The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has spent much of its time in recent weeks telling its members to behave. When party president Amit Shah ticked off Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, union Minister of State for Culture Mahesh Sharma and several others, including Sakshi Maharaj, M.P.,for their controversial comments on beef in the aftermath of the lynching of a Muslim householder for allegedly eating the "forbidden" meat, it was believed that the stern message was meant for everyone in the party. But, either because the party has become too large for the task of maintaining discipline, or because its "core" anti-Muslim sentiments are too strong to be kept under wraps, important functionaries like Kailash Vijayvargiya and Yogi Adityanath have ignored Amit Shah's advice and lambasted Shah Rukh Khan for his comments about "intolerance" in the country, with Vijayvargiya saying that the filmstar's soul is in Pakistan and the Yogi likening him to Hafiz Saeed. It didn't take long for them to start backtracking after another round of admonitions from the top leadership, including Environment Minister Prakash Javdekar's condemnation of Vijayvargiya's comments on TV. But what is obvious is that the BJP is finding it difficult to keep the lid on the boiling cauldron of Hindutva. Having been taught the anti-minority catechism of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) from childhood, a sizable section of the BJP is clearly unable to ingest Prime Minister Narendra Modi's friendly accommodation of the Muslims for the sake of development. Moreover, some like Sadhvi Prachi of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have no inhibitions about being as venomous as her predecessor in the line of vituperative "sanyasins" like Sadhvi Rithambara since they are apparently beyond the BJP's control though not of the RSS. As a result, their poisonous remarks can continue to keep the BJP on tenterhooks since they will be a reminder of the basic philosophy which guides the Sangh Parivar. To persuade them to pipe down, the BJP will have to work through the RSS, but not only will such a roundabout process of making its views prevail take time, it is also doubtful whether the VHP and outfits like the Bajrang Dal will take much cognizance of the counsels of restraint. If even BJP chief ministers, union ministers and MPs find it difficult to keep their innermost feelings in check although they are in a better position to understand Modi's compulsions, the VHP will be far less inclined to pay heed to the BJP's political requirement of sobriety for the sake of social peace and for ensuring that the foreign investors are not scared away. To an extent, the RSS appears to be more amenable to the BJP's tactics if only because there is much closer interaction between the No.1 and No.2 organizations of the saffron brotherhood. In addition, the RSS has in its ranks people who are apparently more politically savvy than those in the VHP, notwithstanding occasional gaffes like RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat's call for a review of the quota system in the midst of the Bihar elections. The same propensity for faux pas is also evident in the concern expressed by the RSS over the demographic "imbalance" caused by the increase in the Muslim population - an assessment which cannot but persuade the latter to see the parties in the anti-BJP mahagathbandhan or grand alliance in Bihar as their friends. Considering that even the RSS is guilty of such missteps, it is easy to understand why the VHP will not care much if the BJP stumbles because of the parishad's anti-Muslim virulence. After all, if the BJP's political success means that the Muslims, instead of being disenfranchised as the VHP once suggested, will join the Hindus to fight poverty, as Modi has said, then the entire rationale of the VHP's existence will collapse. The BJP, therefore, is walking a tightrope. Its journey is made all the more troublesome by the government's failure to visibly revive the animal spirits of the economy notwithstanding the inflow of $30 billion worth of foreign investment. Had the economy been booming and not be in a stage of recovery, as Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan has said, then the opposition would not have been able to exploit the antics of the extremists, who have hijacked the BJP's political agenda, to quote Rajan again. But, at present, it seems as if the tail is wagging the dog considering how the hotheads are virtually running amok. The state of affairs is strange for a supposedly disciplined party like the BJP. Even a party in disarray like the Congress doesn't allow its members to voice contrary opinions every other day. It is possible that the BJP's cadre-based organizational structure is making it difficult for its leaders to crack the whip too loudly lest the cadres drift away, leaving the party high and dry at election time. The leaders have also apparently been unable to adequately explain to all its members the present switch to the BJP's more inclusive, development-oriented agenda which is markedly different from the majoritarian policies of Hindutva - one nation, one people, one culture. The fallout is that the party is buffeted by many contradictory voices.
BJP's fringe: Tail wagging the dog?