

  3. I just wish people here would not be as forgiving of Modi. The man has blood on his hands. It’s not a secular conspiracy. All the economic progress and the anti-corruption measures taken by him will not wash the blood off his hands. Yes, Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler are no less monsters. But nobody here defends Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar. Let’s stop defending Modi as well.

  4. Perhaps if the very congresswallahs you use as exemplars had called for Rajiv Gandhi to be sentenced in the aftermath of 1984, then perhaps your position might have more credibility. Additionally, no one here is rationalizing the violence that took place, it was heinous–and in spite of your calumnies–two-sided. All we’re saying is look at the facts and mourn for all the victims, irrespective of community. Don’t just start making up numbers and events to create a narrative that attempts to justify jihadism. BJP supporters want an India that has a place for all communities, but also one that doesn’t discard our heritage and that respects the sentiments of all communities according to the same standards.

    When congress supporters such as yourself, or allies such as ye olde man of letters Lalu Prasad Yadav, assemble kangaroo commissions (UC Banerjee) that had no standing to trot out the canard of the “Spontaneous Combustion” at Godhra or inhumanly assert that the women and children were “asking for it” by singing bhajans, you don’t exactly come across as paragons of humanity yourself. Spare us the manufactured outrage…it rings hollow…

  5. 53 PAFD,

    We have had back and forth on this subject and others for years now. The only reason I commented on this thread was to highlight some facts that are coming out in the legal process under taken by SIT directed by the Supreme Court of India. There is lot of emotional writing on Gujarat ’02 and lot of it is unfortunately filled with hyperbole which is, again driven by emotions, not facts. Events of ’02, the burning alive of 58 mostly women and children and the following riots that killed close to a 1000 people 75% of which were muslims (25% killed were Hindus mostly killed by the police) were extremely horrifying events that no one with any humanity can make excuses for or “defend”.

  6. Amardeep, slow day at the office?

    The Army units, frantically called by the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, as the situation seemed to slip out of hand, started arriving in Ahmedabad and are likely to be deployed in the city on Friday. NEW DELHI, FEB. 28. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) which met here tonight to take stock of the situation in Gujarat in the wake of the attack on Sabarmati Express at Godhra and the subsequent incidents of violence elsewhere in the State decided to ask the Army to remain on standby. The Defence Minister, George Fernandes, is rushing to Ahmedabad tomorrow to assess the situation.

    Briefing presspersons after nearly an hour-long meeting of the CCS, presided over by the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Union Home Minister, L.K. Advani, said the decision to keep the Army on standby was taken even as 11 companies of the Central para-military forces were rushed to Gujarat.

    “By this evening, the Central forces would be there to assist the local police in maintaining law and order in violence affected areas in Gujarat,” Mr. Advani said.

    Five persons were killed in police firing during fresh incidents of violence in the labour-dominated Bapunagar locality where at least five persons were burnt alive in a car in one of the gruesome incidents during the day. Eight persons were burnt alive in their car on the outskirts of Juhapura locality. A policeman was stabbed to death and his body set afire by a mob in Naroda locality……. Despite the imposition of indefinite curfew, sporadic incidents of violence, group clashes and stoning continued through out the night and during the day today in the walled city and labour-dominated eastern parts of Ahmedabad. But unlike Thursday when one community was entirely at the receiving end, the minority backlash caused further worsening of the situation.

    Police presence had little impact on the two communities pelting stones at each other in Bapunagar, Gomtipur, Dariapur, Shahpur, Naroda and other areas from where incidents of firing had been reported. But there were no reports of casualty. Pitched battle was contin uing between the two communities late in the evening.

    The official sources said timely arrival of the police foiled a retaliatory attempt to break into a prominent temple in Jamalpur locality in the walled city. But at least 15 places of worship of the minority community in Ahmedabad and some other parts of the State were vandalised and were converted overnight into `temples’ during the last two days. AHMEDABAD, MARCH 8. An all-party delegation of Parliamentarians, including the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, which visited riot-torn Gujarat today reportedly refused to meet the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi.

    Some members of the delegation are believed to have told the Government protocol officials that they believed that Mr. Modi was the culprit'' in the entire episode and that there was no meaning of listening to hisexplanations”.

