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Jinnah's ghost haunts the Parivar

Print edition : Jul 01, 2005 T+T-

L.K. Advani's attempt at administering ideological `shock therapy' to the BJP has boomeranged, precipitating a serious crisis in a party already in disarray and schizophrenic about its identity.

PRAFUL BIDWAI

IF Lal Krishna Advani thought that he would be instigating a "revolution from above" in the Sangh Parivar by visiting Mohammed Ali Jinnah's mausoleum in Karachi and lavishing praise on him as "a great man", he seriously miscalculated. His pronouncements precipitated a fresh crisis in the Hindu-nationalist camp, in particular the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

The crisis comes on top of the BJP's defeat in the Lok Sabha elections 13 months ago (with which it has still not come to terms), its grave leadership-succession crisis, the growing difficulty of keeping the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) going, and unprecedented tensions between the top leaders of the BJP and the RSS, which have taken the form of ferocious attacks on Advani by RSS sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan, followed by exchanges of hostile and ugly abuse. Advani has now withdrawn his resignation as BJP president, largely on the RSS's terms. This is liable to plunge the BJP even deeper into confusion and disarray.

The issues that Advani raised in Pakistan go to the very heart of the ideological premises on which the Sangh Parivar is founded. These premises are Islamophobia, distrust of Muslims qua Muslims, hatred of Pakistan as India's inveterate enemy, and an aggressive assertion of the Hindutva identity.

Jinnah, as the prime protagonist of Muslim separatism and Pakistan's founding father, has been an object of intense loathing inside the Parivar. For Advani to have visited his mazaar and described him as a "great man" and a "rare individual" who "actually" created "history", and to whom he must pay "my respectful homage", was simply sacrilegious.

The fact that Advani quoted Sarojini Naidu from her 1916 characterisation of Jinnah as an "ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity" did not mitigate the offence. Nor did citing Swami Ranganathananda who advised Advani to read Jinnah's famous address to the Constituent Assembly of August 11, 1947 as a "classic, a forceful espousal of a secular state in which while every citizen would be free to pursue his own religion ... "

Although Advani's speech to the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations, Economic Affairs and Law on June 5 did not explicitly describe Jinnah as "secular", it praised him for advocating on August 11, 1947, the "equality of all citizens in the eyes of the state and freedom of faith for all citizens" - "what we in India call a secular or a non-theocratic state".

This was fully in keeping with Advani's note in the visitors' book at Jinnah's mausoleum, in which he lauded the August 11, 1947, address, as well as numerous other pronouncements (for example about December 6, 1992, being "the saddest day of my life"), and actions, including a meeting with Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the Taliban's spiritual father. At the meeting, Advani declared the peace process "irreversible". Advani was simply charmed out of his wits in Pakistan. As he wrote: "I do feel sentimental while I am in Pakistan... I am somewhat at a loss to articulate the totality of my feelings and thoughts."

One must situate these statements in context. They were not isolated observations, but part of a series of utterances, all in the same spirit - including his explicit rejection of the Akhand Bharat idea and his exultation at being asked to inaugurate the reconstruction of the Katas Raj temples. He told The Hindustan Times: "I realised that this was the first time any Indian leader had been asked to inaugurate [such] reconstruction since 1947." If Pakistan has taken a step towards Jinnah's secularism, "we should acknowledge it". He also added: "Perhaps, I would not have been reminded of Jinnah's historic speech if it was not for what they have decided to do at Katas Raj... "

Several questions arise: What prompted Advani to decide to question an RSS-BJP orthodoxy? Was this part of a larger game plan, not just for a personal image makeover, but a change in the BJP's strategy? Is Advani likely to succeed eventually in imposing his will upon the party in a way that makes it more autonomous of the RSS and its even rowdier cohorts like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)? Was Advani right in his laudatory characterisation of Jinnah as secular, or at least partly, if inconsistently, secular?

Sources "close" to Advani quoted in the media, root Advani's pronouncements in a larger game plan. (The Telegraph, June 8). Advani drew a major lesson from the BJP's rout in the 2004 elections: religio-political mobilisation has reached a plateau; the BJP cannot regain power by relying on that strategy - even if it successfully revives the Ayodhya temple campaign. Growing caste divisions in the Gangetic plain make that impossible.

