At the Lucknow conclave, the BJP comes up with the most concrete Hindutva formulation of recent times.
"TIME was when national-level meetings were vibrant elevating experiences that gave a fresh political slogan, a reinforced ideological direction and a new organisational verve to the party. All those seem to be things of the past as leaders treat national conclaves as barats [marriage parties] or jamborees or venues to engage in carping competitions." That was a senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader from Bihar commenting on the recent meetings of the party's National Executive and National Council held in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.
As a veteran of several conclaves of Hindutva's political arm right from the days of its precursor, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS), his comparison of party meetings to barats had a special significance, post-Lucknow. He was undoubtedly referring to the statement of Rajnath Singh, who was re-elected party president, calling the conclave "a gathering of baratis [members of a bridegroom's party] from all over the country, who are all set to begin a new journey to win the bride [seat of power] in Delhi".
The Bihar leader said the degeneration of the BJP conclaves and the distortion of "Hindutva" was striking. "V.D. Savarkar's conception of the political weapon of Hindutva was as one that would reorient the utterly inward-looking philosophy and practice of Hindus into one that would not only look inside but also go out and conquer." But BJP leaders are now so "inward-looking" that they even convert an external battle for political power into an exercise in inner-party bickering, he observed.
Obviously, the reference was to Rajnath Singh's statement, calling on the delegates to decide whether he would be the bridegroom (prime ministerial candidate) in the barati procession or not. "Here we were talking about devising plans to corner adversaries such as the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and oust them from power, but the leader was worried whether he would be the bridegroom or not." He said he was highlighting this point not to project the negative individual trait of any particular leader, but to indicate a general lack of commitment and application in the party to larger issues and concerns. "A different subculture has permeated the party over the past decade and the principal feature of it is the desire somehow to acquire positions of power."
A senior functionary of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the fountainhead of all Hindutva forces in the Sangh Parivar, agreed with the Bihar leader and opined that when Rajnath Singh was elevated to the position of party president in 2005, one of the targets of the RSS was to check this power-mongering subculture. But the trend was so widespread and deep-seated that it has sucked in everybody. The RSS leader was of the view that some comments made by former BJP president and Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani in a television interview, which was aired a few days before the Lucknow meet, accentuated the power-mongering climate within the party. This, he concluded, may have forced Rajnath Singh to wonder if he would be the chosen "bridegroom" for the 2009 elections.
Making no secret of his feelings, Advani said in the televised interview that in the British system of parliamentary democracy the Leader of the Opposition was naturally the Prime Minister-in-waiting, but he did not expect former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to propose his name. Advani also said that after being removed as party president last December (following the Jinnah controversy), he was more of a consultant in party affairs. "When leaders with so much experience make statements that can be interpreted differently and can become controversial, the party president has the duty to clear the air and underline his superiority," the RSS leader said.
Although not stated expressly, it was clear from his comments that the grace period accorded by the RSS to Rajnath Singh was not over. Rajnath Singh made a midterm takeover from Advani, and the Lucknow conclave was where he finally got the formal approval from the BJP's highest organisational fora for a full three-year term.
By all indications, the RSS assessment of his one-year interim term was not unfavourable. The BJP was able to gain power in the North Indian States of Bihar and Jharkhand in the company of its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners. The party organisation was showing some signs of improvement in Uttar Pradesh. Although the BJP later lost power in Jharkhand on account of problems within the ruling coalition, the RSS assessment did not hold Rajnath Singh responsible for the setback. It was of the view that the collapse of the Jharkhand government was due to "natural and unmanageable pressures within a coalition Ministry".
In the words of the U.P.-based senior RSS functionary, Rajnath Singh realises that he neither possesses the charisma of Advani or Vajpayee nor the ability to reach out to the mass of people at the national level. "Hence, Rajnath Singh has been concentrating his energies on building up the organisation right from the lowest levels, and the RSS is of the view that this will help the party in the long and medium term if not in the short term." Wiping out the vestiges of Advani's influence in the BJP, in the RSS' evaluation, will continue to be one of the central tasks of Rajnath Singh.
