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How Vajpayee and Advani made BJP relevant in national politics

Vinay Sitapati’s book Jugalbandi: The BJP before Modi, is a lucidly-written history of the party, but lacks analysis

New Delhi |
December 6, 2020 6:30:23 am
BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, Narendra Modi, Vinay Sitapati, book review, Jugalbandi book review, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express newsTwin towers: Vajpayee (left) with Advani

By Ashutosh

Author: Vinay Sitapati
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pages: 409
Price: Rs 799

“Arre Ashutosh ji, have a laddu. The interview can wait a bit.” It’s been almost 30 years, but these words are etched in my memory. I was interviewing Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who used to then live on Raisina Road. In the middle of the interview, his help brought in samosas and laddus. With his eyes closed, as was his style, Vajpayee ji was answering my questions. He stopped when he saw the food and, with a smile, asked me to help myself to laddus and samosas. I was young and was stuck by his magnetic informality.

In my long career I have interviewed many leaders and celebrities, but no one could match his magnetism. Top leaders normally treat others with disdain; not Vajpayee. I have interviewed Lal Krishna Advani, too, but I have no memory of him — of any kind.

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That is the difference between Vajpayee and Advani, the two stalwarts of the Hindutva ideology. In his new book, Jugalbandi: The BJP Before Modi, Vinay Sitapati has dug deep to find the symphony between the two to explain the rise of Hindutva from 1952 to 2004.

For the present generation, it is difficult to comprehend that at one time the BJP that is today synonymous with Hindutva was the periphery and Congress was the centre. The ideology which claims to carry the beacon of ancient Indian civilisation, was once “untouchable”. The leadership of Vajpayee and Advani earned respectability for Hindutva and its political avatars — first, the Jana Sangh and, later, the BJP. Sitapati’s book is a must read for those to whom Vajpayee-Advani are antiques and Modi is the colossus who, in their opinion, has dwarfed others.

The 1950s, when Vajpayee and Advani entered politics, was the era of Nehruvian consensus, wrapped in revolutionary, communist thinking. The world was getting over the torments of nationalism; internationalism, secularism, democracy and modernism were the leading ideas and the world was split into two camps. RSS chief MS Golwalkar’s words were seen and heard with contempt. After the murder of Gandhi, Hindutva needed a face that could convince the people of India about its innocence. Dhoti-clad Vajpayee, a quintessential Brahmin, was a moderniser within the Sangh Parivar. He did not carry the ideological bitterness that was the hallmark of Golwalkar, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s thought processes. He was the one leader who did not suffer from the “minority” complex of the majority community of the Hindutva bandwagon.

Advani, in a way, was also a modern man. He had been educated in a Christian missionary school. But he was chained by the normative ethos of the RSS. His was a sculpted personality that wanted to be free-spirited like Vajpayee but was imprisoned by the idea of a Hindutva utopia. In a way, he was a split personality. Advani on the rath yatra in 1991 and Advani at Jinnah’s mausoleum in 2005 were not the same person. Vajpayee did not have the dilemma of Advani. Sitapati beautifully captures the two contrasting personalities when he writes, “It is easy to fall in love with Vajpayee. An epicurean, a charmer. It is harder to feel for the colourless, odourless Advani. But some of that must surely be because Advani was more a man of principle than Vajpayee, less altered by make up.”

BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, Narendra Modi, Vinay Sitapati, book review, Jugalbandi book review, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express news The book cover

Sitapati has a flair for writing. His language is lucid. Politics for him is qissagoi or storytelling. But what he adds with his language, he loses in analysis. When he uses the metaphor of the Battle of Panipat in 1761 to explain the Hindutva nationalism vow for unity, he becomes shrill and superficial.

The BJP is probably the only organisation which has never split. Vajpayee-Advani have had their serious differences, but both knew that their strings were controlled by the RSS, the real leader of the Parivar. And, in the RSS, the one thing ingrained in the minds of the swayamsevaks from day one is that the leader is infallible and his words have to be followed. Within the Sangh Parivar there is a concept, called “Ek chalak anuvartitva”, that is “Obedience to the leader”. Hitler and Mussolini’s parties did not have a Battle of Panipat to learn the art of unity from but, for their followers, the leaders’ words were final, come what may.

The history of a party like the BJP can’t be fully grasped without understanding its ideological mooring. If organisation is the lifeblood of the RSS, then Hindutva is the soul. This book focuses on the personalities but for the reader to understand the nuances of their behaviour and the main text of their politics, the ideology must be detailed. Is it possible to comprehend the finer points of communism without reading Marx and Lenin? It is true that the RSS does not have a structured philosophy of Hindutva but it has very strong building blocks. The elaboration of the definition of Hindutva, its sense of history, its antagonism towards Islam-Christianity-communism, the desire to reclaim the glory of ancient India, the utopia of Hindu rashtra, would have given a clearer view.

Sitapati is right when he says, “… contrary to those who think that the rise of the BJP in the 1980s was top down, it actually began as inchoate, demand-driven anger at the ground level”. But the book finds him at a crossroads when the writer asks, “What is the glue that holds RSS together?” This question leads to a minefield of answers and interpretations which requires another book.

(Ashutosh is a senior journalist and the author of Hindu Rashtra)

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First published on: 06-12-2020 at 06:30:23 am

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