June 19th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The legacy of Ronald Reagan

Remembering Reagan

CANBERRA OBSERVED : Coalition, Labor split widens over Iraq

TRADE: Behind Iraq's $700 million wheat debt

FEDERAL: Labor Left hopes to pigeon-hole Marriage Bill

RELIGION: Costello attacked over thanksgiving speech

QUEENSLAND: Labor makes push for ethanol-sugar vote

OPINION: Coalition defends its sugar package

POLITICAL IDEAS: Samuel Taylor Coleridge - Conservatism's radical prophet

QUARANTINE : Biosecurity inflames fire blight fears

CHILDREN AT RISK: Protecting children from Internet porn

DRUGS: Redfern riot linked to heroin trade

CANADA: Health care primary focus in Canadian election

INDIA: What went wrong with the BJP?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Drums on the Congo / The next moonlight state?

DEMUTUALISATION: Credit unions an endangered species

Britain and Palestine (letter)

Worker co-ops (letter)


BOOKS: Taking Sex Differences Seriously, by Steven Rhoads

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What went wrong with the BJP?

by Sharif Shuja

News Weekly, June 19, 2004
Sonia Gandhi's Congress Party defeated the Vajpayee-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-dominated National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. The results announced on 13 May have been said to be one of the biggest upsets in Indian politics since independence.

The Congress won 145 seats to become the largest single party for the first time in almost a decade, followed closely by the BJP, which won 138 seats. The Congress-led alliance secured 216 seats. So severe was the BJP's defeat that as many as 25 of its ministers were voted out.

Every society leaves behind symbolic as well as material debris among its old monuments and ruins. Election time is a particularly good time to examine which slogans and symbols survive and which undergo transformation.


Indian election slogans generally revolve around ideas of unity, stability and innovation. "India shining" and the "feel-good factor" were the slogans of the BJP. "India shining" had been coined following the recent upswing in the economy, which registered 8.5 per cent annual growth rates in the last quarter of 2003.

The BJP argued that India was on a roll, its economy was growing, industrialisation was taking place, agriculture was giving good returns and everyone was consequently feeling good. However, this didn't translate into votes.

The main opposition party, Congress, accused the BJP of trying to "cover up its glaring failures". It highlighted the first-time negative employment growth that the country had seen during the NDA years, with unemployment crossing the 10 million mark.

Congress also debunked claims of high GDP growth rates, maintaining that during the NDA's five-year rule, the growth rate was just five per cent, and it was only in the last quarter of 2003 that it reached 8.5 per cent.

More than a quarter of the populace continues to live below the poverty line, unemployment was on the rise, prices of essential commodities were rocketing, social tension had increased and atrocities against women and minorities were increasing.

Over the past four years, the BJP government brought little significant change to the life of the common Indian citizen. Merely spreading Hindutva teachings, it failed to impress Indian people, who received little comfort from the rhetoric.

However, while India supposedly "shone", it was noted that emigration to Western countries continued to rise. The favoured destinations were Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

On a purely material level, of course, India has some grounds for optimism, but the core issues like corruption, lawlessness, poor infrastructure and the dirt in the streets remained the same.

India's resurgence, unfortuately, failed to reach the hundreds of millions living in poverty in rural areas, where electricity, jobs and clean water are luxuries. It is rural Indians who voted in decisive numbers, not the urban upper-class that has been the main winner from the boom.

The BJP also invited sharp criticism from the opposition after turning a blind eye to attacks on the Muslim minority. This minority factor was also an important election issue.

The BJP is a nationalist party whose goal is to convert India into a Hindu nation. The Hindus are profoundly religious, but this religiosity had become more active and aggressive with the injection of nationalism.

The ideology of the BJP threatens not only democracy but the unity of India itself. Its most violent elements were responsible for the destruction of the Babri mosque in the small city of Ayodhya in the state of Uttar Pradesh in the north of India.

On December 6, 1992, a mob of 300,000 fanatics, brought together by the party and other extreme right-wing groups, destroyed the mosque and quickly built a shrine dedicated to Rama. The result was a series of riots in which more than 1500 people, largely Muslims, died.

Similarly, the BJP turned a blind eye to attacks on the Gujarat Muslim minority in 2002.

The riots, which left more than 2,000 people dead, have also destabilised the Vajpayee-led coalition government. From the 21 coalition partners to media and vibrant Indian civil society organisations, there was a great disregard and rejection for the hard-line policies of the Vajpayee regime.

Faced with a catch-22 situation, the BJP decided to re-invent its old formulae, the most apt to follow the doctrine: "Indian security is in danger and our enemy is going to ruin India".

Moreover, the BJP elevated LK Advani to the post of Deputy Prime Minister to send a strong message to the world that Indians do not care for human rights and that they will employ the extremist agenda to the full. Advani's background and intentions are very clear, and he never hides his hatred towards Muslims in general, and Pakistan in particular.

All these factors contributed to the defeat of the BJP in this election.

  • Sharif Shuja

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