Hindutva politics has reached an advanced stage of decay if incidents such as Uma Bharati's revolt and expulsion, the bribery scandal involving some BJP Members of Parliament, and the feud in the Shiv Sena's first family are any indication.VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN in New Delhi
A FEW days before the expulsion of former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharati from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), former Union Law Minister and party spokesperson Arun Jaitley made a statement that should rate high on a scale of political candour. Talking to a group of media persons outside Parliament House, he said the developments relating to Uma Bharati had indeed caused setbacks to the moves of the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to launch a concerted political offensive against the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. "Here we were fresh from the confidence-boosting victory in the Bihar elections and raring to put the government on the mat on the Volcker Committee Report, but Uma Bharati chose that very moment to revolt against the selection of the new Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister. Her actions, driven solely by self-interest, not only work against the larger concerns and initiatives of the party but have brought public focus on our organisational differences," he said.
Jaitley's effort, of course, was to portray the "Uma Bharati imbroglio" as something caused by the former Chief Minister's "self-interest" and lack of appreciation for the "larger concerns and initiatives" of the BJP. But the firebrand sanyasin had her own take on Jaitley's remarks. "Perhaps Jaitley should try and remember," she said, "who overlooked the party's larger concerns and initiatives when I was chosen to lead the Hubli-Jalianwala Bagh Tiranga Yatra last year and how efforts were made blatantly to sabotage the yatra and its message." Uma Bharati did not mince words and added that it was a clutch of BJP leaders, including Jaitley, who had tried systematically to prevent the success of the yatra. "And, they were all driven by self-interest and personal insecurities," she said.
Commenting on this jousting between the two leaders, a senior Hindutva ideologue, who did not wish to be named, told Frontline that this could not be seen merely as a verbal tussle between two politicians who have fallen out with each other. "It is symptomatic," he said, "of a larger malaise that has afflicted not just the BJP, but a number of prominent organisations of the Sangh Parivar, and consequently the practice of Hindutva politics itself."
Both Jaitley and Uma Bharati, the ideologue added, were accusing each other of self-interest and lack of concern for the party's larger goals and, when you take a comprehensive view, both were correct. "Uma Bharati's actions in November-December this year were motivated essentially by self-interest and the ambition to re-occupy the Chief Minister's chair. Similarly, the driving force that brought Jaitley, Pramod Mahajan, Sushma Swaraj and Venkaiah Naidu together to gang up against Uma Bharati and her Tiranaga Yatra in August-September 2004 was self-interest coupled with the urge to prevent her rise to a superior position in the party."
The Hindutva theoretician added that such tendencies dictated by personal ambition and political careerism were on the rise in the BJP for some time, but in the context of Uma Bharati's expulsion they rose to an all-time high. This observation has immense merit because the political and organisational degeneration in the BJP has manifested itself not just in the affairs of the Madhya Pradesh unit of the party or in matters relating to Uma Bharati. Barely a week after Uma Bharati's expulsion, in a shocking incident in the national capital, as many as six Members of Parliament of the BJP were caught on hidden camera accepting bribes to raise questions in Parliament. Those shown on television included senior members such as M.K. Anna Patil and Y.G. Mahajan of Maharashtra as also Pradip Gandhi of Chhattisgarh and Suresh Chandel of Himachal Pradesh. The party suspended all of them.
In Kerala, too, where the BJP organisation is driven almost directly by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the fountainhead of the Sangh Parivar, the party is under the cloud of a major corruption scandal and massive infighting consequent to the scam. The corruption charges are about the trading of votes to ideologically disparate parties such as the Congress, and senior State leaders, including former Union Minister O. Rajagopal, are talking about how large sections of the party indulged in corruption and how sections of the RSS condoned it (see separate story).
The theoretician's point has been accentuated by the developments in Maharashtra, too, where the Bal Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, which belongs to the Hindutva ideological brotherhood though not technically a part of the Sangh Parivar, is going through extreme organisational turmoil, caused by the tussle for organisational and political power between two younger-generation leaders, Udhav Thackeray and Raj Thackeray (see separate story).
