Line of confusion

Print edition : September 11, 2009
in New Delhi

L.K. Advani and Arun Jaitley with Uttarakhand Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal after the Chintan Baithak on August 21.-PTI

IF Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) sarsangachalak Mohan Rao Bhagawat had his way, the Bharatiya Janata Partys (BJP) Chintan Baithak at Shimla would have been a watershed political event that put a decisive end to the political, ideological and organisational aberrations that have come to plague the primary political instrument of the Sangh Parivar. This was the impression that the topmost Sangh Parivar functionary gave many of his senior colleagues from Uttar Pradesh. But, as the proceedings at the three-day conclave came to a close on August 21, the residual feeling among many of these functionaries was that their dynamic leader had made a beginning in terms of course correction but with no clear direction as to how this would be taken forward to its logical conclusion. The situation is still extremely confusing and it is clear that both the party and the RSS will have to tread a fairly long and tortuous path before some concrete and positive results are manifest, a pracharak told Frontline.

The stated purpose of the Chintan Baithak was to analyse the BJPs shocking losses in the April-May Lok Sabha elections and take corrective measures. But the decisive correction of political, ideological and organisational aberrations envisaged by Bhagawat went beyond addressing the electoral debacle. A senior pracharak from Uttar Pradesh told Frontline: He [Bhagawat] has been pointing out since the October 2005 Akhil Bharatiya Karyakari Mandal of the RSS [national executive], held at Chitrakoot in Uttar Pradesh, that the state of affairs in the BJP was asthir [unsettled] and the partys gati [pace] in carrying out ideological and organisational reforms was slow. His own assessment after four years is that there has been no progress on these fronts. Indeed, he believes that things have further deteriorated. Hence, he wanted the BJP leadership to take a comprehensive look at the problems and come up with strict and immediate measures. Clearly, the Chintan Baithak has not undertaken that kind of comprehensive overview of the challenges before the party though one could say a beginning in the fight against aberrations has been made through the summary expulsion of former Union Minister Jaswant Singh.

Jaswant Singh was expelled from the BJPs primary membership on the first day of the conclave after the partys Parliamentary Board unanimously found that his recently published book, Jinnah - India, Partition, Independence, went against the basic tenets of the party.

The senior RSS functionary from Uttar Pradesh as well as scores of others at various levels of the Sangh Parivar in several North Indian States are of the view that there was no way the BJP could have condoned and carried on with a senior leader who was literally running down a historical icon of the Sangh Parivar Sardar Patel and at the same time handling a proclaimed adversary with soft hands. In a sense, the unanimous agreement visible at the level of the BJP Parliamentary Board is reflected here. However, there is also the view among these Hindutva activists that the ideas expressed by Jaswant Singh in his book were symptomatic of the aberration that has crept in at different levels of the party over the past decade and a half. These activists also pointed out that there are many others who have displayed similar and even worse anti-party, anti-ideological characteristics.

Will the action against Jaswant Singh become the starting point of a series of actions against other erring leaders and functionaries? The group of Sangh Parivar functionaries who interacted with Frontline were hopeful but they also agreed that the Chintan Baithak, per se, had shown no signs of such a thing happening. Whether it is fixing responsibility for the electoral debacle and bringing those responsible to book or initiating medium- or long-term measures to rid the party of those spreading ideological confusion, the Chintan Baithak has not come up with any significant political-organisational scheme, said the pracharak from Uttar Pradesh. A top leader of the Janata Dal (United), a long-standing ally of the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), pointed out that the BJP and the Sangh Parivar as a whole had taken the easy way out in terms of sending the course-correction signal. They have struck at the weakest leader among the lot, one without much mass following or organisational skills, he said.

In the run-up to the Chintan Baithak, the BJP set up a committee headed by senior RSS leader Bal Apte and with Chandan Mitra and P. Muralidhar Rao as members to elicit the views of the State units of the party as well as other segments of the Sangh Parivar on the electoral debacle. The committee prepared a note which, though denied by top leaders, including president Rajnath Singh, was circulated as Talking Points at the conclave. This note pointed out that the distractions during the campaign such as the projection of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as a Prime Minister of the future, the personal attack on Manmohan Singh, the several internal squabbles within the party and the controversy over the anti-Muslim remarks of Varun Gandhi negatively impacted the BJP. The note said that these issues took centre stage and pushed out other campaign issues.

These references, clearly, were aimed at Lal Krishna Advani, Arun Jaitley and Modi. The note also held that the perceived lack of unity amongst leaders and the absence of visible enthusiasm and involvement of cadre were other reasons for the failure of the BJP. Other reasons cited in the document include the failure to highlight the record of achievements of States ruled by the NDA, the delay in the candidate selection process and the unsuitability of several candidates for the seats they were fielded, the failure to sew up cogent alliances and maintain a united front, the inability to connect with the youth and, finally, the impact of populist schemes of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) and the waiver of farm loans.

As deliberations progressed at the Chintan Baithak, there were no clear indications that responsibility for the electoral debacle would draw the kind of retribution that Jaswant Singhs book drew.

In fact, the deliberations at the Baithak and developments in its run-up only added credence to Jaswant Singhs own post-expulsion statement that dissidence in the BJP was being addressed selectively.

The conclave gave no indication about action against Vasundhara Raje Scindia, former Chief Minister of Rajasthan, who refused to step down as Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly. The partys central leadership had asked her to step down as it held her responsible for the electoral defeat in Rajasthan. She, however, held on to the post and even paraded legislators who supported her before Rajnath Singh. Clearly, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar leadership use different standards to measure indiscipline.

The senior Sangh Parivar functionaries who interacted with Frontline said that the action against Jaswant Singh was only a beginning and that there was no clear-cut plan for follow-up. There is also the feeling that the imbalance in terms of standards of discipline and consequent punitive action is related to intrigues within the BJP. This assessment is not far off the mark as asserted by a number of other factors relating to the Chintan Baithak. Many senior leaders of the party, including Vasundhara Raje and former Union Ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, were not invited for the conclave.

A section of the Sangh Parivar believes that such omissions and inclusions were carried out with the deliberate intention of limiting the discussions and resolutions at the conclave. It is a well-laid-out power game, where those in office sideline such people who may ask embarrassing questions and pose a threat to the powers that be, a former Union Minister told Frontline.

More importantly, the Chintan Baithak did not succeed in resolving the confusion over the BJPs future political orientation. While Jaswant Singhs expulsion did underline the fact that the RSS would not brook any deviation from Hindutva, the question whether the party would pursue aggressive or soft Hindutva in day-to-day political initiatives was left hanging. By all indications, on this too the leadership was not able to evolve clear guidelines, though it was iterated that Hindutva would remain the partys core philosophy.

So, at the end of it all, there are many Sangh Parivar activists who believe that the Hindutva combine, politically and organisationally, stands where it stood after the 2005 Chitrakoot RSS conclave, if not a little behind.

At that conclave, the RSS decided to use non-BJP Sangh Parivar organisations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) to pressure the BJP into course correction.

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