A party in panic

Published : Jun 23, 2001 00:00 IST

The coming elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, and worries on other fronts, haunt the BJP and the rest of the Sangh Parivar.

"BJP ghabra gai hain" (The BJP is in a state of panic). Accurate as is this description of the Bharatiya Janata Party's plight after the round of Assembly elections on May 10, its very utterance can only aggravate the panic. For it came from a source that mattered - the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's chief, Vishnu Hari Dalmia. For good measure, he expressed the fear that the BJP may not win the next elections, especially in Uttar Pradesh, if it continued with its current political agenda. It can remain a major player in Indian politics only if it continues to identify with Hindus. "But they are digging their own grave" (The Asian Age, May 20, 2001).

The prediction is as accurate as the description, though not for the reasons Dalmia imagines. The BJP could flourish only as a party of governance, based on a national consensus and responsive to the interests of all who comprise India's richly diverse plural society. It is doomed to disaster if it functions as a communal party, whether honestly treasuring its communal ideology or, as it has been doing particularly since 1996, dishonestly under a "nationalist" garb. Ideological purity - especially of so poisonous an "ideology" as the Sangh Parivar's - will shrink its popular appeal. But so will its practice of deception. How often and for how long can the Ram temple issue be used for electoral ends and discarded in order to form a coalition?

The BJP is in dire and desperate straits today. It is shorn of shine and sheen on every count on which it had claimed to be a party with a difference. The Tehelka disclosures on March 13, 2001, ripped off all the pretences. On June 7, a meeting of the Council of Ministers of Uttar Pradesh at the residence of Chief Minister Rajnath Singh "turned into a virtual free-for-all with Ministers unabashedly levelling charges of corruption and bias against each other, even giving a casteist colour to the entire show," The Asian Age reported on June 9. State BJP president Kalraj Misra said he had left Rs.320 crores for road construction when he quit as Public Works Department (PWD) Minister last year. He was surprised that only Rs.60 crores remained in the fund though no major road building activity was visible. The senior BJP Minister Om Prakash Singh, who holds the PWD, Irrigation and Higher Education portfolios, could not have been pleased to hear this.

Kalyan Singh's expulsion from the BJP could be dismissed as good riddance. But in Gujarat, Shankarsinh Vaghela, expelled in 1996 and now in the Congress(I), is a force to be reckoned with, especially since Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel has compounded brazenly communal policies with administrative lapses.

Power cements a fragile coalition; but it also makes it susceptible to pressure and even blackmail from every ally. The gravest threat to the BJP, however, is posed by the Sangh Parivar, which insistently demands that it deliver on its promises to the Parivar, on whose shoulders it rode to power. Very many of its outfits are busy making hay in the sunshine of power. A report in Outlook (May 14) cited details of their recent financial prosperity thanks to government funding. But they insist on the fulfilment of the agenda of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

THE coming elections to the U.P. Assembly haunt the BJP and the RSS. The State last went to the polls in October 1996 and returned a hung Assembly. President's Rule was imposed on October 17. The BJP entered into a power-sharing arrangement with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), with the chief ministership rotating every six months. Mayawati was sworn in Chief Minister on March 21, 1997. The Assembly first met on April 21, 1997. Meanwhile, on December 19, 1996, the Allahabad High Court had censured Governor Romesh Bhandari for not having made any effort to explore possibilities of forming a government all those five months.

The Election Commission cannot be blamed if it decides to play safe, avoiding any constitutional wrangle, by reckoning the Assembly's term of five years from April 21, 1997 when it ceases to exist unless dissolved earlier (Article 172 (1) of the Constitution). However, a proviso to Section 15 (2) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 empowers the Commission to hold elections to an Assembly any time within "six months prior to the date on which the duration of the Assembly would expire", under Article 172 (1). It can hold elections to the U.P. Assembly in December this year. It should seriously consider this course since the Sangh Parivar has given ample notice that the Ayodhya issue would be raked up around April 2002 to coincide with the Assembly polls.

On January 14, 2001, Kalraj Misra told reporters in Lucknow that the Ayodhya issue was very much on the agenda of the National Democratic Alliance, and the temple, for all practical purposes, already exists at the disputed site (The Asian Age, January 15).

On January 10, the VHP granted the BJP governments at the Centre and in U.P. its much heralded reprieve - the construction of the Ram temple had been put off until 2002. The Times of India reported (January 11) that "according to reliable sources in the Sangh Parivar, the decision was endorsed by a top-level meeting at the RSS headquarters on Tuesday (January 9). The meeting, in which RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan, VHP vice-president Acharya Giriraj Kishore and BJP senior leader (K.N.) Govindacharya participated, took stock of the situation."

Initially they were in "no mood for any compromise". The government at the Centre, even if it survives, is of no help in building the temple. "Instead, it would be worth the gamble to seek a mandate on the temple issue after creating a conducive atmosphere in much the same way as L.K. Advani's rath yatra had in 1990...

"BJP leaders are hopeful that if they are once again able to touch Hindus on the emotive issue, they can reap rich political dividends and win the elections on their own" without the allies. "The issue may also see the party through in the coming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh" (emphasis added, throughout).

Two ploys were devised - demand for the land surrounding the site of the Babri Masjid which is in the government's possession and which the RSS claims is "undisputed" and a campaign phased and timed for the U.P. polls next April.

On January 19 in Allahabad, an ultimatum was issued to the Centre to hand over 42 acres (17 hectares) of land to the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust by Mahashivratri next year (March 12, 2002). It had been acquired by the Centre in January 1993 after the demolition of the Babri mosque. That was the resolve of the ninth Dharam Sansad at Kumbhnagar, Allahabad, organised by the VHP.