The Lucknow conference gave enough indications about this agenda of the RSS. Although both Vajpayee and Advani were treated with the same respect, it was clear that the presence of Vajpayee had a greater impact. The ovation that he received was in stark contrast to the lukewarm response to Advani's speech. Rajnath Singh himself made repeated references to the guidance provided by "national hero" Vajpayee. Advani's contributions were acknowledged with no such sobriquets. He made a veiled reference to Advani's prime ministerial claims, saying his "party colleagues could risk losing their positions if they were not humble and disciplined". Posts have to be accepted as responsibilities and not as positions of pride, he said. Coming as it did at the party conference, the remark naturally had an impact on the ultimate result of the deliberations.
Several BJP leaders are of the view that Advani knew a slight was in store for him at the conclave. They believe that his controversial comments in the run-up to the Lucknow meet were essentially aimed at depriving Rajnath Singh of any sheen that he may acquire by holding the National Council in his home State. The fact that the BJP made significant gains in the recent mayoral elections in the State would have added to Rajnath Singh's glorification at the conference.
"The controversy wittingly or unwittingly created by Advani, however, served to detract from Rajnath Singh's overall impact at the conference," a State leader said. All these power games did not fundamentally alter the political agenda of the conference. Right from its October 2005 Akhil Bharatiya Karyakari Mandal meet at Chitrakoot, the RSS top brass has been pressurising the BJP leadership to push a more aggressive Hindutva line. The removal of Advani from the position of party president and other organisational manoeuvres executed later followed this line. The Lucknow conference persisted with this line and, perhaps, came up with the most concrete Hindutva formulation of recent times.
The focus was more on the "minority appeasement" policies of the Congress and the Left parties while core Hindutva issues such as the Ramjanmabhoomi imbroglio were referred to as major rallying points. In a specific statement, which was high on political rhetoric, Rajnath Singh asked the people to "give the BJP 10 years [in power]", and said that "by 2016 we'll do away with this policy of appeasement of Muslims forever". Former U.P. Chief Minister Kalyan Singh called upon the party cadre to advance a "prakhar Hindutva" (aggressive Hindutva). Rajnath Singh's attempt was to link all development and economy issues.
The resolution passed at the end of the conclave said that the appeasement policies of the UPA were divisive in nature and aimed at vote bank politics. The effort to grant reservation based on religion in Andhra Pradesh, the reintroduction of the provisions of the quashed Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunals Act, the exemption of minority educational institutions from the ambit of reservation for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, the appointment of the Sachar Committee to study the problem of backwardness of one particular religious community, the effort to grant minority status to the Aligarh Muslim University, the delay in a decision on the clemency petition of convicted terrorist Afzal Guru, the issue of orders for a headcount in the judiciary and the military, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statement on December 9 that Muslims must be empowered to have "first claim" on national resources were all termed as instances of "dangerous and divisive minority appeasement".
Organisationally too, the increasing control of the RSS was evident. The National Council accorded Rajnath Singh the powers to appoint three more "RSS pracharaks" as coorganising secretaries at the national level and, more significantly, mandated that State unit presidents would have to obtain clearance from the national party chief before appointing or removing their general secretaries (organisation). The party constitution was amended to empower the party president to appoint State general secretaries (organisation) directly, thereby putting the RSS appointees in the State units directly in touch with the national party chief.
That all this did not go down well with the NDA's non-Hindutva partners is clear. Janata Dal (United) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar went on record immediately after the Lucknow meet as asserting that only Vajpayee was acceptable as the prime ministerial candidate. Ironically, some of the ardent Hindutva advocates, including the veteran from Bihar, are upset with "half-baked" Hindutva initiatives.
"If we have to recreate a Hindutva upsurge, we have to recapture the organisational and political vibrancy of Palampur," the Bihar BJP leader said. The reference was, obviously, to the resolution adopted at the National Executive in Palampur in June 1989.
The Palampur resolution is rated both within the party and outside as the most forceful representation of religiosity in the BJP's official documents. The initiatives that followed Palampur, including the Rath Yatra and the kar seva of 1990, helped the BJP reap major political gains. But the leader admitted that it was difficult to recapture the spirit of Palampur in the current fissured organisational conditions. The Sangh Parivar would first want to overcome these fissures and give control to a cohesive organisational entity before embarking on other Hindutva adventures.