Partners' concern

Print edition : July 01, 2005

The smaller constituents of the NDA, such as the Janata Dal (U), are pleased with Advani's statement and have expressed their discomfiture at the hardline response from the Sangh Parivar.

in New Delhi

Janata Dal (U) leader Nitish Kumar, NDA convener George Fernandes, former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and Advani in New Delhi earlier this year.-RAMESH SHARMA

WHILE the events that led to and followed Bharatiya Janata Party president L.K. Advani's resignation hogged the headlines for two days, another politically significant event went largely unnoticed: The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) teetered on the brink of disintegration. It was only the withdrawal of Advani's resignation that prevented its imminent fragmentation.

The Janata Dal (United), the second largest constituent of the NDA, declared that if Advani quit as BJP president in the wake of his statement on Jinnah, the party would no longer have anything to do with the BJP. The Janata Dal (U) was the first to defend Advani after the controversy erupted. Party leader and former Union Minister Nitish Kumar said: "A narrow-minded, hardline view will find no takers in this country. The BJP should understand, adapt and accept what Advaniji said. In case he is forced to quit on this issue, then we will have to reconsider our ties with the BJP that is left. We can have nothing to do with the BJP that is left after Advaniji's resignation, no matter who the successor is. Nobody should have any confusion that we will accept anything." Nitish Kumar added that if Advani left on the issue then the "NDA will disintegrate".

Nitish Kumar, who was the first to issue a statement in defence of Advani, added: "There are limits to which we can go with the BJP. Now is the time when we have to take a firm stand keeping in view our constituency." According to Nitish Kumar, Advani had shown great courage by describing Jinnah as secular and reminding Pakistanis, on their soil, of their leader's concept of Pakistan - a secular and not a theocratic state. "He should have been felicitated for his courage in admitting this, not shown the door. What he was saying is a fact of history. Besides, he was only quoting from Jinnah's speech in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly," he said.

In fact, what was striking was that several NDA leaders were enjoying the goings-on within the BJP. If the BJP broke away from the control of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and charted its own independent course, the other NDA constituents would be freed from allegations of having aligned with a hardline, Hindu fundamentalist party. If not, they would have to leave the NDA.

A senior Janata Dal (U) leader said: "We are relishing what is happening within the BJP. Either way, we will be better off. A BJP minus the RSS will be all the more welcome and if he [Advani] continues despite having created this controversy, then we can safely assume that the BJP will not be cowed down by the RSS. And that is a good development."

It seemed as if the Janata Dal (U) was waiting for the BJP to break free from the RSS. "Why not? Ideologically we have nothing in common with the BJP. Our constituency is different. It is the politics of Bihar which is forcing us to be with BJP," said the Janata Dal (U) leader.

The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which never tires of declaring that it has never been part of the NDA but nevertheless has been an important supporter of the alliance from outside, came out in support of Advani's statement. It hinted that in case Advani quit on the basis of the issue, the party would have to rework its ties with the NDA. Senior TDP leaders told Frontline that notwithstanding their apparent disinterest in the "BJP's internal affairs", they were worried about the outcome of the Advani episode because it appeared that the NDA would disintegrate. "We are a firm anti-Congress party like the BJP. Alhough a regional player, we could play a role in national politics on the anti-Congress plank because the BJP, as leader of the NDA, occupied a major opposition space as another anti-Congress party. If the developments in the BJP led to the disintegration of the NDA, it would have created confusion at the national level. To that extent, we are relieved that the crisis has blown over for now," said a TDP leader.

K. Yerran Naidu, TDP legislature party leader in the Lok Sabha, added: "Advani's resignation or its withdrawal is their [BJP's] internal affair and we are not going to comment on it. If, despite being a regional party we could play national-level politics, it was not because of any other party. And we will continue to play our independent role. So whatever happens in a particular party is not going to affect us. Besides, our support to the NDA was based on issues and the common minimum programme and to that extent whatever happens in the BJP is irrelevant to us." Other senior TDP leaders, however, admitted that the TDP was concerned about the developments in the BJP "because we apprehended the NDA would break up creating a vacuum at the national level".

It is obvious that the ghost of Jinnah cast a long shadow over other NDA partners as well, though they say now that all is well that ends well. The Nationalist Trinamul Congress (NTC) and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which described the political developments as "internal affairs" of the BJP, are glad that the crisis has blown over. The BJD's Prasanna Acharya said Advani's statement was part of an attempt to give the BJP an "image makeover", which backfired. "I don't think it is easy for an individual to dissociate the BJP from the RSS. But our relationship with the BJP is based on the common minimum programme and to that extent we are not affected by whatever happens within the BJP," Acharya said.

Mukul Roy, all-India general secretary of the NTC, which endorsed Advani's statement, said that as long as the common minimum programme was not affected, his party was not concerned with what was going on inside the BJP. "We are part and parcel of the NDA and as long as the binding factor of the CMP is there, we are not going to comment on anything," Roy said.

NOW that Advani has withdrawn his resignation, the immediate threat to the NDA's survival might have dissipated. But a debate has begun whether the alliance can survive as a political entity in the wake of the intra-BJP developments.

The resolution adopted at the BJP Parliamentary Board meeting on June 10 speaks of taking the party back to its "basics". Moreover, it proves that the party is still tied to the RSS' apron strings. The resolution, even as it applauded Advani for the achievements of his Pakistan visit, was unequivocal in condemning Jinnah as the leader of a "communal" movement, the propounder of the two-nation theory which resulted in the division of India.

"There can be no revisiting the reality that Jinnah led a communal agitation to achieve his goal of Pakistan, which devoured thousands of innocent people in its wake, dispossessed millions of their homes and livelihood," the resolution said.

It added: "The BJP reiterates that whatever may have been Jinnah's vision of Pakistan, the state he founded is theocratic and non-secular, the very idea of Hindus and Muslims being two separate nations is repugnant to it. The BJP has always condemned the division of India on communal lines and continues to steadfastly reject the two-nation theory championed by Jinnah and endorsed by British colonialists."

Janata Dal (U) leaders said the resolution took the BJP back to its hardline image. "If this is the line they are going to pursue, then we shall have to review our ties with the BJP," said a senior Janata Dal (U) leader.

Asked if Jinnah was responsible for Partition, party president Sharad Yadav said it was a matter of debate. "We will take this debate to the people now. We will tell them about the factors that led to Jinnah accepting this fateful denouement. As for the BJP, maybe Advaniji will prevail upon the organisation and mould it to his ways. We will wait and watch," said Nitish Kumar.

The Janata Dal (U)'s hope lies in the belief that Advani will, in the days to come, steer the BJP away from the hardline image because he has not retracted a word of what he said in Pakistan. The party hopes that Advani may be just biding his time before he undertakes a complete makeover of the BJP. The NDA may have been saved from disintegration for the time being, but a lot depends on which way the BJP now moves.

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