INDIA: PROBLEMS AND PROSPECTS FOR THE BJP GOVERNMENT

Created: 4/13/1998

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Intelligence

Office of Near Eastern, South Asian, and8

India: Problems and Prospects for the BJP Government

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) administration facet many of the same problems that have brought down other coalman governments in recent yean, such as ideological disputes, parliamentary paralysis, and disjointed policy initiatives. Added to these woes, the BJPost of challenges thai stem from the party's Hindu nationalist roots despite its effort to minimize Us more extreme tendencies. In Us campaign the BJP managed toalance between Us long-stated Hindu tools and the more popular "moderate"platform put forth in Us manifesto. The responsibility of governing wilt soon force the party to deal wUh hardline elements of the BJP that lurk in the wings. The party's efforts to resolve Us factionalism mayifficult for the new government to hold on to allies and retain powernd for Western policymakers to discern the BJP's intentions on issues of mutual concern.

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fortunes continue to riseime when many longtime pohiicaJ parties in India are on the wane. The party has demonstrated its ability to survive the rough and tumble of governing at the state level, has

overcome its Hindu extremist reputation enough to form alliances with diverse partners, and has expanded its constituency beyond its original

upper-caste Hindu core of support.

The parry must try to bridge the gulf that remains between its moderate manifesto and its more extreme roots. How well it does so will have .significant bearing on what consuruencies in India will support (he BJP and for how long. The party's softening of its nationalist image to build mass appeal has confused Western observers about its true intent on issues such asltferation and relations with Pakistan. The

BJP's approach to these subjects could swing from cooperative to antagonistic,

How Hindu?

depending on its resolution of disputes between hardline and moderate factions. I

A key challenge for the BJP centers on its designation ofhe ideanified Hindu state-as its guiding theme. The party's embrace of Hindutva contributed significanUy to its electoral leap forwardnd pressB reporting indicates that senior BJP leaders without exception would bebandon it The party's need to ally with disparate political parties in Parliament, however, has prompted it to temper its religious rhetoric and slow its pursuit of some extreme goals:

To please both its old and newJP-led government

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will have to appear to address lhe proposals of its hardline backers wiihoul afling on them-soch as delegating decisions on Hindu exirernist demands to an independent forum.

Prime Minister Vajpayee claims that it was no longer necessaryJP government to enact legislation toindu temple at the site of the mosque in Ayodhya that BJP activists helped tear downe says the issue will be resolved "tJemocraiically" through dialogue.

BJP leaders may allow party hardliners to dominate security pobcy-on which there is little disagreement among Indian voters-while appeasing its allies' concerns with more moderate policy on social issues.

How Nationalist? |

The BJP emphasizes nationalism on both economic and security issues, but several constraints will temper its ability to act on its rhetoric:

Indian business leaders back the BJP's "swadeshi" policies--which protect domestic industries by lirniting foreign invKtjiient-because they fear competition, but the BJP faces pressure from other constituencies in the growing middle class who demand greater choice and nexibiliry. Polls show that Indianshole support aberalizing reforms.

The BJP faces strong international pressure to be more pragmatic toward foreign mvestment and India's membership in the World Trade Organization. Despite hardline statements from some BJP leaders during the campaign, most party leaders support India's increased participationlobal, mtegrated economy.

The BJP faces pressure in international forums-such as the Uniied Nations and the Conference on Disarmamem-to make Indian policy conform to international conventions on proliferation issues.ime when India strives to be taken seriously in its bidermanent seat on the UN Security Council, such pressure has led BJP leaders, in private conversations with US officials, toontinuity" on issues of importance to the West.

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The BJP may spout strong rhetoric about bolstering India's national security posture-particularly toward Pakistan--but it cannot follow through with many of its defense-related threats in the near term. Technological and burtauxratic bottlenecks will impede any BJP effort

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to escalate the country's missile programs in the near term, for example. |

How Mucheam Player?

