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  The singer and the song  
  BJP's moderate face  
  "Zindagi kaisi hai
paheli, haaye, Kabhi to hansaaye, kabhi yeh rulaaye" (Ah, what a riddle life is, Sometimes it makes you laugh, sometimes it makes you cry).

That was yesteryear's superstar Rajesh Khanna singing along a seashore, in the melodious voice of Manna Dey, in the memorable Hindi film 'Anand' of 1971. It was also Nitin Gadkari, the new president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), regaling members of the party's national executive at the end of a three-day meeting on February 17, 2010, with the same lyrics.

Interpretations of this rare political event could vary. A film-based reading may not be very flattering to the party. On the screen, the singer was an incurable cancer patient, facing his fate with philosophical equanimity. Gadkari could be seen as trying to impart a similar outlook to a terminally sick party. But no, this was not how the BJP and its suddenly merry band in the media preferred to read the message.

The times have changed -- this is the construction the party and its media pals prefer to put on the lines from the soulful past of an always song-centred cinema. The time for crying over the last parliamentary election debacle, culminating in the dethronement of Lal Krishna Advani, they seem to say, is past. Now is the time to laugh, if you listen to them, and Gadkari is the cause of their glee.

Just months ago, the same people, especially the non-party pundits, professed concern over an open bid by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to take over the BJP. The patriarch of the 'parivar' (the far-right 'family'), it was argued, should stick to "nation-building" and stay out of the nitty-gritty of politics. Today they assert with equal vehemence that the RSS nominee for the top BJP post is the best thing to have happened to the party.

The name of Atal Bihari Vajpayee may not have figured in this context, but Gadkari is certainly being glorified as the substitute the party and the 'parivar' have been seeking for the aged and ailing former prime minister. Several party luminaries have hailed him as the "Vikas Purush" (Development Man), a title that once belonged to Vajpayee, as distinct from the "Lauha Purush" (Iron Man), the label stuck on Advani. Everyone has forgotten the fact that Gadkari himself called Narendra Modi, who has made Gujarat synonymous with an anti-minority pogrom, the "Vikas Purush" in an earlier rally in Rajkot.

Equally forgotten is an even larger fallacy. Vajpayee is projected as the party's "moderate face" though it was under him as the prime minister that India witnessed the worst ever post-Independence atrocities against the Muslim and Christian minorities in Gujarat and Orissa respectively, while nuclear militarism was raised to the level of state policy. The man from Mumbai is also held up as a model of moderation, despite his decades-long association with a party and the 'parivar' involved in a series of communal riots and its staunch alliance with the Shiv Sena of an inimitable mix of religious-regional intolerance.

The new BJP chief is supposed to have made a noteworthy departure from the party line by speaking on the issue of price rise at Indore. Builders of a Gadkari cult are busy pretending that the party had never raised economic issues ever before. The slogan of 'Shining India' might have cost the party dearly in the general elections of 2004, but this was not the first or last instance of the BJP's political interest in bread-and-butter issues.

Neither the party nor the 'parivar', however, has ever concealed the fact that "cultural nationalism" of a socially divisive and destructive kind remains their core concern and ideology. Gadkari and others, in fact, have stressed that their ardour for the Ayodhya cause has not dimmed a bit despite the importance accorded to inflation in the party's current agenda.

The BJP's new-speak is not unconnected to the State Assembly elections in Bihar that may be held as early as October. This is a difficult terrain for the party to tread. The party has to explain to the voters here its alliance with the Bihari-bashing Bal Thackeray and his Sena in Maharashtra. Its ally in Bihar -- the Janata Dal (United) Chief Minister Nitish Kumar -- has made it clear that that Modi is not welcome to electioneer here and endanger its prospects. After the Bihar battle, the BJP may start singing a different tune.

Meanwhile, Gadkari appears a godsend to media gurus who have been telling tirelessly ever since the last general elections of the need for a "healthy opposition" in a democracy. However, can there be a more sick and sickening opposition than a sworn enemy of peace in the country and the region?

Life, of course, as the lines of that song say, makes you laugh sometimes, and cry at other times. So, when you come to think of it, does the BJP. (Courtesy: Daily Times)
The writer is a journalist based in Chennai, India. A peace activist, he is also the author of a sheaf of poems titled 'At Gunpoint'.
Photo caption -- BJP's new President Nitin Gadkari -- A Herald of India photo
  By  J Sri Raman  
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