Divided family

Published : Sep 25, 2009 00:00 IST

in New Delhi

THERE is a tendency to view the current developments in the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] as the result of some new tumult within the organisation. But this is only the intensification of a process that has been going on for at least the past five years. This was the comment made by a senior leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) to Frontline on August 25, after former Union Minister Arun Shourie went hammer and tongs at the BJP leadership in a television interview. Shourie castigated the top leadership, including party president Rajnath Singh, calling him Humpty Dumpty and Alice in Blunderland.

The RSS leader pointed out that the issues raised in the present round of jousting were laid out in concrete terms within the BJP as early as June 2004, immediately after the first Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came to power, inflicting a shock defeat on the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). This was done through a document titled Tasks Ahead: Immediate and Long-Term, which was presented at the national executive of the BJP between June 22 and June 24, 2004, in Mumbai.

The 42-page documents preface said that it formulated the main tasks before the party in fulfilment of its resolve to re-energise itself in a comprehensive manner, in order to be able to successfully deal with both the immediate and long-term challenges before the party. At the outset, it said: Growth is a way of life for any living and mission-driven organisation. In the course of their growth, all such organisations face difficulties and develop shortcomings. Quantitative expansion brings in its wake qualitative deficiencies, which, if unchecked and uncorrected, can hinder further growth and even cause decline. However, an organisation that is aware of its purpose of existence and continually reminds itself of the goal for which it was founded never fails to study these shortcomings and to overcome them by applying necessary correctives. During the period of the partys phenomenal growth since the late 1980s, many shortcomings have surfaced in the organisation. These are inconsistent with our partys ideals and objectives, with our distinctive ideology, and also with our guiding organisational principles and canons.

The document, which was supposed to be a kind of guideline to correct these aberrations, specifically laid down tasks relating to four fronts: ideological, organisational, legislative and governance-related. On ideology, the document stated that the BJP is part of a wider movement guided by the ideology of nationalism and that it should not be defensive or apologetic about projecting a distinctive ideological identity and about its relationship with other nationalist organisations, which obviously meant the RSS and its Parivar (family).

On the organisation, the document listed tasks under 20 specific headings. These emphasised the need for collective leadership, cooperation and communication among top leaders, commitment and accountability to party as opposed to individuals, the need to stem indiscipline and the utmost necessity of developing young leaders through sustained mass and organisational work.

Discussing many of these points at some length, the document openly stated that there had been an erosion of commitment to the principles of collective leadership, cooperation and commitment at various levels of the party. Individualism, lack of consultation and coordination, and absence of camaraderie are taking root, diluting the effectiveness of the partys activities, it said without mincing words. It also stated that the commitment to ideology has to be measured also against the yardstick of behaviour and style of functioning of individual leaders.

It further said that there was a rapidly gathering impression that acts of indiscipline will be condoned and that even serious cases of anti-party activities will be overlooked and that it has done immense damage to the health of our organisation. This segment pointed out that earlier, the common people admired the BJP as a party of disciplined leaders and cadres and this was something that even our ideological and political adversaries admitted. It went on to point out that one of the manifestations of indiscipline is the tendency to use the media to air ones grievances. Wittingly or unwittingly, some people in the party share organisational matters with the media. This causes considerable damage to the partys image and internal cohesion.

If there were no dateline on the document, Tasks Ahead could well have been mistaken as a commentary on the present rumblings in the party. In this context, the assertion of the RSS leader that the present developments marked only an intensification of a process that has been going on for at least the past five years does have merit. But that raises another question. Why has this process intensified now? The senior RSS leader said there were several reasons: To start with, one needs to go with the premise that the formulations done at the June 2004 national executive in terms of rectifying the ideological, political and organisational aberrations were not implemented with any modicum of sincerity or efficiency. One would also have to recognise that the several organisational initiatives taken to carry out this process were not successful at all. This view is shared by a number of Sangh Parivar activists. According to them, one of the most important rectification initiatives in the post-2004 period was the elevation of Rajnath Singh as president of the BJP.

They point out that right from the second year of the NDA regime (1999-2004) under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, significant sections of the RSS top brass realised that both Vajpayee and L.K. Advani were promoting individual commitments within the party at the cost of larger political and ideological interests. And this, in turn, encouraged negative tendencies such as sycophancy, nepotism and corruption and led to the overall degeneration of the party, which were clearly pointed out in the 2004 document.

When Rajnath Singh was made BJP president in December 2005, one of the briefs that the RSS gave him was to implement the Tasks Ahead document truthfully and effectively. This meant putting an end to the drift towards individual commitments as promoted by Vajpayee and Advani. In fact, approximately two months before Rajnath Singhs elevation, Mohan Rao Bhagwat, then RSS saha (deputy) sarsanghchalak, asserted that the role of the BJP leadership was to stop the drift in the party and hasten the pace of reforms. In concrete terms, Advani had become the primary representative of this drift in the post-2004 situation as Vajpayee was indisposed for long periods.

