BJP's second childhood

Published : May 05, 2006 00:00 IST

L.K. ADVANI during his Bharat Suraksha Yatra, at the Circuit House in Ahmedabad on April 7. - V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

L.K. ADVANI during his Bharat Suraksha Yatra, at the Circuit House in Ahmedabad on April 7. - V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

The RSS rivets its control over the BJP, precluding possibilities of the party's growth.

Jawaharlal Nehru called the Jan Sangh "the illegitimate child of the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh]" (The Hindu, January 6, 1952). For tactical reasons, the RSS momentarily gave the child in adoption to the Janata Party, but only to reclaim its natural child and give it a new name the Bharatiya Janata Party in order to acquire the respectability of the Janata Party founder Jayaprakash Narayan's legacy. That was soon discarded; what we have been witnessing in recent years is the parent's increasing control over the child. New terms were devised with significant meanings. "Personality cult", for instance, means that no BJP leader (that is, A.B. Vajpayee or L.K. Advani) can ignore the RSS' diktat. Like Lucifer, a restive Advani was unceremoniously shown the door.

He has now launched a yatra to whip up public support so that he can win from the RSS better terms for his rehabilitation. It was doomed to failure. The drift of events of the last year was too powerful for Advani to stop and reverse. However, nothing has gone right for the BJP since it lost power at the Centre in May 2004. (For a survey of events from 2001 to mid-2005, see the writer's article "The BJP - RSS equation", Frontline, May 20, 2005).

A new trend came to the fore a year ago. As if to discipline the BJP, the RSS began increasingly to laud its other outfits, particularly the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). On April 28, 2005, its supremo K.S. Sudarshan said that the former chief M.S. Golwalkar's "highest achievement" was the establishment of the VHP charged with the task of "awakening Hindus" while the BJP had become the focal point" of India's polity. He said Vajpayee and Sundar Singh Bhandari were among the first set of RSS pracharaks (canvassers) who were asked to help the Jan Sangh's founder, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Advani was not mentioned. This was well before the Jinnah episode (The Hindu, April 29, 2005).

The RSS read the lessons of the electoral debacle in 2004 differently from Advani and his colleagues. Pramod Mahajan, the BJP general secretary, poured out his woes in the party's organ BJP Today (May 1, 2005). He listed three "regrets" - failure to speed up construction of the Ram temple, the Gujarat riots and the internal situation in the BJP.

When Advani began his fateful six-day tour of Pakistan on May 31, he should have noted this background. He did not. In his assessment, the BJP was ousted from power because it lost the middle ground. He was determined to secure it by projecting an image of moderation. He pulled out all the stops at the very outset. "Every person who is in public life and politics has an image. I have been one of those whose image and real persona are not very [sic] identical," he told a news conference in Islamabad on the very first day. The demolition of the Babri Masjid, "was the saddest day of my life" - ergo not an achievement as the RSS held (The Telegraph, June 1).

Advani was not wooing the Pakistani electorate. He was wooing the Indian voter this time; not in the name of Hindutva but as a peacenik. His failure was as ignominious as his bid was bold and intentions false. Sincerity would have prompted correction on the soil of his own country and in tangible terms. Of this, Advani had no intention whatever. He was set not on a course of moral penance, or political correction but on surgery of image. No prizes are awarded for guessing who advised him to do this. It is irrelevant, besides. A man who can accept such advice is unworthy of leadership, anyway.

Advani was warmly welcomed wherever he went and by all the political parties. In Lahore, on June 2, he acknowledged "Fiza zaroor badli hai" (The atmosphere has definitely charged). The partition of India "was an unalterable reality of history". In India, he had, especially since the BJP came to power, repeatedly advocated reunion of India and Pakistan; the undoing of what he now called "unalterable". He was all for a peaceful solution of the Kashmir issue.

It was a prepared - perhaps ghost-written - speech. Hence, the importance of these two formulations. First, "for any mutually acceptable solution (of Kashmir) to emerge the ruling establishments and the Opposition in both India and Pakistan have to work together in a spirit of consensus". But the BJP shrilly denounces any moves the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, headed by Manmohan Singh, makes for rapprochement with Pakistan.

