The right turn for BJP

Its electoral chances will depend on how it re-imagines its ideology

The BJP is yet again faced with an enduring question, which it has never fully answered. Would it like to be a modern centre-right party, or continue to be tethered to an anti-Muslim, Hindu majoritarian ideological platform? The former can potentially trigger the BJP's electoral revival; the latter is virtually certain to lead to stagnation, even decline. Yet the BJP is not headed in the former direction.

What does a modern right-of-centre political party look like? How does the BJP compare?

Consider the two best known centre-right parties of contemporary times: the Republican Party in the US and the Conservative Party in the UK. There are undoubtedly some differences between the two, but four common features define their ideological stance: muscular national defence, social conservatism, fiscal conservatism and a reliance on markets for economic growth.

The old saying — laaton ke bhoot baaton se nahin maante (some people only respond to a show of force, not to dialogue) — captures the essence of why modern conservatism subscribes to muscular defence. Conservatives believe in the obduracy of evil, something that cannot be forestalled by persuasion. Military strength is viewed as a guarantor of national survival and political order. Such strength must precede a dialogue with the adversary, if a dialogue must take place at all. More than the Congress, the BJP has followed this principle in politics. Its decision to go nuclear in 1998 was a case in point.

Social conservatism has typically meant an advocacy of traditional social order, a defence of family values and a belief in gradual, as opposed to radical, change. British conservatives defend the monarchy more vigorously than the leftists do, and US Republicans focus a lot on the sanctity of traditional marriage, opposing vigorously the idea of same-sex marriage.

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