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Hindutva eclipses secularism: Cabinet reshuffle in India [Reuters]
by Saima Alvi
03 July 2002 07:35 UTC
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Hindutva eclipses secularism: Cabinet reshuffle in

By Sanjeev Miglani 

NEW DELHI: India's Hindu nationalist-led ruling
coalition is firmly in the grip of hardliners after
the biggest cabinet and party revamp carried out by
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee since the
government took power in 1999. 

The rise of hawkish Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani
to deputy prime minister and of a clutch of hardliners
to top party positions will do little to heal the
wounds of Hindu-Muslim clashes this year, opposition
leaders and analysts said. 

Instead, the communal divide caused by the country's
worst bloodletting in a decade in the western state of
Gujarat in February and March looks set to widen
further ahead of national elections due by 2004, the
main opposition Congress party said. 

"It is a complete takeover by the hardliners. They
want to widen the communal divide and reap electoral
dividends," said spokesman Jaipal Reddy, adding that
the first test will take place in Gujarat where state
elections are due early next year. 

"This is hardly a coalition government anymore, it is
a BJP government dominated by those who believe in the
hardcore Hindutva ideology," said Zoya Hasan who
teaches politics at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru

Advani, who represents Gujarat in the lower house of
parliament, catapulted the ruling Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) from obscurity in the 1980s to
centre-stage with a nationwide campaign of Hindu
revivalism in mainly Hindu India. But since Prime
Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee - seen as the moderate
face of the BJP - took charge of the coalition
government, the BJP has been forced to put its Hindu
agenda on hold to satisfy secular coalition allies. 

Among the BJP issues put aside was a campaign to build
a temple in Ayodhya in northern India on the ruins of
a 16th century mosque destroyed by Hindu zealots in

Monday's cabinet reshuffle, accompanied by a revamp of
the BJP, ends that period of restraint, analysts said.

"It had put its ideology on the back burner...but this
looks like the beginning of the end of this phase,"
said political analysts Mahesh Rangarajan. "There is a
feeling in the BJP that it is sharpening its
ideological focus." 

The fiercely nationalist BJP has long advocated a
tough stance on Pakistan and on an uprising against
Indian rule in Muslim majority Kashmir. It also wants
common civil laws for Hindus and Muslims alike, and
believes the building of the temple in Ayodhya will
end a centuries-old perceived slur on Hindus by Muslim

While the opposition accuses it of using Hindu-Muslim
tension to win votes, the BJP in turn has accused the
Congress party, which ruled India in the decades
following independence in 1947, of "appeasing" Muslims
to win votes itself. 

"We have no reason to be apologetic about our agenda,"
said Venkaiah Naidu, who took over as BJP president on

Vinay Katiyar, another firebrand leader who was
closely involved with campaign to build the temple on
the site of the razed mosque, has been named as chief
of the BJP unit in Uttar Pradesh, India's most
populous state and home to Ayodhya. 

"There is a pattern to all this, this is not a one-off
thing, the BJP believes it can restore political
support through a re-assertion of Hindutva," said
Hasan. Some 3,000 people died in riots that followed
the destruction of the mosque in 1992, and to this day
Ayodhya remains at the heart of Hindu-Muslim tensions.

TOO FAR GONE ON PAKISTAN: The Hindu nationalists are
unlikely though to push the envelope further with
Pakistan at a time when the nuclear armed nations
have, under intense US-led international pressure,
just stepped back from the brink of war, analysts

"On Pakistan the hardline view has prevailed in the
government since last year, I don't see any change one
way or the other," Hasan said. 

New Delhi has refused all dialogue with Pakistan until
Islamabad ends what it calls "cross-border terrorism"
in Kashmir. 

Islamabad, which denies direct involvement in the
Kashmir uprising, said it was ready to do business
with India, regardless of the leadership.-Reuters 


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