Next, "any eventual solution has to be acceptable to both India and Pakistan, as well as to all sections of the diverse communities that constitute the state". On May 18, 1998 - after Pokhra-II but before Pakistan's nuclear tests at Chagai - he had said that Pakistan would have to view Kashmir from a new perspective; that is, cave in to India's superior force (for the text see Asian Age, June 6, 2005).

Every single pronouncement by Advani in Pakistan sought to convey one central message - he had changed, forget the past of the "Akhand Bharat" campaigner. The climax was reached on June 4 in Karachi at the mausoleum of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. What he wrote in the visitors' book there deserves to be quoted in full in view of the tremors it caused in the ranks of the BJP and the RSS. "There are many people who leave an inerasable stamp on history. But there are very few who actually create history. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah was one such rare individual. In his early years Sarojini Naidu, a leading luminary of India's freedom struggle, described Mr. Jinnah as `Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity.' His address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947 is a classic; a forceful espousal of a secular state in which every citizen would be free to practise his own religion but the state shall make no distinction between one citizen and another on the grounds of faith. My respectful homage to this great man."

Three features deserve note. First, never before, not once in a career spanning half a century, had Advani ever praised Jinnah or said anything remotely in this vein or spirit. It was radically different from the outlook which he had consistently exposed. Secondly, the words were not - could not have been - written on the spur of the moment. They were prepared in advance, in all probability before he left India for Pakistan. What then, thirdly, was his motive, his calculation? Surely, not to win kudos in Pakistan. It was to win a new image in India, discarding the old. In this, he underestimated the intelligence of Indians and the reaction in the Sangh Parivar, and overestimated his standing in the Parivar. Growing arrogance led him to think he could pull it off. It was hubris that wrecked him.

The next day, Advani said a lot more in the same vein at the Council on Foreign Relations, Economic Affairs & Law. He recalled the 20 years he had spent in Karachi and his "contact with Swami Ranganathananda" in the last few years of his life in the city. He met the Swami in Kolkata in 2004, when he reminded Advani of Jinnah's speech and asked him to send a copy. So, it was through a Swami that he understood Jinnah. Advani read out the relevant portions of that speech in full to the audience and repeated that "the partition cannot be undone" (Indian Express published the full text of this speech on June 8). Jinnah's "classic" speech was known to all. Advani's explanation of its belated discovery in a tutorial by a guru fooled none. It was prompted by news of criticism at home of remarks at the mausoleum the day before. How come he never praised Jinnah ever before?

By then the Sangh was up in arms. RSS spokesman Ram Madhav said it was "an internal matter" of the BJP which would "take an appropriate decision at an appropriate time", implying that the lapse called for a "decision" belying the disclaimer "we do not get involved" (Asian Age, June 8).

The VHP supremo Ashok Singhal candidly said on June 5: "The era of Atal and Advani is over and the Sangh Parivar will now surely decide the new direction for the BJP"; so much for its autonomy (Asian Age, June 6). Advani had sinned on three counts. Praise for Jinnah was but one of them. The other two were more deadly - accepting partition as "unalterable" and, worse still, grieving for the demolition of the Babri Masjid, an "achievement" of the Parivar to which he had contributed handsomely.

Back in New Delhi, on June 7, Advani resigned as BJP chief while refusing to retract what he had said. What hurt him most was the silence of acolytes whose careers he had promoted. The letter was dated June 6/7 and followed the RSS ultimatum that he either retract or resign. It was addressed to Sanjay Joshi, general secretary (organisation) and the RSS' pointsman in the BJP. It was not addressed or sent to the vice-president.

Vajpayee feebly supported Advani; not without some secret delight. As La Rochefoucauld said, "In the adversity of our friends, there is something that pleases us". Advani's stand that he would not withdraw his resignation came after the RSS supremo Sudarshan's directive to Joshi to accept it (Pankaj Vohra, The Hindustan Times, June 8).

But Advani withdrew his resignation on June 9. The next day, the BJP's Parliamentary Board passed a resolution praising him for the tour but rejecting his views on Jinnah (The Hindu, June 11, for the text). Sudarshan was livid. On June 11, he remarked: "Like a prostitute who keeps changing her form, politics also keeps changing her appearance." There was no mistaking who he had in mind for the day following, June 12, M.C. Vaidya, former RSS spokesman, attacked Advani for withdrawing the resignation and the BJP for yielding to him.

Neena Vyas exposed the truth behind the charade. On Advani's return to New Delhi in the evening of June 6, Mohan Bhagwat, a senior RSS leader, told BJP leaders that Advani had to go, whereupon he called Sanjay Joshi to his residence on June 7 and gave him his letter of resignation. Advani, however, confided to M. Venkaiah Naidu his desire to continue and make a graceful exit later. The next day a compromise was evolved. The Parliamentary Board's resolution followed. It was understood that Advani "would soon quit as party chief" (The Hindu, June 16). All this for a few weeks' reprieve.

Pramod Mahajan claimed that though the BJP shared the RSS ideology "in organisational matters we are sovereign". His bitter lament refuted the claim: "I know I am not the RSS favourite; they will never allow me to become party president. In this last decade or so, its interventions at least at the level of the sarsangchalak [supreme] had grown. It dictated appointments to the BJP's State and district units and award of tickets in an election.

It was a crie de coeur. The RSS was the mother, but it should "allow its child" - the very metaphor Nehru had used - "to walk on its own... should not keep scolding its child publicly and passing comments every day". The RSS needed "depoliticisation". If it crossed the Lakshman Rekha, it would become a political party and Sudarshan's comparison with prostitute would apply to it also (The Telegraph, June 18).

As if to warn the BJP, Sudarshan opened a new line. At Lucknow on June 19, he praised Indira Gandhi for her courage and determination. While all this was afoot, The Indian Express published on June 21 the substance of a paper which Advani's key aide Sudheendra Kulkarni had presented at a private "thinkers' meet" in Bhopal on March 23 and 24 under the auspices of the RSS. The central thesis of his critique was that the BJP could not go far as a "Hindu political party" with a "Hindu political agenda". But Advani had foreseen this in 1980 in his interview to Panchjanya, the RSS organ, in the Deepavali issue. The paper drew fire from some BJP leaders. This paper preceded Sudarshan's marching orders to Advani and Vajpayee in April.

As the RSS held its conclave at Surat on July 2, Kulkarni handed his resignation to Advani. His plea (June 5) that the RSS-BJP "relationship needs to be recast so that the BJP can grow" shows how little he understood that relationship. Advani suffered another blow on July 6 when the Allahabad High Court set aside the trial court's order discharging him as an accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case. It directed that he stand trial along with M.M. Joshi, Uma Bharati, Ashok Singhal, Vinay Katiyar, Giriraj Kishore, Vishnu Hari Dalmiya and Sadhvi Rithambhara. It found that the trial court had not appreciated correctly the evidence of Anju Gupta, an Indian Administrative Service Officer, who was in charge of his security on December 6, 1992, which damned Advani. She had heard his comments that day.

The RSS spoke up on July 9 in a statement issued from Nagpur publicly reprimanding "some functionaries of a couple of like-minded organisations" (that is, Advani, and, to appear even-handed, Praveen Togadia). Those assembled at Surat had expressed serious "concern over the ideological erosion" - of which Togadia was innocent - "behavioural misdemeanour and violation of organisational discipline" by them. It added: "Our elders will soon talk to concerned people and convey the Sangh's reservations" (Indian Express, July 10). This drove the BJP's entire top leadership, bar Vajpayee and Advani, to Jhandewalan, the RSS' headquarters in New Delhi. Later, Mohan Bhagwat, Suresh Soni and Madan Das Devi of the RSS met Vajpayee and Advani (The Hindu, July 12). The RSS' pressure was humiliating enough for Advani, no less so the fact that only Vajpayee's mediatory support saved him from immediate departure. George Fernandes, convenor of the National Democratic Alliance of which the BJP is a constituent, was rebuffed when he pleaded Advani's cause to the RSS. "Thanks for the unsolicited advice but we don't need it," Ram Madhav said on July 12. Erstwhile socialist protg Sushma Swaraj also attacked Fernandes.

It was an unedifying spectacle of Advani's juniors begging for time and mercy on repeated trips to Jhandewalan. Eventually, Advani himself met Mohan Bhagwat on July 17 and won a reprieve. The RSS announced it had "conveyed its sentiments and concerns to like-minded organisations and it is the responsibility of those organisations to bring in necessary reforms" (Indian Express, July 18). M.G. Vaidya was unsparing in his column in Tarun Bharat: "It is for the BJP to decide whether the leadership with a tarnished image will be an asset or a liability."

The BJP put off its national executive meetings due on July 21, to September 16. At long last Advani appeared in the Rae Bareli court on July 28 and got bail. Ram Madhav said: "Some understanding has been reached. We expect the BJP to move in that direction" (The Hindu, July 18). All that the RSS was prepared to grant was a sentence suspended until the end of the year.

Advani soon got busy wooing the RSS with renewed cries of Hindutva but time was running against him; not least in the Rae Bareli court which framed charges against him and others on July 28. Advani was present in court along with them, something he had successful avoided for over a decade.

M.G. Vaidya exposed the true nature of the RSS-BJP nexus when he said that the link between them was "through the Swayamsewaks who work in the BJP. Our relationship with the BJP is not a constitutional one." It did not rest on a pact between the two. It rested on the muscle that the RSS provided for the BJP leaders to fulfil the RSS' agenda. Bereft of the muscle, the BJP and it leaders would be nowhere, as they discovered in the 1984 elections. "Our Swayamsevaks work there. We have sent some and some have gone on their own. They are our medium of communicating with the BJP and putting forth our views."

The RSS did not owe the BJP a living. It was the BJP which existed with the RSS' support. Advani and his advisers in the media who imagined that the BJP could break away were living in a world or fantasy. Vaidya criticised him for withdrawing his resignation and said in a parting shot in his interview to Jyotrimaya Sharma. "The BJP is not the life-breath of the Sangh. Our life does not depend on the BJP" (The Hindu, August 2). The RSS asked the BJP to revive the Jan Sangh's practice of electing all the office-bearers rather than allow the president to nominate his team. In those polls, the RSS man in the BJP would elect their own people. The president would be even more dependent on the RSS.

The BJP's national executive met at Chennai on September 16. Two days later Advani announced his decision to "demit office" but at the silver jubilee session in December. He claimed that while the RSS was consulted, the BJP took "its own independent decisions". At times they "differed" from the RSS' stand. "But, lately an impression has gained ground that no political or organisational decision can be taken without the consent of the RSS functionaries. This perception, we hold, will do no good either to the party or to the RSS" (The Hindu, September 19 for the text).

He was being disingenous. The "perception" only accurately reflected the reality. No one did more to make the BJP abide by the RSS' diktat than he. It irked only when his own interests were affected. He, the faithful, had tried to break loose while retaining the RSS' muscle. The RSS sensed that at Bhopal in March and April Sudarshan asked him and Vajpayee to go. Advani persisted in striking an independent posture and failed. None in the BJP, not even his supporters, supported him against the RSS. His departure was as inevitable as it was graceless. Even Pramod Mahajan recalled that "previously, he used to take collective decisions. But slowly... some top leaders took some individual decisions" (October 12). The BJP leadership itself was divided, Murli Manohan Joshi detested Advani's games. Vajpayee would, one day, plead for free thought and the next day (October 14) assert that the RSS "does not interfere". The Uma Bharati episode would fill a book. It certainly weakened Advani's leadershp. She was expelled from the BJP on December 5.

When the RSS executive met at Chitrakoot, it asserted its supremacy on October 23, by saying that "our job is to assess whether they are on the right track or not". On November 5, Sudarshan declared that both Vajpayee and Advani "became individually too big and sidelined the concept of collective leadership by which the RSS swears". How power affected his mental balance became evident when he not only demanded rewriting of the Constitutional Law but also alleged that: Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was compelled to write it under the influence of Nehru and Nehru was the choice of the British rulers (The Times of India; Nov. 6). He warned that "Hindus will be reduced to a minority in some years' time". Muslims and Christians were not minorities, unlike the Jews and Parsis, but converts who had to be "Indianised" (The Hindu, November 6). On November 17, he said: "Forget the two-child norm. Produce three at the least; more than that are more than welcome" (The Telegraph, November 18).