Talking to Frontline, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the ideological sword-arm of the Sangh Parivar, said all these developments highlighted the point that the Hindutva-oriented political outfits, which were once called cadre-based, ideologically motivated "parties with a difference", no longer had such lofty characteristics.
In Giriraj Kishore's view, the developments relating to Uma Bharati as well as those in Maharashtra and Kerala have even brought down the sense of elation of Sangh Parivar and NDA activists on account of the Bihar victory. "It is as though the BJP has worked the victory celebrations into such tumultuous levels that it has descended to a chaotic gloom." Echoing Jaitley, the VHP leader said the prevailing climate in the BJP and the larger Hindutva parties would militate against fresh and creative moves in terms of practical politics and ideological initiatives.
Though the leadership of the RSS has refused to get into a debate on Uma Bharati's expulsion or the situation in Kerala, it is no secret in the Sangh Parivar that the RSS is constantly monitoring all these developments. In fact, the RSS had, as early as July last year, warned the BJP against the trends that led to the latest developments.
At its Chintan Baithak (brainstorming session) held in Goa from July 29 to August 1 last year, the RSS had pointed out that the primary cause of the BJP's shock defeat in the Lok Sabha elections was the mistakes of the party and its leadership, which manifested themselves as neglect of the Hindutva ideology and the interests of the party's social base. It was pointed out at the Baithak that during the six years of NDA rule, several senior BJP leaders had got so attached to the trappings of power that they were ready to give up Hindutva completely. The Baithak concluded that the aberrations in the lifestyles of many of them pointed to gross corruption and ideological compromises.
Ironically, Uma Bharati's Tiranga Yatra was conceived as a major agit-prop instrument to correct these tendencies and bring the BJP back to the path of ideological commitment. The RSS leadership had blessed it and had seen it as an important initiative that could take the BJP and the Sangh Parivar out of the political, ideological and organisational morass they had got into after the shock defeat in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. The context of launching the yatra, the ideas propounded in it, as well as its leadership were all rated as ideal tools to restructure and repackage Hindutva.
The yatra was launched after Uma Bharati resigned as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh in the wake of being charge-sheeted in a 10-year-old rioting case in Hubli, Karnataka. That the riot case related to attempts to unfurl the national flag in a communally sensitive area in Hubli, the RSS opined, imparted both nationalistic and Hindutva dimensions to the yatra. At the campaign level, this assessment manifested itself as expressions against the "foreigner leadership of the UPA and the Congress" which is targeting a "nationalist" like Uma Bharati.
Equally important, Uma Bharati belongs to the Other Backward Classes (OBC) Lodh community, and this too was rated as a factor that would help the BJP's renewed and repackaged promotion of Hindutva, especially in the northern States, where OBC assertion was a dominant phenomenon. In the background of these perceptions about the Tiranga Yatra, sections of the RSS and the Sangh Parivar had talked about grooming and, in some fora, even projecting Uma Bharati as the most important icon of the BJP after the big two, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani.
But this very projection of Uma Bharati and the "corrective measures" launched as part of the yatra led by her produced results that were contrary to what the RSS had hoped for. In fact, it worsened the intrigues in the party.
Even as the yatra was launched, other second-generation leaders such as Mahajan, Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and M. Venkaiah Naidu were devising plans to play it down. Sushma Swaraj went on a much-publicised `Andaman Satyagraha' taking scores of MPs to the precincts of the Cellular Jail in Port Blair, apparently to protest the belittling of "Veer" Savarkar by the UPA government. Uma Bharati was upset with this programme as she saw it as an attempt to deflect attention from the yatra.
Mahajan, on his part, routed the Maharashtra segment of the Tiranga Yatra through remote areas with the muted argument that too much of Hindutva propaganda would be counter-productive in the (then) impending Assembly elections in the State. He even addressed a press conference in New Delhi during this period, deriding the yatra as one without much consequence or national importance. Clearly, the new icon was being trashed thoroughly and sidelined by fellow leaders of the BJP.
