A legacy of duplicity

Print edition : January 27, 2006

The BJP, like the Jan Sangh, allied with parties of disparate ideologies in its pursuit of power. Here, A.B. Vajpayee (centre) in a show of solidarity with Bihar's new Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (second right) before his swearing-in. Others are Sharad Yadav, Farooq Abdullah and Sushil Kumar Modi. - RANJEET KUMAR

The BJP has inherited from its predecessor, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, a tradition of doublespeak, which is proving counter-productive as the RSS wants it to support Hindutva unequivocally.

THROUGHOUT its 25 years of existence, the Bharatiya Janata Party has maintained that it is actually a political-ideological-organisational continuation of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS), which was formed under the leadership Shyama Prasad Mookerjee in 1951. All the official documents of the BJP highlight this factor and hence any review of the BJP's track record of two and a half decades will have to take the history of the BJS also into account.

Cumulatively, the BJP and the BJS has a political history of 54 years. The most prominent commonalities between the two organisations are in the right-wing Hindutva ideology - euphemistically termed cultural nationalism in the documents of both - and the attempts to propagate the ideology employing the tactics of aligning with ideologically disparate, non-Hindutva-oriented parties from time to time.

An overview of this five-and-a-half-decade-old history and its principal commonalities also points towards a fundamental mismatch between the party's social, political and ideological perspectives and the organisational tactics employed by it. Both the BJS and the BJP have gone through a vicious circle of sorts because of this mismatch. The alliances with ideologically disparate parties did indeed help both incarnations to register growth in terms of organisational and political influence but at the same time they also brought about systematic ideological degeneration and organisational corruption and collapse. The current state of affairs in the BJP, marked by rampant infighting for positions of power and acute corruption as highlighted by the cash-for-questions scandal, shows to what extent the mismatch between ideology and tactics has affected the political arm of Hindutva.

According to veteran political analyst Hariraj Singh Tyagi, who has closely observed both the BJS and the BJP all through, this dichotomy was inbuilt right from the very conception of the BJS. "The BJS was not a political organisation in exact terms but a political instrument of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-led Sangh Parivar, which has a radically different agenda from the stated objectives of the party," Tyagi said, adding that an element of camouflage and even duplicity was inherent in the BJS and that the BJP also carried these characteristics as part of the legacy of the BJS.

The RSS had joined hands with Mookerjee - who had quit the first Indian Cabinet led by Jawaharlal Nehru alleging that the Prime Minister was unreasonably soft on Pakistan - to form the BJS as a Hindutva party. The idea was to strengthen a pan-Hindu socio-political-organisational identity exploiting the demographic dominance of the Hindu communities in India.

There were other Hindutva parties like the Hindu Mahasabha and the Ramrajya Parishad at that point of time, but the RSS wanted a different tactical approach. The discussions betweens Mookerjee and the then RSS top brass, including Sarsanghchalak M.S. Golwalkar, reflected the perception that a blatantly communal or pro-upper caste agenda would not help in building a pan-Hindu socio-political identity, because of the strong secular bent at all levels of the Hindu communities and because of the caste divisions in Hindu society. It was also pointed out that outfits like the Hindu Mahasabha and the Ramrajya Parishad were not able to grow because of flaws in other approaches, which did not take this social reality into consideration.

The Hindu Mahasabha advanced the concept of a "Hindu only" party and the Ramrajya Parishad openly talked about an upper-caste oriented organisational structure. The RSS idea was to bring all Hindus together, irrespective of caste divisions, and at the same time follow the philosophical precepts of Hindutva.

The BJS was formed with this understanding and its "camouflage tactics" were reflected in its alliances with ideologically disparate organisations. It enjoyed the taste of success first using this strategy in the series of Assembly elections in 1967.

But the governments that were formed did not last long. It was in this context that the BJS intensified the dilution of its core agenda to reach out to newer sections. Then leaders such as Deendayal Upadhyaya came up with several changes in policy, including the language policy, and asserted that the BJS was for "encouragement to all Indian languages" and not just Hindi, as advocated earlier.

