Hindutva and 'moth-eaten' governance

Print edition : February 13, 1999

As the sordid drama of internal rivalry in the Sangh Parivar unfolds, it should be clear that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee is himself part of the 'farce' he complains about.

IN some ways the Bharatiya Janata Party is like the Bourbons: it forgets nothing, learns nothing. Nearly 20 years after the Janata Party broke up bitterly on the "dual membership" issue, the question of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's relationship with the political party to which most of its members belong has again come to the fore - in as decisive and potentially catastrophical a way as earlier. Madan Lal Khurana's resignation, the most dramatic manifestation of internal rivalry in the Sangh Parivar, is nothing if not a virtual replay of the same moves, with the same inevitability about them. The only difference is that the site now is the party of Hindutva itself, not a conglomeration of different currents as the Janata Party was. The erupting struggle within the Hindutva camp could well mark the beginning of the end of this Government.

This is not because Khurana is a heavyweight or a politician of high national stature. He is essentially a Delhi leader with strong local roots, although he played a crucial role in negotiating the alliance between the BJP and the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Haryana Lok Dal led by Om Prakash Chautala. His potential for creating trouble for the BJP at the national level will remain relatively limited unless the party's top leadership precipitates matters by taking severe disciplinary action against him. What makes his "martyrdom" (as Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee put it) important is the fact that it highlights the serious tensions that have grown within the Sangh Parivar, which have led to the "hollow" and "moth-eaten" governance of which Vajpayee publicly complained on January 31.

The "farce" that Vajpayee talked about is something he himself is very much a part of. Or else he would not have gone on a fast on Martyrs' Day partly to express his helplessness as the head of the government, and partly to protest against the "extreme" elements in the Parivar which are making life miserable for him. On law and order the Vajpayee Government is under pressure from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, which are hell-bent on cleansing the country of the "evil" influences of Christianity. On economic policy, the swadeshi lobby remains recalcitrant. On international issues, the Prime Minister has to fight his friends in the VHP and the RSS who are resisting nuclear restraint and who want India never to be out of the international media headlines on Christian-bashing. On culture, his Government faces the likes of K.N. Govindacharya, who has already declared that India is "geo-culturally" a "Hindu Rashtra" (The Times of India, January 30).

The Government is beleaguered by its own ideological mentors and organisational gatekeepers. And yet, it is hard to sympathise with Vajpayee and Khurana. They still remain committed to the RSS ideology and "the-Sangh-is-my-soul" perspective. As Khurana said in his letter to BJP president Kushabhau Thakre, "I have been associated closely with the Sangh Parivar, Jan Sangh, Janata Party and BJP for the last 54 years. I have spent my childhood and youth for this party with dedication." He has since reiterated his loyalty to the RSS and "the party to which I remain dedicated." Vajpayee too has repeatedly affirmed his faith in the RSS' leadership role. Both of them fail to relate what the RSS and its sister organisations are doing to what they are - formations driven by agendas which they have never condemned, namely, to alter Indian society and politics by violent means to establish the primacy and domination of Hindus as a permanent majority. Both subscribe devotedly to "cultural nationalism" - just as the VHP and the Bajrang Dal do. So it is strange that they should complain about the "excesses" of the Parivar's "fringe".

In reality, those committing the "excesses" do not belong to the "fringe" but to the mainstream of the Parivar - such as Govindacharya, the BJP's ideologue and "social engineering" architect, or L.K. Advani who proudly told the British Broadcasting Corporation that the BJP is a "Hindu party". Vajpayee has often endorsed mainstream Hindutva thinking. For instance, in response to the "Rashtriya Ekatmata Puraskar" (national integration award) conferred on him in 1995, he declared that "national integration is a matter of upbringing, not a subject of awards". This upbringing is, for him, rooted in Hinduism: Hindutva is synonymous with Hinduism, secularism and nationalism.

TRUTH to tell, it is the minority Vajpa-yee faction which is the Parivar's fringe. The RSS has never left any doubt about this reality. To accept its leadership, "guidance", hegemony - call it what you will - is to endorse its core ideology and its basic political project. It also means you buy into the myth that the RSS is only a "cultural", not a political, organisation. But surely, no cultural body anywhere in the world lays down a political party's agenda, its security agenda, the economic agenda, the agenda for women, in the minutest detail. Surely, it cannot decide, as the RSS did last year, that all top State party posts are to be filled only by its full-time pracharaks. Surely, no organisation devoted to culture, however defined, can issue diktats to a government - whether on the issue of patents and insurance, or on relations with neighbours, or on whom to include in the Cabinet.