Advani was also greatly dispirited by the RSS-VHP's constant sniping at him, in particular, Sudarshan's big snub. According to some acolytes, Advani had decided, before he went to Pakistan, to quit as party president, but only after delivering the Jinnah "shock therapy". His utterances in Pakistan articulated this strategy. That is why he took former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's speech-writer Sudheendra Kulkarni along.

What is amazing is not so much Advani's decision to make one last attempt at a strategy change or image makeover, as his choice of a blunt, exhausted, obsolete instrument - Jinnah. This subject does not evoke mass appeal or even widespread academic interest. It is not as if a radical reappraisal of Jinnah - which rescues him for the ignominy heaped upon him in much mainstream nationalist discourse, and is therefore worthy in itelf - will unleash huge amounts of creative energies with an emancipatory potential.

Forget the BJP-RSS, large numbers of secular Indians too take a dim view of Jinnah as the principal protagonist of the Pakistan movement. Advani's choice of the Jinnah theme was maladroit. It belies the claim that he is an extraordinarily shrewd, tactful leader who keeps his finger on the pulse of his own party, if not the people.

It is extremely doubtful if any of the handful of BJP leaders who endorsed Advani's view of Jinnah during his resignation drama did so out of real conviction. Not a single second-generation leader, each mentored by Advani, backed him on Jinnah. If Advani thought he would drive the party towards a new consensus, he was deluding himself. He only created new divisions. Even Yashwant Sinha and Kalyan Singh made bold to oppose him.

Murli Manohar Joshi, long an Advani opponent, threw another spanner in the works. Even the endorsement Advani got from Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh did not deter the RSS from hardening its stand. This highlights Advani's isolation in the party that he, more than anyone else, built. Advani did not evoke logic or facts when demanding endorsement position; he evoked power and loyalty. This speaks poorly of the quality of democracy in the BJP.

Advani has aggravated the ideological and organisational crisis of the Sangh Parivar. As argued in this Column (Frontline, May 6), the RSS and the BJP are locked in a new tussle or conflict which has become the more severe because the BJP has lost power. The BJP faces a tough choice. Some of its leaders say the RSS only contributes 5 to 6 percentage-points of its national vote of 22 per cent or so. A more mainstream "secular" strategy, coupled with competent election micro-management, can obviate the need for RSS support.

But the RSS holds it was critical to the sole instance of expansion of the BJP's support-base after the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign - in the Central Indian tribal belt, comprising the only States where the BJP currently rules. The key to this was the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram's work.

The BJP's dependence on the RSS for ideological guidance and political support, especially through door-to-door canvassing during elections, continues to be high. That is one major reason why the BJP has failed to win autonomy from the RSS. The BJP could try another, more limited, strategy: isolate the VHP, but keep the umbilical cord with the RSS more or less intact while demanding a degree of autonomy. But even here, the RSS holds the trump-card; why should it oblige the BJP unless it controls some senior-level party appointments?

As of now, it is hard to see how the BJP can free itself from the RSS's stranglehold - unless it makes a radical departure from its own past as the political wing of the Sangh, which has been dependent on it in a sui generis manner, unlike any other party. In all probability, the RSS-BJP relationship will continue to be messy and fraught for a period of time - even though Advani is staying on as president.

THERE are few takers outside the Sangh Parivar too for Advani's position on Jinnah, barring mavericks like George Fernandes and Ram Vilas Paswan. And as ideologues, they do not count with the Parivar. This is wholly understandable. It is utterly, disastrously, fallacious to characterise Jinnah as a secular-minded leader on the basis of his August 11, 1947, speech. For one, this speech did not find much acceptance within the ruling Muslim League.

Later, historians like Ayesha Jalal and Akbar S. Ahmed called it a "Magna Carta" or "Gettysburg address". But others like Sharif-ul-Mujahid, director of the Quaid-e-Azam Academy, described it as "a serious lapse... " And for another, Jinnah himself soon changed tack, falling back upon Pakistan's identity as a "state of the Muslims".