To stay in power at the national level, the BJP must reconcile its self-imagearty that is "different from the rest" with its need to work cooperatively with the opposition and allies. Weak coalitions in India can never feel safe in the facepposition, but the BJP's lack of ideological allies makes it especially vulnerable to ouster. |

How Important Is the Pakistan Factor?

Pakistani behavior willey role in determining whether the BJP turns hardline rhetoric into action. If Islamabad refrains from what India would view as "provocative" behavior, the BJP is likely to respond in land. The BJP's strong nationalist and security credentials might allow it to make concessions that other Indian parties-fearing accusations of being "sort" on Pakistan-have been unwilling to consider

On the other hand, an upsurge in terrorism that India blames on its neighbor or evidence of increased militant irtfiltration into Kashmir could strengthen the hand of party hardliners who seek increased defense spending and open declaration of India's nuclear and missile status.

India reacted to Pakistan's flight test of its Ghauri raissile-the BP'S first security policy challenge in office-with public nonchalance, but the event is certain to exacerbate tensions between moderates and hardliners who differ iturply on policyj

A.B. Vajpayee: Lone Wolfolf In Sheep's Clothing? |

It is unlikely that Vajpayee isopular "front man" who would step asidetime in favor of hardliners. Vajpayee has worked hard to establish awith Western interlocutors and lis public statements matchStill. Vajpayee's control over

the party

Vajpayee took pains to assure reporters in8 that he. not BJP. Advani. would be prime ministerJP-led government His comments struck manyeiled threat to hardline colleagues that he had no intention of being upstaged.

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. Govuidactiarya recently referred to Vajpayee as ihe BJP's "mask anduggesting that others behind the scenes may control (he party. |

Vajpayee is one of the few BJP leaders with political experience at ihe national level; he was Foreign Minister in ihe Janala government7' Virtually Ihe only lop-tier moderate In thee is largely responsible for guiding the party into mainstream politics and away from its hardline rhetoric of the past. He also is the party's leading vote-getter. Opinion polls before the recent election consistently rated him as the number-one choke among Indian voters for the prune ministership:

Although his political roots be in the Rashuiya Swayamsevak Sanghhe party's chauvinist parent organization-ijie statesmanlike Vajpayee has long reassured US officials that he wouldoderate agenda.

Vajpayee's views on issues of importance to the West often diverge markedly from his more hardline BJP colleagues, but it is Vajpayee who minimizes areas of agreement with the hardliners to preserve his broad appeal. |

and Advani: An Odd Couple?

Vajpayee and Advani appear to depend on one another to keep the party functioning and nationally powerful. Their mix of talents suggests that the BJP needs both to be an effective national party. According to press reports, their divergent views and interests complement one another:

Is not interested in the intricacies of the party orgaruzarion and even forgets the names of BJP functionaries, while Advani oversees every aspect and level of the party organization and has taken charge of grooming the second-level leadership.

1 Advam abo twved ia Ux Ikioxa Cabinet andlniccrSinha served forshort time la Chandra Sbefchat'i minority govemmem. ifH

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Vajpayee prefers the companymall circle of close advisers, while Advani interacts with every level of the party organization.

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Vajpayee is uncomfortable wiih ihe hardline RSS involvement in politics, while Advani believes il represenis ihe BJP's "moral authority."

Vajpayee believes the party should stay away from overtly religious issues, while Advani views the mosque issue at Ayodhya as an important "politicalKMBM

Hindu Nationalist Family Tree

The BJP originally emergedolitical outlet for several of India's Hindu religious organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishnu Hindu Parishadhe first of these organizations-known collectively as the Sangh Parivar-was the RSS, formed

before independence to unite Hindus through training in ideology, cultural awareness, and physical fitness. When the RSS was bannedfter one of its members assassinated Mahatma Gandhi--it sponsored new organizations it could control from behind the scenes.