The RSS claims that it is only a "cultural" organisation simply because this claim allows it to evade all accountability, external or internal. Not being a party, a trade union, or even a non-governmental orga-nisation that must win votes or acceptance from the larger public, it is not answerable, even indirectly or in the long run, to the public. The RSS derives its hegemony from the brain-washed and unswerving loyalty of the swayamsevak-turned-BJP leader: remember Khurana in khaki shorts in 1997 or Kalyan Singh's entire Cabinet paying obeisance to the saffron flag? The RSS' power and authority in the BJP comes prior to such minor details as elections, or the political skills or merit of its nominees. It does not rest on internal democracy. The RSS has the last word in the BJP. It also has the first.

No one in the BJP can question the RSS, or ask why it has never held internal elections, why all its nominations are made from the top and why, almost three-quarters of a century after inception, it still functions like a secret society or clandestine brotherhood although it was unbanned by Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel on condition that it democratise itself. Given its unquestioned hegemonic status, the RSS is naturally laying down the agenda for the BJP. This is wholly unsurprising. What else would it do when the party it dominates is in power after decades of being at the margins of Indian politics, with just five to seven per cent of the vote? Is it not only natural for the RSS to tell the BJP that it has grown to the position and stature it has, primarily because of the Ayodhya mobilisation, which was launched by the RSS-led Parivar as a whole, not exclusively by the BJP?

VAJPAYEE does protest too much. Instead of criticising, and fighting against, the BJP's abject dependence on the RSS, he has set out to characterise Indian democracy itself as "hollow". He said: "The outer shell of democracy is, no doubt, intact but it appears to be moth-eaten from inside." Vajpayee is right when he says "politics is becoming increasingly criminalised", but wrong when he stops short of admitting that Hindutva has given that criminalisation a sharp, vicious edge, and that the BJP, the Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena are India's most criminalised parties. Vajpayee is, again, wrong when he projects the BJP's special internal crisis on to the country's party system as a whole by saying that it is "getting eroded".

What distinguishes Vajpayee from his brothers in the Sangh Parivar is not "liberalism" or "secularism", but that being in power he understands the importance of damage control, and has been practising it, albeit ham-handedly. Ironically, this has in many ways had the opposite effect. Take the Government's recent economic decisions. Its decision to raise the issue prices of rice and wheat through the public distribution system by as much as 30 to 64 per cent at one go and jack up cooking gas cylinder prices by Rs.16 has hit the poor and the lower middle class hard. The partial rollback of food prices has hardly mitigated the effect of the hike. This callous move will cost the BJP many votes. It has deeply antagonised its own allies. But evidently, the BJP, like the Bourbons, has learnt nothing from the onion price disaster and its impact on the Assembly elections last November.

Again, the Government's desperate effort to dress down and somehow reduce the wayward fiscal deficit has only encouraged profligacy in other ways: equity swaps and buyback of shares of public sector companies to mop up Rs.7,500 crores, and misusing the $4.2 billion (Rs.17,600 crores) mobilised through the Resurgent India Bonds - not to build the infrastructure, as promised, but to finance its own deficit. Ironically, this involves investing the money abroad at 5 to 7 per cent interest, while paying out 12 per cent to bond-holders. Economically, this is gross stupidity. Politically, it makes a mockery of the Budget. If decisions on postal rates and food prices are made before the Budget, there is little value left in a fiscal exercise so important to the Westminster system.

Damage control at the international level has involved negotiating security and nuclear matters with the United States, while shouting from the rooftops that these are solely India's sovereign concerns, not "negotiable", not open to explanation - "India," as External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh put it with manufactured bravado, "does not explain." So what were the eight rounds of talks, and frantic missions to France and Britain, all about? The truth is that the Government is compromising with those whom it accused of practising "nuclear apartheid", so that it is allowed to have its "nuclear deterrent" under conditions which essentially perpetuate the existing global nuclear order, not transform it.

The BJP's damage control on conversions has meant either pure tokenism - a judicial inquiry into the barbaric killing of Graham Staines and his two sons - or disinformation and outright denial, namely, the preposterous claim that Dara Singh is not a Bajrang Dal member because there is no Bajrang Dal unit in Keonjhar. But several newspapers have quoted sources from the district confirming Dara Singh's links with the Bajrang Dal. Official first information reports mention him as a "BJP supporter". And who is going to be impressed by the Wadhwa Inquiry Commission? What is needed is not inquiry, but punishment. Clearly, the BJP is being disingenuous, in addition to being disgustingly communal, in the anti-minorities campaign.

No amount of public relations effort at shoring up the BJP-led Government's sinking image is going to change the reality: this is the worst government India has had in 50 years. It is communal, crooked and venal; it lacks in credibility and legitimacy and, worse, is destructive and corrosive of institutions. The kind of damage control it is doing is no better than the Shiv Sena's effort at refurbishing its image in Maharashtra by replacing one non-performer with another. At best, Narayan Rane might gain a little sympathy on account of his quasi-OBC (Kunabi-Maratha) identity, in contrast to Manohar Joshi's Brahmin background. But that will not alter the Sena-BJP's dismal fate. The same seems true of the Central Government's future. Which is just as well. The sooner it goes, the better.

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