'BJP is back to mobilising its core constituency'

Print edition : December 23, 2001

In the assessment of Prakash Karat, a member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the BJP is seeking to undertake a fresh round of communal mobilisation following a growing erosion of its support base. Excerpts from an in terview he gave V. Sridhar in Chennai:

K. GAJENDRAN

There is a view that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, widely portrayed as a moderate, has now adopted a hardline position. Your comments.

I do not think that there should be any cause for surprise because Vajpayee has played a specific role within the BJP pantheon. It suits the RSS' overall game plan to have different people playing different roles at various points of time. Vajpayee has n ever hidden his faith and affiliation to the RSS. A few months ago, in New York, he swore allegiance to the group saying he is a Swayamsevak for life.

The BJP has, under the directions of the RSS, decided to re-assert its agenda, which, of course, includes the building of the temple at Ayodhya. There are two major reasons for this. One, the RSS-BJP combine is worried about the growing erosion of its su pport base. The results of the recent local bodies elections in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat and other developments are indications that this is happening. The combine is getting back to its core agenda to rally the faithful.

Secondly, discontent is mounting against the government's policies, particularly the economic policies. The Sangh Parivar reckons that hard line positions on the core agenda of not only building the Ram temple but also in terms of attacks on minority com munities would be a good counter-strategy to compensate for the loss of support from both within and without its core constituency. It feels that this will help divert attention from the main issues affecting farmers and other sections in both rural and urban areas.

Vajpayee's shift in stand is not spontaneous. It has been well thought out and taken after due consideration. The BJP-led government also knows that there is growing mass discontent, especially with the WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules being given ef fect. Large sections of farmers, traders and small businesses, which have provided the traditional mass base for the BJP, are agitated. The removal of import restrictions have affected the small scale industries, another traditional support base of the B JP. The Sangh Parivar believes that communal polarisation is called for in this situation.

The main issue in the recent developments relates to the continuance of the three Ministers (L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti). If Vajpayee had appeared soft at this stage there would have been further discontent in the Sangh Parivar. Afte r all, the Ram Janmabhoomi issue has been central to the political mobilisation of the BJP. This was symbolised by Advani and his Rath Yatra (in 1990). Vajpayee's message is quite clear: that they stand together and all the various shades of opinion with in the Parivar are irrelevant.

What are your observations on the status of the Liberhan Commission of Inquiry and the Ayodhya prosecution?

The Home Minister, in particular, faces court cases, which are based on a charge-sheet filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The CBI is law enforcement agency and Advani is the Home Minister. How can anyone expect the CBI to proceed against the H ome Minister? This is an anomalous position. The Vajpayee government evades this issue totally. The Home Minister is in the dock and the CBI is the prosecutor; the CBI is accountable to the Home Ministry and the PMO (Prime Minister's Office) has dual res ponsibility. This is at the heart of the issue.

The BJP is trying to obfuscate the issue. Earlier, its president Bangaru Laxman said: 'let the charges be framed, then we will see.' But the legal position is that the CBI charges were framed on September 9, 1997 by an Additional Sessions Judge in Luckno w.

It is not a normal case. It is a very significant case in post-Independence history. The demolition of the Babri Masjid was an assault on secularism and the Constitution. And the person holding the office of the Union Home Minister is in the dock. The ca se has gone through the whole judicial process to result in the framing of charges. This is the issue that is not being answered by the BJP. Vajpayee's statement was made in defence of the three Ministers. These issues will not disappear whatever happens in Parliament. By defending his colleagues and by saying that there is nothing wrong with the movement that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Vajpayee has compromised his position.

Will the BJP stand by the Prime Minister's assurance that it would abide by a court verdict?

The joint statement issued after the NDA meeting before the debate in Parliament stated that the coalition would abide by the Supreme Court verdict. This is factually incorrect. The Supreme Court is not dealing with the case, it is seized of the matter. The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court is dealing with the case because it is a title deed case. To say that the NDA will abide by the Supreme Court's ruling is meaningless. Vajpayee has also said that he would prefer the Muslims to hand over the site for the construction of the temple. He is only repeating what he said before the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

His statement has also come at a time when pillars and idols for the temple are being made at workshops in Ayodhya and Jaipur. Construction is proceeding as a parallel process, even as the case is in court. While the government has taken the formal posit ion that it will abide by the court's verdict, other wings of the Sangh Parivar say that they will not be bound by any court decision. The VHP plans to announce a timetable for the construction of the temple at its Dharam Sansad in January. This is the t ypical tactics of the Sangh Parivar: legal and formal positions are taken by one wing, while the work of actually subverting the rule of law is done by another.

How is the Ayodhya issue related to the forthcoming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh?

The U.P. elections are probably a year away. There is a temptation for the Sangh Parivar to once again use the temple issue as a means of mobilisation. Among the range of measures they would like to put in place in U.P. could be those aimed at raising th e communal temperature. There have already been incidents at Rae Bareli, a few days after the Prime Minister made his remarks. It is possible for the BJP to do this with the help of the VHP and other affiliates without being involved directly.

What are the contradictions within the NDA?

The allies have adopted a curious position. Some of them, the TDP and the Trinamul Congress for instance, have said that they do not share Vajpayee's views. But in a joint statement they expressed solidarity with the him. The NDA partners have surrendere d tamely.

The allies' compulsion to take into account the sentiments of their individual base is what causes them to play-act. As far as the Ayodhya issue is concerned, although the NDA partners have not been able to put their foot down and break ranks with the BJ P, there are symptoms of the unravelling of the coalition. Why? The BJP has decided to stick to its agenda. Its earlier sweet talk about putting contentious issues aside is no longer true.

The BJP is now saying that it is putting aside the earlier consensus and addressing its own agenda for its own political future. Soon, there will be pressure on the allies to do the same. Mamata Banerjee is essentially doing that; she needs to demarcate herself from the BJP in West Bengal. The calculations of these allies will be based, not on any principles or ideologies, but on their own interest to be in power.

What is the Left's strategy in the face of the recent developments?

Inside Parliament, we have worked hard to keep the focus on the issue of the resignation of the three Ministers. Our role has been to see that all secular opposition parties are together. By and large we have succeeded in both Houses. We are conscious th at renewed emphasis on communal issues will lead to wider unity. From our side, we are trying to rally the non-Congress and non-BJP parties. We are also cooperating with the Congress on such issues.

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