Soon thereafter, the VHP's militant arm, the Bajrang Dal's convener Surendra Jain announced its decision to recruit 30 lakh youths over the next few months; to give martial arts training to 10 lakh people and arm three lakh volunteers with trishuls; "all in the name of awakening the people on the Ram temple issue" (The Hindu, January 26).

Sure enough, on February 24 a 12-member VHP delegation led by Dalmia called on Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee: "We demanded immediate return of the 67 (sic.) acres acquired by the government around the disputed site to enable us to build the four 'gopur dwar' (gateways) and removal of all legal obstacles in the path of the temple's construction by next 'Mahashivratri' as decided by the Dharam Sansad in Allahabad last month." One of the members revealed that the Prime Minister gave no assurance (The Hindu, February 25).

The very day, February 24, BJP president Bangaru Laxman said that the BJP had not given up the Ram temple issue and the other two contentious ones (Article 370 and a uniform civil code). "They are still in our policy documents." The RSS' Pratinidhi Sabha (National Council) picked up the refrain on March 16. Emboldened by the Tehelka disclosures, it widened its attack on the Vajpayee government on many counts.

The party's ideologue of old, Jay Dubashi, revealed in detail how he had repeatedly warned Advani and others against compromising on Hindutva and Swadeshi, "the two planks on which the party stands and which have brought it to its present status" (The Times of India, March 22, 2001).

On March 23, the VHP revealed details of its proposed campaign. It would begin on September 16 to "reach a crescendo in February-March next year... The sants will begin their yatra from Ayodhya on February 12" and will end in Delhi after touring various parts of the country.

While the RSS mouthpiece Panchjanya (April 3) launched an attack on the party ("Where is the BJP heading?"), the VHP's working president Ashok Singhal said on April 22: "If the BJP does not improve its style of functioning, we will eat up the BJP." The Swadeshi Jagran Manch demanded to know (May 13) why the BJP government had granted a counter-guarantee to Enron in 1996 - when it knew it would not survive. To this day, no explanation is forthcoming.

The Prime Minister could hardly ignore this unprecedented "restiveness", to put it mildly. He hosted a lunch on May 6 for three senior RSS functionaries - H.V. Seshadri, Madan Devi Das and M.G. Vaidya. RSS boss K.S. Sudarshan was out of town. It was an attempt by the Prime Minister "to make his peace" with the RSS (The Hindu, May 13).

GIVEN the background, it can only be an uneasy peace at best. For, the dilemmas confronting each side are acute. The BJP fancied itself on cloud nine a decade ago and thought it would emerge as "the national alternative" on the strength of its own agenda. The demolition of the Babri Mosque and the 1993 Assembly elections, in which it lost in U.P., Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, gave it a jolt. By 1996 it realised it had reached a plateau. Alliances were necessary. But alliances are not bought on the cheap or on one's own terms.

More to the point, the country will not stand for the kind of ideology the Sangh Parivar preaches. None saw this more clearly than did Advani and Vajpayee after they left the Janata Party in April 1980.

In an interview to Panchjanya (Deepavali 1980 issue), Advani disagreed with the view that the BJP would die because it had no clear ideology.

"Advani: No. I do not agree with it, for in India, a party based on ideology can at the most come to power in a small area, it cannot win the confidence of the entire country - neither the Communist Party nor the Jan Sangh in its original form.

Panchjanya: But by ignoring the ideological appeal will you be able to keep together the cadres on the basis of these ideals?

Advani: Effort is being made to make them understand. That is why I want the debate to go on in this contest. Some people have criticised me although even during the Jan Sangh days I used to advocate these ideas. I have already said that the Jan Sangh was initially built as a party based on ideology but slowly it departed from that course.

Panchjanya: However, despite its ideological anchorage, the Jan Sangh's appeal was steadily increasing.

Advani: The appeal increased to the extent the ideology got diluted. Wherever the ideology was strong, its appeal diminished."

In the late 1980s, Advani began to project himself as one ideologically pure and alone. He said on September 24, 1990 on the eve of the Somnath-Ayodhya rath yatra: "Ideologically, I am ranged against all political parties because of this issue. All political parties think alike." The issue was clearly defined. It was not the Ram Janmabhoomi issue alone. It was a "crusade in defence of Hindutva and a crusade against pseudo-secularism".

Ironically, it was Vajpayee who had warned against precisely such a course when Indira Gandhi set about wooing the Hindu vote in 1984. In a cri de coeur Vajpayee told The New York Times (June 14, 1984), shortly after Operation Bluestar: "Mrs. Gandhi is playing a very dangerous game. The long-term interests of the country are being sacrificed to short-term gains. But encouraging Hindu chauvinism is not going to pay. As the majority community, Hindus must be above parochial politics."

Having won power by encouraging the dark forces of the Sangh Parivar, the BJP's leaders find themselves hoist on their own petard. Internationally, India's reputation suffers. "This development might appear startling to those who are vaguely aware of India's contemporary emergence as an international force in hi-tech industries such as software and pharmaceuticals, but then some people may not know of the growing power of irrationalism in India. The over-arching fact is that India, the biggest democracy in the world, is to an extent governed by an obscurantist organisation that has never been elected to anything. That organisation is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh" (David Gardner in The Spectator). This view is widely shared abroad as it is in India. In the final analysis, it is the RSS that calls the shots, not the BJP.

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