Lessons from history

Print edition : June 18, 2004

For the UPA to succeed in office, good governance must be coupled with an ideological onslaught on Hindutva.

THE United Progressive Alliance (UPA) faces a challenge of which it is, understandably, dimly aware. Voted to power by a verdict none expected, it is beginning to tackle problems that demand immediate attention. The historical perspective seems a luxury; but it is very necessary if the UPA is to discharge the trust the nation has reposed in it. It must not follow the precedent of the Janata Party, which betrayed it when its leaders squabbled, broke up the party in 1979 and paved the way for the return of Indira Gandhi whom the people had voted out of office in 1977. That verdict caused little surprise, so obvious and powerful was the wave of resentment at the Emergency.

This time no such wave was apparent, but the silent majority did not hesitate to speak up when it was asked to give its opinion. Explanations for the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) debacle vary; but one thing is clear - its effort to mould a national ethos that would reflect the ideology of Hindutva has failed miserably. The spirit of Hinduism triumphed over the ideology of Hindutva. The edifice, which its de facto leader L.K. Advani sought to build after Atal Bihari Vajpayee failed to perform as BJP president, has come crashing down. Recall the stages - electoral debacle in 1984; exploitation of the Shah Bano case, the Muslim Women's Bill and the Babri Masjid issue in 1986; the Palampur resolution of 1989 on the Masjid, on the eve of the Lok Sabha polls, which yielded impressive gains; Advani's rath yatra in 1990 and his wrecking of the V.P. Singh government; further gain in 1991; demolition of the Masjid in 1992; and, at long last, capture of power in 1998. People can be aroused to religious frenzy only for a while. In retrospect, both the demolition and the Gujarat pogrom cost the BJP dear. Its dream of emerging as the national party of governance is shattered.

A full documented record of the BJP's misdeeds in power is necessary. Suffice it only to say that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) it drummed up failed to check the BJP. Its convenor George Fernandes belittled the Staines' murders and the Gujarat pogrom. Saffronisation of education was one of the more obvious ventures in Hindutva. Another escaped notice because public uproar stalled it. Advani's Home Ministry wrote a letter to the BJP government in Gujarat on July 13, 1999, permitting recruitment of members of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in State service in breach of the Gujarat Civil Servants Conduct Rules, 1971.

It was a short step to their recruitment at the Centre. That move was stalled. But one could not help asking. "If they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?" (St. Luke; 23:31) Vajpayee said in Ayodhya on February 8, during the election campaign, that he needed "five more years" in order to "fulfil my promise to build the temple". He had said, in New York on September 9, 2000, at a Sangh Parivar meeting, "If the electorate gives us a clear two-thirds majority, we will build the India of our dreams." We have been spared that; but an opportunity might yet come its way if the UPA goes the Janata way.

The Morarji Desai government did not misgovern, but it squabbled in full public view and betrayed its mandate. It reneged on its promises to give autonomy to All India Radio and Doordarshan, thanks to the Information and Broadcasting Minister L.K. Advani; on ensuring public accountability and on much else. The UPA has not begun too well. Reneging on promises to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam was bad enough. Giving Ministerial berths to persons who face prosecutions is condemnable and it is no excuse that Vajpayee publicly, repeatedly condoned this when he was in power. It would be singularly unfortunate if the UPA provides the BJP with the fodder it needs for its survival.

Political decline, if not demise, is the dire prospect, which the BJP faces. It is also the challenge that confronts the UPA. If the Manmohan Singh government performs even moderately well and, more, lasts its full term, the effects on the Sangh Parivar will be tectonic. After a long struggle, first as the Jan Sangh and next as the BJP, the RSS' political arm tasted power. A cruel electorate snatched it from its mouth, leaving it demoralised. The noises we have heard from its usual noisy ones reflect that. But misgovernance will win them public support. Deprived of it, both the BJP and the RSS will collapse. The two elders, especially Vajpayee, have no stomach for another fight. Advani and Vajpayee are the only ones with a mass base. The seconds whom Advani groomed have no such support. They are either operators like Pramod Mahajan or raucous college debators on TV channels like Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj. At odds with one another, they lack the maturity, which enabled Vajpayee and Advani to work together.

The RSS boss K.S. Sudarshan lacks the authority of even Rajendra Singh, let alone Balasaheb Deoras. Adversity will exacerbate differences, especially if the prospect of return recedes from the horizon as the UPA succeeds.

But good governance in the UPA must be coupled with an ideological onslaught on Hindutva and a thorough cleansing of the institutions, which the BJP defiled. Secularism, an integral part of the Gandhi-Nehru ethos, must be practised and advocated vigorously, with none of the compromises of the P.V. Narasimha Rao regime on secularism or on corruption. History will not forgive the UPA if it fails to deliver on its promises and sells the pass to the BJP.

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor