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Harsh lessons for BJP, for RSS too

By Kanchan Gupta
April 14, 2005 11:49 IST
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It has become tiresomely predictable, this media brouhaha over who said what about whom and why -- within the Bharatiya Janata Party and in the larger family headed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

The astonishingly candid views expressed by K S Sudarshan, Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, in his interview to a 24x7 television news channel, have been seized upon by professional armchair pundits to stress the shaky nature of the Hindu coalition and the rickety relations between its various constituents.

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To seek uniformity of views in a political organisation -- there is nothing apolitical about the RSS' relationship with the BJP, or for that matter the VHP's aspirations -- is like embarking upon a quest for the Holy Grail. Both are impossible to pursue to a logical conclusion. Unless, of course, the political organisation is nothing more than a gathering of devotees who swear blind allegiance to a supreme leader: it would be uncharitable to list the Congress alone in this category; other inspired entities, for example, the AIADMK, the DMK and the BSP, also exist.

In the 25 years that it has been in existence, the BJP has had to contend with differing voices and disparate opinions among its leaders. Had L K Advani not moved the resolution committing the BJP to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, it is doubtful if the National Executive meeting in Palampur would have approved it without a murmur of protest or amendment.

What ensured its passage on presentation was not unanimous support -- Jaswant Singh, legend has it, was in a fury and extremely reluctant to endorse the move -- but the unwritten code that a resolution presented by the party president is adopted without debate and amendment. Years later, when Arun Jaitley presented the resolution on the uniform civil code to the National Executive, meeting in Delhi this time, there was a fierce debate which at one point descended to Arif Beg and Sushma Swaraj screaming at each other.

Decades ago, when Syama Prasad Mookerjee, president of Bharatiya Jana Sangh, took up the issue of Jammu & Kashmir's full and final integration with the Union of India by abolishing Article 370 of the Constitution, more than murmurs of doubt were expressed. Even after his death in Sheikh Abdullah's custody, abolition of Article 370 was not immediately adopted as a 'core issue.' It was only after witnessing the massive response to the Kashmir Bachao rally at the Boat Club lawns a decade-and-a-half ago that the BJP discovered a potent instrument of mobilising nationalist opinion.

Such, then, is the divisive history of the three 'core issues,' as they have come to be known, that define the BJP's ideological identity. There is more. Twenty-five years ago, in deference to the non-RSS constituency that had decided to throw in its lot with the BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee floated the concept of 'Gandhian socialism' as the ideological underpinning of the new party. Many of the old Bharatiya Jana Sangh stock felt it was a lot of bunkum.

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Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia led a personal campaign to have 'Gandhian Socialism' replaced with 'Integral Humanism' to re-establish linkage between present and past. With the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation unleashing a tidal wave of Hindu political aspiration, Hindutva made its appearance in the BJP's lexicon. Advani may have been perfectly comfortable with the BJP's emergence as an identifiable Hindu political entity, Vajpayee made little effort to hide his discomfort.

The differences in views persisted through the BJP's years in power as the leading member of the National Democratic Alliance that ruled India from 1998 to 2004. But that did not in any manner prevent the government from delivering in key sectors, including economy and national security.

If the decision to go ahead with Pokhran II, that indelibly embossed India's name among those of the nuclear haves and brought about a tectonic shift in its relations with the world's sole superpower, was ideologically inspired, the wide-ranging economic reforms, which made liberalisation an irreversible process and made enterprise worth the effort, were in violent conflict with both ideology and idealism.

More importantly, there was a lot that the BJP could have done to fulfil the aspirations of its cadre and supporters if only it had seen itself as the decision making force in the NDA government, rather than allow itself to be overwhelmed by cockamamie notions of 'coalition dharma.' Instead of indulging in lachrymose hand wringing in the face of intransigent behaviour by coalition partners, Vajpayee and Advani should have confronted political blackmailers with an either/or option.

That was not to be. And a stunned party cadre was witness to political chicanery, moral turpitude and obnoxious arrogance -- of, barring honourable exceptions, BJP ministers, party office-bearers and time-servers. Sudarshan may lack the felicity of language and the sophistry required to effectively communicate through the audio-visual media, but he was only being brutally honest when he stressed on the lack of samvad.

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Advani, who is not known to fight shy of self-criticism and introspection, admitted as much when he told the BJP National Council's special session to celebrate the party's 25th anniversary, 'In the past six years, the BJP ignored the karyakarta, the Sangh Parivar and the core voter.' It makes little sense to criticise Sudarshan for retorting with, 'With such knowledge, what forgiveness?'

This is not to suggest that Sudarshan's comments on television, now the subject of much media punditry, are not excessively harsh, scathingly uncharitable. A lot of it could have been kept unsaid on a public forum, but that would be tantamount to expecting duplicity from a man who is known for being unabashedly outspoken and making no effort to hide his distaste for deceit in thought and action.

Those who are pillorying Sudarshan and making use of his comments to berate the BJP and mock at the larger Hindu movement, forget that he is not a politician and, therefore, cannot be expected to switch from one persona to another, depending on the audience he is addressing. There is also an element of frustration that has to be factored in -- a lot of what he has said on television, has been earlier said at close-door meetings. Honesty demands that the BJP should admit its failure to heed criticism that was kept out of the public domain till now.

Lessons can yet be learned -- by the BJP and the RSS. It makes little sense for Advani to persist with the fiction that all is fine with the BJP and god is in his heaven. The party organisation is in shambles, the front organisations are moribund and many of the present leaders are captive to what Kushabhau Thakre once famously described as 'flatterers and chatterers,' wallowing in flattery and lending both their ears to self-appeasing gossip. Neither strategy nor tactics is implicit in the BJP's word and deed. Instead of playing a pro-active role, setting the agenda for political discourse, it is reduced to being a reactive force.

Advani is undoubtedly the best person to lead the party at this point of time; anybody else would have led the BJP from disaster to unmitigated disaster. But it would be unfair to expect him to single-handedly deliver success. Sooner or later, preferably the former, the future leadership issue has to be settled. An excellent option would be to train potential contenders for the top post to work as a team so that collective leadership can once again become the hallmark of the BJP, setting it apart from the Congress.

As for the RSS, clearly television is not the medium through which its senior leaders should communicate -- definitely not to communicate with the BJP or its cadre. It is a pity that the Sarsanghchalak's annual interview should have become the subject of secular revelry, when it could have served a much more important purpose -- that of putting nationalist politics back on the right course.

Meanwhile, we have to suffer an overdose of Marxist propaganda wrapped as objective news, comment and analyses of the CPI-M's recent jamboree. The man who committed the 'historic blunder' of stopping Jyoti Basu from becoming prime minister has now emerged as the media's favourite darling. There are no prizes for guessing his name.

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Kanchan Gupta