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Friday, 14 February, 2003, 11:00 GMT
BJP seeks peace with Hindu right
Left to right: PM Vajpayee, Deputy PM LK  Advani, Gujarat state Chief Minister Narendra Modi
BJP leaders face a general election next year


India's ruling party, the BJP, has struck a controversial deal with its right-wing Hindu parent organisation which may see it pursue a more right-wing pro-Hindu agenda in the run-up to important forthcoming elections.

The key question is how far this new, united front presented by the Hindu nationalist right will also force a shift in BJP policy.

The long-established Hindu activist organisation, the RSS, has agreed to support the BJP leadership by checking the excesses of the more radical right-wing VHP organisation.

The VHP's leaders have recently caused the government some embarrassment with outspoken criticisms, especially on the sensitive issue of land disputed by Hindus and Muslims at Ayodhya.

In return, the BJP has agreed to accept RSS cadres into the party ranks for the first time in a decade.

The key question is how far this new, united front presented by the Hindu right will also force a shift in BJP policy.

Balancing act

In the past, the BJP has struggled to present itself as distinct from the main Hindu right organisations, in an effort to appear moderate and to hold together a disparate coalition government.

Hindu temple at Ayodhya
Ayodhya lies at the heart of the dispute
But recently there have been indications it may be rethinking its strategy.

The BJP, particularly Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who is credited with having established an acceptable middle-ground for the party, has faced growing criticism from the Hindu right.

Some on the right seem to feel that they helped the BJP into power but have since been betrayed because the BJP has failed to pursue a sufficiently rigorous pro-Hindu agenda, especially on such issues as Ayodhya.

The BJP had been restrained by fears that partners in the disparate coalition government in Delhi would abandon them if they presented a blatantly pro-Hindu agenda.

Move to the right

But there have been indications that some powerful figures in the party have gained fresh confidence in the Hindu agenda and feel it is time for change.

Narendra Modi
Modi: Accused over Gujarat riots
They seem to support the view that in trying to tread a diplomatic middle ground, the party has merely alienated both ends of the political spectrum, losing the important support of the right whilst still failing to win over moderates closer to the left.

A series of state election defeats for the BJP last year damaged morale and seemed to confirm the belief of hardliners within the party that the BJP should present a tougher face and move closer to its ideological roots to succeed.

The party's controversial support for the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, has been cited as an important turning point.

The riots in Gujarat in which, according to government figures, about 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed, sent shock-waves across India and around the world.

Mr Modi was heavily implicated in the violence by a series of independent reports.

But the BJP defied criticism and stood staunchly by him.

How far will BJP go?

To hardliners, Mr Modi's subsequent victory in the Gujarat state elections in December only confirmed the political lesson: a more radical agenda could rally votes.

Victory scenes in Ahmedabad
Can the Hindu right replicate its success in Gujarat?
Equally important was the reaction from coalition allies.

Despite the damage to India's reputation and to the central government's image, not one of its coalition allies quit the government over its handling of the Gujarat violence.

This year, a fresh series of state elections is fast approaching. The BJP is in pre-election mode.

Making peace with the Hindu right and bringing to a halt vocal public criticism over Ayodhya and other ideological issues are an important element of its pre-election strategy.

The uncertainty is how far the BJP is prepared to go in order to keep those deals in place.

Ayodhya special report

Ten years on

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See also:

06 Feb 03 | South Asia
29 Jan 03 | South Asia
15 Dec 02 | South Asia
24 Feb 00 | South Asia
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