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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