The BJP evolved from the Jana Sangh. which was established1 as the political wing of the RSS. Most of the BJP's senior leadership-including Vajpayee-sprang from the RSS. The RSS depends on the BJP to keep Hindu nationalism in the public eyeolitical issue, and the BJP relies on the RSS for manpower and organizing grassroots electoral support The relationship between the organizations is stable, but tensions could emerge as the BJP tries to adopt moderate views to further satisfy its many coalition partners during the early days of the unwieldy coalition:

The RSS probably provides financial support to the BJP, although precisely how much is unclear.

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It is unclear how much influence the divergent factions in the BJP will have on government policies, especially given the differing agendas of the ruling coalition's many regional parties. Vajpayee is faced with the difficult task of ruaintairung balance between moderates and hardliners, particularly in the RSS. The BJP united behind Vajpayee during the campaign and the formation of the new government, but his power stems from his mass appeal rather man his clout within the party. The hardliners are unlikely to jettison Vajpayee, if only because they need him to keep the party in power

Vajpayee has been successful in sirJeuning party hardliners. Joshi and Kalyan Singh, but many disgrunded RSS leaderstrong collective leadership ratherharismatic figure at the helm, according to Indian press reports.

Some Indian political commentators claim the RSSajor part in preventing moderate Jaswam Singh-who the group believesuppet of Vajpayee-from oljtairang the post of Rnance Minister.

Since the BJP's rise to national prominence, its relationship with the RSS has become uicreasuiglyonsensus is growing-even among some hardline Hindu naUonalists-that the BJP has outgrown its parent organization, which is causing problems within the Sangh Parivar, according to the Indian press:

Jitie BJP's rise to national power, the expansion ol its membership outside RSS circles, and its policy shut toward the center hasift between the organizations.

The BJP's minimizing of "Hindutva"ampaign slogan has angered the RSS. which clings to the concept to unify the Sangh Parivar.

Tensions increased when the BJP blamed the RSS for supporting the destruction of the Babri Mosque at Ayodhyahe episode set

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off ihe rnosi violent Hindu-Muslim riots7 and prompted criticism of ihe BJP around the world. I

Prospects for the New Government I

BJP efforts to resolve differences within the party and the coalition will preoccupy the new government for at least its first few weeks in power, distracting it from policymaking or substantive progress in talks with Pakistan. Ii faces the same problems as its prcclecessor. the United Front, which also got offojointed startesult of its disparate members' demands:

toe BJP must reach for an issue lo combat internal Disintegration, ii might step up hard-line rhetoric on national securitykistan-bashirig--whcre there is little disagreement.

reporting indicates that the BJP will setational Security Council to examine New Delhi's options on important issues. The adminisirarion is likely to use the Council to "buy time" before making decisions on issues thai will affect India's relations with the West, such as nuclear policy.

Jew Delhi may be willing lo work

with US officials behind ihe scenes on issues of mutual concern, particularly in cases where the give-and-take of coalition politics threatens progress.

Some of ihe new ministers holding key rjoraolios lack experience, which could stall decisionmaking on some issues. Finance Miruster Yashwant Sinha, for example, bis government experience but tittle formal financial training. |

Working in the BJP's favor, however, is its large block of seats in parliament. The BJPuch larger group of members of rwtiament than the Janata Dal did when it led the United Front coalitionJP members of parliament compared toeld by the Janata DaL Although the BJP could have more trouble than the UF inonsensus on key policy issues because of its internal factionalism, once decisions are made within the organization, the BJP should have an easier time pushing policies through parliament because of its large block.

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from the strict organization of the RSS. the BJP most likelyiered system:

The top echelon of leaders consists of moderate Vajpayee, hardline Advani. and extremist Joshi. Immediately below themroup of powerful leaders--both moderate and hardline--such as Finance Minister Sinha and senior leader Jaswant Singh.