Uma Bharati did see through these games but was not able to counter this with political tact or shrewdness. Given to wild mood swings and intemperate behaviour, she complained, rather publicly and crudely, to the top leadership of the RSS and the BJP against those who had connived against her, and sought retribution. When these pleas did not produce the results that she wanted, her frustration became more obvious and her passionate outbursts more frequent. So much so, that Uma Bharati even got into an open spat with Advani in front of television cameras. She was once shown the way out of the party for this, but was allowed to come back primarily on account of the mass following she has as an OBC leader.
But, that return was followed by organisational machinations, both by Uma Bharati, to reoccupy the Chief Minister's position in Madhya Pradesh, and by her detractors, to prevent her from getting any primacy in the affairs of the party or the State government. These machinations have manifested themselves in various forms during the past one year. In the process, even those sections of the RSS and the rest of the Sangh Parivar that had supported her projection as the third important leader of the BJP distanced themselves from the tempestuous sanyasin. By the third week of October, this departure of RSS supporters from Uma Bharati's side was complete and the RSS national executive meeting at Chitrakoot indicated that the RSS had no soft corner for her. Her expulsion from the BJP was the culmination of all these developments.
After her expulsion, Uma Bharati has raised new challenges to her detractors in the BJP and the rest of the Sangh Parivar. She has characterised the action against her as a reflection of the gender and caste biases that exist in the higher echelons of the BJP and other Parivar outfits. She also started a "Ram-Roti Yatra" from Bhopal to Ayodhya to highlight her positions.
Significantly, none of the senior OBC leaders of the BJP, including former Uttar Pradesh unit Chief Minister Kalyan Singh and former State party president Vinay Katiyar, have publicly opposed Uma Bharati's line. When contacted by Frontline, both leaders maintained that they would not say anything about the expulsion or the events that had preceded and followed it. Equally significantly, the VHP has stated that it will support Uma Bharati in the yatra and after that if she is really committed to Hindutva.
In the meantime, the Uttar Pradesh unit of the BJP has launched a Hindutva agitation of sorts in eastern Uttar Pradesh, based on the protest agitation against the killing of Krishnanand Rai, a BJP member of the State Assembly (see separate story). Leaders such as Advani and Vajpayee have associated themselves with the agitation. Yet, the movement has not acquired credibility or momentum even among supporters of the Hindutva ideology, essentially because Rai was known to be associated with mafia groups and his killing is widely perceived to be the result of a gang rivalry.
Sections of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, including leaders such as Jaitley, are trying to depict Uma Bharati's expulsion as the beginning of a real corrective process in the organisation. This projection, however, is viewed by large segments of the Hindutva combine as simplistic. As pointed out by the Hindutva ideologue, the expulsion of one leader or the promotion of another is not going to reverse the basic alterations that have taken place in the organisational systems and ideological moorings of the Hindutva cadre across the country. "It would take detailed planning and operation all over India for the kind of change that is required," he said. He was not aware whether the RSS and the rest of the Sangh Parivar have launched any move in that direction.
According to K.N. Govindacharya, one of the top RSS and BJP intellectuals who were active during the 1980s and 1990s, and who is credited with having coined the BJP's "social engineering" strategies, told Frontline that the Sangh Parivar as a whole, and the RSS in particular, was aware of the need to adapt the Hindutva ideology to the changing times. Govindacharya himself was on a long "ideology" study leave until recently.
Apparently, he has been working on new concepts that focus on an economic policy initiative for the Sangh Parivar. The concept, Govindacharya says, squarely rejects the economic policy practised by NDA regimes under the leadership of Vajpayee and Advani. "In a sense," Govindacharya says, "a large number of party legislators took the path of corruption when they realised that our economic policy was no different from that of the apologists of liberalisation like the Congress."
Obviously, such a realisation diluted the adherence to other concepts of the party, too, and finally even to the circumvention of the core Hindutva ideology. The RSS and the rest of the Sangh Parivar have been grappling with this organisational reality for the past one year and all attempts at a revival are impeded by the continuing absence of an alternative economic policy and the steadily decreasing mass appeal of the communal `Hindutva' politics. Given this background, the churning and turmoil in the Sangh Parivar and the parties of Hindutva is bound to be a long-drawn-out and possibly tortuous process.