But, five years later, the RSS assessment is that Rajnath Singh has failed in fulfilling the brief given to him. Post-2009 elections, too, the senior RSS leader pointed out to Frontline, the BJP witnessed a strengthening of the individual commitments syndrome despite the electoral reverses. Several appointments made in the party at the national level as well as the refusal of former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje to demit office as Leader of the Opposition were only the manifestations of this trend. And it is in this context that the RSS leadership, particularly sarsanghchalak Mohan Rao Bhagwat, decided to strike decisively.

There is a stream of opinion within the top echelons of the Sangh Parivar that the controversy over Jaswant Singhs book Jinnah: India, Partition and Independence was essentially exploited by the RSS leadership to drive home a strong message on discipline and course correction. Several observers and functionaries of different Sangh Parivar organisations, ranging from the RSS to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), believe that the Arun Shourie outburst against Rajnath Singh was also part of a political scheme that had the blessings of a section of the RSS top brass.

It is notable that while Jaswant Singhs book publishing indiscipline invited summary dismissal from the party, Shouries much televised harangue invited a much milder action in the form of a show-cause notice. Even on August 25, the day after Shouries outburst, some important functionaries at Keshav Kunj, the RSS headquarters in Delhi, told this correspondent that the former Minister and writer was only expressing the concerns shared by many of them.

The following days witnessed a flurry of meetings between the leadership of the RSS and the BJP between former sarsanghchalak K. Sudarshan and Advani, between Bhagwat and Advani, and so on. Leaders of the so-called generation next in the BJP, such as Arun Jaitley, M. Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj and H.N. Ananth Kumar also met the RSS leadership. In the midst of all this, Bhagwat held a press conference asserting that he was convinced that the BJP would rise from the ashes even while reiterating that the RSS does not interfere in BJPs affairs.

The developments in the Sangh Parivar in the following days indicate that the RSS and BJP leaders deliberations have revolved around a succession plan that involves the departure of Advani and Rajnath Singh from their respective offices as Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and party president. While Rajnath Singh would demit office at the end of his term in December 2009, indications are that Advani would have to make an honourable exit earlier. In all probability, it would be around November 9, the leaders birthday. Sushma Swaraj is apparently the frontrunner for the position of the Leader of the Opposition, while there are no clear favourites, at the moment, for the party presidents post. Several names ranging from Arun Jaitley to Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh to Bal Apte an RSS nominee in the BJP are apparently under consideration.

While these changes at the top are certainly bound to take place over the course of the next few months, it is not clear whether the changes will really address the shortcomings listed in the Tasks Ahead document. Even the senior RSS leader who spoke to Frontline in the last week of August admitted that the proposed changes have a conceptual sense of direction, but there is no clarity whether it would actually materialise and take concrete shape.

Central to this doubt is the many mismatches that have come to afflict the Sangh Parivar, the BJP in particular, especially after the six-year stint in power. Those years marked a phase of compromises in the BJP on issues relating to its core Hindutva ideology and political practice, such as the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution and the advocacy of a uniform civil code. These compromises were justified as tactical adjustments necessary to win over secular allies, who were expected to come over to the Sangh Parivar position over a period of time. The six-year stint produced no such change of heart in the BJPs allies. On the contrary, a stream of thought that advocated a substantial toning down of the Hindutva position and conversion of the party into a right-of-centre political outfit on the lines of the Republican Party of India developed among significant sections in the BJP.

Equally damagingly, the years in power stripped a large number of functionaries at different levels of the Sangh Parivar of their moral and political authority. These functionaries became so comfortable with the advantages and benefits of power that many of them quickly imbibed what was lampooned in Sangh Parivar circles as decadent Congress culture. There were leaders who flew in chefs and special dishes from their home States for parties that they hosted in Delhi. A number of RSS leaders are of the view that it is this deprivation of moral and political authority that made the BJP incapable of playing a real Opposition role during the 2004-09 tenure of the UPA.

Would the proposed changes turn around this moral and political deficiency? Would it bring in greater commitment to core ideological issues and greater political clarity? Would the changes make the party a sharper Opposition that takes up the real issues of the people within and outside Parliament? Do the leaders who are expected to take over the party leadership have the attributes to initiate and propel a moral and political agenda?

And above all, what impact would these changes have on the NDA and the secular parties in that combination over the short, medium and long term? These questions reverberate in the minds of the leaders of the Sangh Parivar as also the NDA as the moves to make changes in the BJP continue apace. And at the moment, these questions evoke more silences than affirmative answers.

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