The second tier is composed of mid-level party members who hold significant positions in the party organization, such as general secretaries, and are the next generation of leaders. Press reporting indicates that Advani has been grooming this new batch of leaders. |

The majority of upper-level BJP members hail directly from RSS ranks, which sparks Advani and RSS leaders to exert considerable resources on these members. Press reports note that Vajpayee spends little time with the party rank and file. This imbalance results in Advani's hardline camp dominating Vajpayee's small moderate camp, often alienating it within the party.

Advani's hardliners within the BJP and RSS appear to recognize the importance of hewingoderate political line toational role. Vajpayee and his moderate followers probably recognize Advaniey intermediary between their faction and the hardliners and intramural friction is likely to increase without him. It is unclear whether the party could replace either leaderolitician of similar stature in order to maintainJl

The BJP Without Vajpayee: Key Intelligence Caps

If Vajpayee suddenly left the scene-due to death or removal-it is unclear who would take the reins. It Is also uncertainew moderate leader could generate comparable support to challenge the influence of the hardline factions:

BJP senior spokesman Jaswant Singh falls into the moderate camp, having no RSS connections and serving as Finance Minister in Vajpayee's6 Cabinet

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It is likely that an internal power snuggle would emerge between the small moderate faction, the hardliners who want lo maintain national power, and the extremist faction. We are unsure whether hardliners would support another moderate leader. If Advani took control, it is not clear whether he wouldore moderate agenda for the sake of national power.

BJP's "Partners of Convenience"

The BJP has no true ideological allies-only parties thai have agreed to work with it solelytake in government. The BJP's heavy emphasis on "ideology"efining parry theme makes its lack ofignificant liability for its staying power. To the degree mat it appeases its disparate allies, it dilutes its original message of Hiridutva. The BJP's alliance with corrupt Tamil Nadu politician Jayalalitha and her AIADMK party, for example, chips away at the BJP's imagearty not tarnished by corruption. The following parties-which allied with the BJP in the runup to the elections-were equally unsettling for the BJP's ideological aspirations:1

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhaeam (AIADMK) (in TamilbyAIADMK

demonstrated that it can pose problems for the BJP when Jayalalitha Ksied her clout by making her support for the coalition dependent on satisfaction of her state-level demands.

Shlv Sena (in Maharashtra, led by BalShiv Sena comes closest of the BJP's allies to an ideological meeting of minds, hut the Shiv Sena's penchant for thuggery and violence has often undermined BJP efforts to emphasize stability and peacefulness.

Samata Party (in Bihar. led by Georgeis the greatest strain between tile BJP and Samata parties; in spite of being one of the BJP's most loyal allies, Samata leader Femandes steadfastlyocialist.

A kali Dal (in Punjab, led by Prakash SinghAkali Dai's roots in Punjabi separatism makes ii an odd match for the nationalist BJP. which emphasizes its refusal to accord any special interests to regions, religions, or ethnic groups.

- Thii tin doe*nclude posldeciion aJIMi.he Telega De*am Parry, which had no teai-ibving arrangement! wiia the Hindu aMoaauiis going into die polU bat whose .upporii crucial factor in the BJP'i wiliryote of confidence.

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(in Haryana. led by Bansi Lal):The HVP isarty of ex-Congress Party members. The alliance has endured, despite the absence of an ideological commonality.

Biiu Janata Dal (in Orissa. led by Naveenalliance spun

out of the disintegration of the Janata Dal (JD) into splinter groups. Antipathy for the Congress Party is the sole focus.

Lok SbaKtf (in Kamataka, led by Ramakrishna Hegde): This alliance was forged when former JD politician Hcgdc was rebuffed by the Sonia Gandhi-inQucnccd Congress Party. The LK is another offshoot of die collapse of the old JD. The BJP already had small pockets of support in northern and coastal Knraaiaka and in urban areas but lacked key pclitical personalities in that region. The alliance with the LS gives the BJP access to Hegde's "magnetic" personality and his well-oiled rx4itical machinery, according to the US Consulate in Cfcennai.

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Tnnamoot Congress (in West Bengal, led by Mamatahis troubled alliance produced little benefit for either parryi^pH

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