Courtesy Reuters

Letter From New Delhi: India’s Myopic Opposition

The Battle for the Soul of the BJP

Teen Murti Bhavan, a classical stone-and-stucco structure in the handsomest enclave of New Delhi, has long been identified with its most famous former resident: Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister and the architect of the Congress Party. It took a biting sense of irony, therefore, to organize the book release for Jaswant Singh’s Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence at Nehru’s old house this past August. Over the course of 650-odd pages, the opposition stalwart frequently pins the blame for the 1947 partition of India on Nehru (and, by extension, the Congress Party) and largely absolves Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, of responsibility.

As one of the house intellectuals of the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Singh -- a former minister of finance and external affairs -- might have felt safe making such an argument. He was not. Two days after the release party, Singh was expelled from the BJP by a committee that, in all probability, had not even read his book. Where there had previously been only peepholes, his expulsion opened a whole window onto the most riveting political theater in India today: the precarious disarray of the BJP. And the disarray matters. For nearly two decades now, the BJP has been a contender, a semblance of a coherent alternative to the otherwise dominant Congress Party. A fragmented BJP would thus mean a tectonically different polity, one in which a single party would always form the core of the Indian government.

As a party, the BJP depends on a particular historical narrative to prop up its primary ideological precept: that India is, and always has been, a Hindu nation. This is why the BJP exerted itself while in power, from 1998 to 2004, to rewrite school textbooks, emphasizing Hindu victimhood and the rapaciousness of the Islamic invasions of India between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries. This is also why the party vehemently objects to the Aryan invasion theory of Indian prehistory, which suggests that the basic tenets of Hinduism were formulated abroad

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