BJP’s agenda for governance
The Nation
April 14, 1998
One of the myths currently being projected in the Indian media is that since prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is a moderate leader, he will have a moderating impact on BJP’s governance and will not let the party’s hardcore leaders fulfil much of what was pledged in the BJP’s election manifesto. This contention is being supported by twisted citations from the National Agenda for Governance, which Vajpayee had released on March 18 on behalf of the BJP and Alliance partners.

“The National Agenda for Governance,” reported The Hindu of March 19, “appears to be a distilled version of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto minus the issues related to Hindutva. It is completely silent on Ayodhya, on the scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution, and even on uniform civil code.

The paragraph on ‘genuine secularism,’ talks about a commitment to the concept of ‘equal respect for all faiths’ on the basis of equality for all, but desists from talking about the BJP’s favourite charge of ‘appeasement of minorities’ by other parties.” Something similar was reported and later editorialised by the rest of the Indian newspapers.

The fact, however, is different: one, even if there is no mention of Ayodhya or uniform civil code or Article 370, this does not necessarily mean that the BJP has forgotten about these matters after coming to power.

This also does not mean that the party’s manifesto was meant only to secure votes. With decades-long experience in India’s corrupt politics, Behari’s strategy appears to be first to strengthen the party’s political clout, a task easier to accomplish for a nationalist party such as BJP once it is in the corridors of power. Once the BJP achieves this aim, it will have no problem in sorting out the controversial issues.

This is why the National Agenda for Governance is not silent on two vital issues of the country’s nuclear programme and economic policy, on which the BJP hopes to muster nationalist support that it essentially requires before it goes ahead with its Hindutva agenda.

The National Agenda’s section on ‘national security’ states: “ The state of preparedness, moral and combat effectiveness of the Armed Forces shall receive early attention and appropriate remedial action.

We will establish a National Security Council to analyze the military economic and political threats to the nation, also to continuously advise the government. This council will undertake India’s first ever Strategic Defense Review. To ensure the security, territorial integrity and unity of India, we will take all necessary steps and exercise all available options. Towards that end, we will re-evaluate the nuclear policy and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons.”

The Agenda’s section on ‘economy’ states: “We will continue the reform process, give it a strong Swadeshi thrust to ensure that the national economy grows on the principal that ‘India shall be built by the Indians’, reappraise and revitalize reform through giving primacy to removal of unemployment, and to an accelerated development of infrastructure, particularly, energy and power production.

We will give a major thrust to infrastructure development, particularly energy and power by recommending public expenditure in the sector. (We will) encourage Direct Foreign Investment in core areas so that it usefully supplements the national efforts and discourage Direct Foreign Investment in non-priority areas.”

One of the major reasons why the West is attracted towards India is its huge consumer market. And, that’s why it would like to have its share of the Direct Foreign Investment in such sectors in India which will help it exploit the country’s huge consumer market potential.

Even if the National Agenda has not identified the core issues, these must be related to infrastructure development, in which the Western community does not have much interest. The Western press has taken due notice of this development. Reports The Times: “The BJP-led government has given pledges to discourage foreign investment in non-priority areas as a thinly veiled attack o new arrivals such as McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken—and to press ahead with development of a nuclear bomb….(It has) pledge to re-examine the economic reforms introduced in 1992 to ensure that foreign investment focused on roads, water, telephones, electricity and other crucial areas. Hindu nationalists were outraged by the arrival of American fast-food chains while investment in infrastructure remained tiny…“The (Swadeshi) concept is supported across the political spectrum.

The reforms have been unpopular among voters, many of whom have suffered from reduced subsidies on essential food and fuels. The National Agenda places emphasis on revitalizing industry much of it suffering from the impact of foreign imports permitted under the economic reforms.”

As regards the BJP’s motives regarding India’s nuclear programme, the National Agenda states almost the same thing as was proclaimed by the manifesto. “ Is one of disarmament’s greatest champions about to become the world’s sixth official nuclear power? India’s new coalition government led by Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party vows to rethink the country’s nuclear option”, wrote The Economist.

There exists widespread concern in the international media about the BJP's bid to exercise the country’s nuclear option. At the same time, the world public opinion seems to endorse Pakistan’s concern over an accelerated arms race in the region, as an editorial in The Bangladesh Observer of 30 March, argued: “Pakistan fears and anxieties have a real basis. And with BJP in power in New Delhi and its declared nuclear policy option unchanged, it is going to be a pretty different Indo-Pak scenario, for prospects of regional peace in the subcontinent.”