The tactical approach continued into the mid-1970s. With the imposition of the Emergency in 1975, the BJS started working more and more closely with other Opposition forces, including those that followed the socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan. This association finally led to the formation of the Janata Party in 1977, with the merger of the BJS with parties such as the Bharatiya Lok Dal (BLD), the Congress(O) and the Socialist Party and Congress rebels such as Chandra Shekhar. The new party trounced the Congress in the 1977 Lok Sabha elections and BJS leaders such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani joined the government.

Throughout their stint in power as part of the Janata Party, BJS leaders surreptitiously advanced their own Hindutva agenda wherever possible, under the guidance of the RSS. This dual approach caused problems in the Janata Party and in the government. Within 30 months of its formation, the first non-Congress government at the Centre collapsed. The BJS was dismantled and the BJP was formed.

The period immediately following the collapse of the Janata Party was difficult for BJS leaders, because their association with the RSS and adherence to the Hindutva agenda were exposed during the 1977-79 government. The leadership found itself incapable of pushing its tactical line effectively and electoral reverses were the order of the day. The BJP got 31 seats in the 1980 Lok Sabha polls and a mere two seats in 1984, when a pro-Congress wave swept the country in the wake of the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

THE Congress sweep and the reduction of Opposition space, however, brought about some realignments in the Opposition camp. Sections of secular Opposition parties once again found merit in aligning with the BJP to fight against the "misrule and corrupt practices of the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government". A strong sentiment against corruption in the Congress government marked the 1989 polls. The BJP benefited, with Opposition leaders such as Vishwanath Pratap Singh, who led the anti-corruption crusade, willing to make seat adjustments with the saffron party. The BJP's tally was 86 seats in that election.

The formation of the second non-Congress government was seen by RSS and BJP leaders as yet another important opportunity to advance aggressively the Hindutva agenda. Significantly, and unlike in 1977, it did not join the government but supported it from outside. But the party used the government's tenure to advance its Ayodhya Ram Mandir campaign. The Sangh Parivar's objective of polarising society on communal lines was partially successful for the first time and the BJP got 120 seats in the 1991 polls that followed the collapse of the government.

The Ayodhya agitation finally led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and the BJP was once again castigated widely for its blatant pursuit of communalism. Still, the party was strong enough to attract alliances from secular parties in the polls that followed in 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2004. This eight-year association led to the formation of a coalition structure in the form of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The party enjoyed brief stints in power at the Centre - 13 days in 1996 and 13 months two months later. In 1999, the NDA registered its best electoral performance and Atal Bihari Vajpayee's ascent to power that year resulted in a government that lasted the full five-year term.

If the vision that Golwalkar and Mookerjee shared in the late 1940s and early 1950s was politically and ideologically sound, this stint should have led to a rise in the influence of Hindutva-oriented politics across the country. Instead, the RSS itself noted in 2004, with unconcealed dismay, that the NDA government made the Hindutva cadre succumb to the pleasures and privileges of power and forget their larger ideological goals. Clearly, the Sangh Parivar's double-edged political game had become more damaging to itself than its adversaries.

The NDA lost the 2004 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP's journey after that has looked more like a roller-coaster ride, with fights between individuals in the party and ideological tussles with the RSS leadership becoming a regular feature. The exposure of corruption, and even sex scandals, has made this ride even more excruciating.

Even so, the party has been able to register some electoral gains. The most recent one was in Bihar, where the BJP played second fiddle to Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United). As the party goes through a period of upheaval, large sections of the RSS top brass seem to have come to the conclusion that the political and organisational camouflage that was envisaged in the late 1940s and the early 1950s for the BJS - and later adopted by the BJP - is ultimately proving counter-productive. This assessment has been accompanied by persistent demands for an all-out pursuit of Hindutva.

As it passes through the silver jubilee year, and as the clashes between " ideological purists" and those who have tasted power continue, the most important question is whether the BJP will fall in line with the revised RSS perspective. That question carries along with it the more serious query as to what would happen to the country if the BJP falls in line. There are no clear answers at the moment.

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