    Though the official programme did not include a meeting with the Chief Minister, Mr. Modi was keen on meeting the leaders to give the official version of the events.

    While initially it was planned to take the delegation to Gandhinagar for a meeting with Mr. Modi, on being turned down by the members, Mr. Modi offered to come to the circuit house annexe in Ahmedabad, where the delegation was meeting representatives of various organisations, but that too was not acceptable to the MPs.

  7. 52 · Yajnavalkya on April 4, 2010 10:23 PM · Direct link yes, far better to cut off the hand for love of the finger…


    That does not make sense or even make me chuckle. And I laugh very easily.

  8. I’ve met the cream of the crop of Indian girls on the East Coast, small waist, juicy tits, sharp faces, and personally it doesn’t arouse passion from me. In comparison to other cream of the crop girls, they are some of the most forgettable. They aren’t quirky or unique enough, they’re all cookie cutter carbon replica’s afraid of going outside their comfort zone. Which is irrelevant if you’re looking to fool around, but for marriage I would want more of an individual.

    Gorgeous Persian girls in the US are beyond high maintenance and need way to much attention. They lack discretion and real world savvy as they’ve been spoon fed by daddy and awkward guys in their friend circle their entire lives. But a Persian girl in London or Paris, where people know how to deal with beauty, would be a totally different story.

  9. 52 · Yajnavalkya on April 4, 2010 10:23 PM · Direct link yes, far better to cut off the hand for love of the finger… ????? That does not make sense or even make me chuckle. And I laugh very easily.

    No one expects you to understand basic allusions to proverbs such as “cut off the finger to save the hand”…but that’s ok, you’ve made the rest of us chuckle

  10. But nobody here defends Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar.

    But your party, the Congress, is defending them all right – how many days have they spent in jail? And do you see anyone here defending Maya Kodnani or Jaideep Patel?

    The people who carried out the Anti-Sikh riots got started as Sanjay Gandhi’s henchmen during the Emergency in the 70s. Many of these people continue to occupy important constitutional postitions in the Central government today.

  11. Within the last few weeks there have been muslim inspired riots in Bareilly, Hyderabad, Kerala and Karnataka Several temples have been desecrated and you can watch on youtube, heavily armed , bearded mullah type muslims rioting in Bareilly What would happen if a Hindu desecrated a mosque in Pakistan or Bangladesh

    In Assam and West Bengal there is a slow ethnic cleansing of Hindus by muslims

    Even in Godhra, the muslims have been rioting for decades with impunity, and have been murdering Hindus since the time of Mahatma Gandhi. A few years ago, they burned alive 5 Hindu female teachers at Godhra

    In Ahmedabad, the Congress supported muslim gangster Latif, organised many anti-Hindu riots to ethnic cleanse Hindus from once 75% Hindu Juhupura, to grab their properties There is still a Sanskrit school in the muslim ghetto of Juhupura Gujuratis turned to BJP in desperation

    Godhra was the final straw, there have been slowly building anger at muslim rioting in Gujurat for decades Several congressmen in Gujurat joined the anti-muslim riots Ahmedabad municipality was congress run, and they used bulldozers to eradicate muslim tombs

    Anyone notice why in Gujurat elections the congress never brings up the so called plight of muslims during elections In fact in Gujurat elections, congress treats the muslims as untouchables and stays far away from them and tries to act as a moderate Hindu party

    Anyone notice why muslims riot in Eurabia, whereas Hindus dont

    It is stupidity to always blame the majority for riots Muslims riot even in minority and thats how they got Pakistan Has a long list of communal riots from 1710 onwards, compiled by a muslim researcher Zenab Banu and you will find that 90% of them are initiated by muslims and on the second day, Hindus retaliate

    Retaliatory riots happen because Hindus believe that muslim rioters will never be punished

    There are no communal riots in Malerkotla in Punjab, because the local muslims fear the sikhs

    I actually feel that Modi has not sufficiently used the police against muslim rioters, there were 10000 Hindu riot refugees in Gujurat why were these muslim rioters not eliminated ?

  12. “Several congressmen in Gujurat joined the anti-muslim riots”

    That’s true. I remember talking to this family from Ahmedabad and they told me that voting for Congress in the next election after the Gujarat riots was the most heart wrenching political decision they have ever taken.