Wednesday, October 07, 2009

BJP and the One-Party State

This morning's Times had an interesting piece about the collapse--to near irrelevance--of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu ultra-nationalists whose rise interrupted generations of Congress Party dominance. What's interesting is that Lydia Polgreen explicitly compares the BJP's flameout to the U.S Republican Party's loss of the presidency last year:

NEW DELHI — It is an all-too-familiar political story.

First there was the electoral drubbing at the hands of a center-left juggernaut. Next came the recriminations, with party leaders taking nasty, public swipes at one another in dueling magazine articles, op-ed articles and talk show appearances. Then came the agonizing debate: should the party lurch rightward to consolidate its base, or rush toward the center to attract moderate voters? And finally, the purge: party members who do not make the ideological cut are cast out or pushed aside.

If the script sounds familiar to those who have followed American politics in the last year, this one is playing out in the majestic, colonial-era halls of power in India’s capital ...

Polgreen points out that, virulent though the BJP may have been, its emergence as a viable alternative to Congress drove New Delhi to actually get things done--which Congress, unopposed in the past, didn't excel at. In the U.S., the Republican Party also shook things up with its dozen years' control of Congress following Democrats' 40 years.

At its roots the BJP is a Hindu fundamentalist party that alienated many with its insistence that a Hindu temple should replace a Muslim mosque, a stance that caused rioting and hundreds of deaths over the past decade or so. Now that it's in the wilderness, the BJP will be forced to reexamine its core beliefs and, like the GOP here, has begun that process with a purge of those judged insufficiently zealous.

It remains to be seen whether later generations see the coming years as the point where these parties were reduced to merely regional power, or expanded their influence by beckoning a wider range of followers.

The GOP has experience with reinventing itself in precisely this way, dating back to the rise of Ronald Reagan. Will the BJP make the same choice, or doom itself to ruling Gujarat?

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