More important, the very logic of the Pakistan movement and its 1937-1947 mobilisation strategy negated the prospect of Pakistan's switch to a secular, non-denominational state. Upon Independence, Pakistan, unlike India, opted for separate electorates based on religion. This was considered "natural".

Jinnah was, of course, a man of many parts, a complex personality. He was not a practising Muslim. In personal habits and outlook, he was a modern, highly Westernised person (who proudly owned some 200 Saville Row suits), a brilliant lawyer and Constitutionalist. He had been secretary to Gopal Krishan Gokhale, the great liberal, and admired Dadabhoy Nowroji, Pherozeshah Mehta and other secularists. He married a Westernised Parsee. He was often impatient with Muslims who emphasised their identity. For instance, in the 1920s, he had an encounter with the young Raja of Mahmudabad, who described himself as a "Muslim first". Jinnah admonished him: "My boy, no, you are an Indian first, and then a Muslim."

However, after his return to active politics in the 1930s, Jinnah's conduct was largely determined by issues of minority representation, and eventually, the Pakistan movement. Jinnah's principal project, his greatest mission, was to create Pakistan. It is possible that for Jinnah, the Pakistan demand was originally more of a bargaining counter, not an objective in itself dictated by the 1940 Lahore Resolution or the Two-Nation Theory. But eventually, owing to a number of circumstances, Jinnah succumbed to the Pakistan movement. And that is what matters more than certain personality attributes.

It is important to comprehend secularism as a doctrine or ideology based on the separation of religion and politics. It is not a personality trait. Nobody becomes secular by reciting Urdu couplets, wearing a shervani or throwing iftaar parties. As veteran Communist Jyoti Basu says, he is not interested in Jinnah's "secular" lifestyle, but rather in his instigation of Direct Action in 1946, which led to horrific bloodshed and made Pakistan imminent.

However, Advani seems to have had a larger, more pernicious, purpose in portraying Jinnah the way he did. He "normalised" the use of ethno-religious mobilisation as a valid political strategy even to achieve the goal of creating a state in which all citizens enjoy equal rights. This amounts to sanctifying communalism - at least of one kind. Advani, thus, sought legitimacy for the Parivar's mobilisation around Ayodhya.

Advani's admiration for Jinnah is not difficult to understand. Communalists from different parts of the spectrum often bond together: the Jamaat-i-Islami and the RSS can work jointly against secularists. For long years, the Muslim League and the RSS-Hindu Mahasabha worked separately, but for the same goal - namely, establishing a society in which one group of people would be dominant by virtue of religion. Once it is asserted that Jinnah and Gandhi were more or less equally secular, critical distinctions between secularism and communalism are abolished. You can then equate a giant like Nehru with a political pygmy like Deen Dayal Upadhyay.

Ultimately, Advani had to eat humble pie because he dialled the wrong number as regards Jinnah. His moral-political authority has greatly eroded and is at its nadir. The "compromise" resolution of June 10 says that the BJP rejects the Two-Nation Theory, and that Jinnah led a movement that caused great loss of life to establish a theocratic, non-secular state. The resolution was passed only after it was approved by the RSS. So much for distancing the BJP from the RSS!

One final point. The BJP-RSS have been speaking as if they were the guardians of the freedom movement - when they had no role in it. Advani says he wants "a debate" on Jinnah's role and the Two-Nation Theory. If he is honest about it, he must read about the origins of that Theory. They lie not in Jinnah or Iqbal, but in Hindutva ideologues such as Bhai Parmanand, Lala Lajpat Rai and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Parmanand advocated India's division, with the "territory beyond Sindh" united with Afghanistan and North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) into "a great Musulman Kingdom. The Hindus of the region should come away ... "

Rai posited a "Hindu nation" separate from the Muslim-dominated areas of Punjab and the NWFP. Savarkar elevated this to the level of a theory in his book Hindutva (1923) by distinguishing between Punyabhoo (holy land) and Pitrabhoo (fatherland).

The central question is this: Is the BJP, leave alone the RSS/VHP, prepared to jettison these Hindutva icons and their perniciously sectarian views? The answer is a definite no. The BJP remains mired in crass, crude communalism and rejects genuine pluralism. The real victor in the four-day Advani resignation drama has been the RSS.