Sudarshan met Vajpayee on November 17 and Advani the next day. Ahead of the BJP's plenary session. Organiser reminded the BJP on December 24 that its "real growth... as a pan-Indian force was the result of the Ramajanmabhoomi movement... A party like the BJP cannot exist only for power... effective leadership has to balance between its core constituency and the other constituency. It is suicidal to believe that the core constituency is a captive one and go about wooing the other". The RSS would not rule out supporting other parties.

Advani declared to the national executive that the "BJP has taken the ideology of culture and nationalism from the RSS and the BJP is inseparable from the RSS". On his resignation as president on December 31, he formally declared that his successor would be Rajnath Singh. But he would only complete Venkaiah Naidu's original three-year term terminating in February 2007. "I am disappointed at myself for not communicating properly in conveying my sentiments to the Sangh." Advani's confession was a tacit acknowledgment of accountability to the RSS.

Rajnath Singh began by declaring "we are all workers of the Sangh". He was after all the RSS choice. Organiser returned to the theme on January 8, 2006: "When the party grew up to wield power there was a sinister design to work to dilute its ideological and organisational commitment. In this they received solicitious encouragement from some in-house expert... pundits prescribing the BJP to become a rightwing tool for power, discarding all ideological baggages."

This should serve to explode myths so fondly and so ignorantly hugged by some in the media that, over time, the BJP would "mellow" and "moderate" its views to emerge as a secular right-wing party. The BJP had no such plans. Defeat did instil such thoughts vaguely; but the RSS would have none of it and the BJP complied. It had no choice in the matter. But how far was Advani himself prepared to go? He wanted autonomy and power for himself vis-a-vis the RSS, but his commitment to Hindutva was not in doubt. He was prepared to collaborate with the RSS but as the sole leader of the BJP. Even his acolytes rejected this idea.

Rajnath Singh was servility itself. "Since I come from that family I will seek its directions. For that, I do not feel any hesitation or shame" (The Hindustan Times, January 7). Vajpayee called it a "new beginning" for the BJP. He had announced his decision to quit politics of power. Rajnath Singh's core team comprised Narendra Modi and Bajrang Dal's Vinay Katiyar. Of the 35 new office-bearers, as many as 11 were seen as guided by the RSS. It had every reason to be satisfied with the results when it concluded its brain-storming session on February 26.

The blasts at Varanasi on March 7 provided a pretext for Advani to announce the launch of yet another yatra the very next day. Rajnath Singh meekly followed suit but the VHP poured scorn on the move. Advani met Sudarshan in Nagpur on March 10 and emerged downcast. DNA reported (March 12) in detail the dressing down the visitor was given. Sudarshan clarified that there was no question of "the Sangh opposing it" (Organiser, March 27).

The avowed aims of the yatra make no sense. Its real aim was to project that Advani continued as the leader. "I continue to be what I am and I have always been. I would like the party's image to change." This remark on April 2 betrayed a refusal to learn from his humiliation. He was determined to upstage the party president.

In his first exposition of the aims on March 19, Advani denounced "minority appeasement". Initially called Rashtriya Ekatmata Yatra (National Integration Yatra) it was renamed by the BJP on March 29 as Bharat Suraksha Yatra (National Security Yatra).

There would be "political pilgrimages". Fears of communal incitement prompted the change but communal politics predominated. "Appeasement of the minorities" was the main theme in the five-point agenda announced on April 4. It was an afterthought to the yatra resolve of March 8 to protect national security against jehadi terrorism and Left-wing extremism, and national unity from minorityism, to rescue governance from corruption and criminalisation in high places, to save parliamentary democracy and to protect the common man from the assaults of massive price rise, unemployment and debt-issues Advani had never raised before (The Hindu, April 5). He began the yatra on April 6 on Ram Navami by raising the Ram temple issue. In one and the same speech on April 11, he declared "my yatra is against minorityism" yet pleaded for "understanding between Hindus and Muslims".

Two years since the BJP lost power at the Centre in May 2004, the RSS had rivetted its control over it even more firmly than ever before. Advani had two options - flout the RSS or try to stage a comeback on the slogan of Hindutva and redeem himself in the eyes of the RSS. But it is unlikely to forgive him. Or let the BJP function autonomously. And the BJP will find it hard to grow under the RSS' thumb.

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