September 21, 2005
Crisis, as every strong-willed leader knows, is a terrible thing to waste. L.K. Advani, the outgoing president of the BJP, has not wasted the crisis that has compelled him to decide to demit office — three months from now. He announced his decision at the meeting of the party’s national executive in Chennai. But in the same breath, he has spoken some home truths about the BJP-RSS relationship and thereby laid the foundation for a possible new realignment of non-Congress forces in the country, the outcome of which can be both exciting and edifying.
His detractors within the party wanted him to quit and, for achieving their end, resorted to cloak-and-dagger tactics that were wholly alien to the BJP’s organisational ethos. However, this alone would not have created a lethal crisis for him and for his party. After all, in spite of having succumbed to the virus of dissidence in its state units, the BJP had never experienced it at the central level so far. And it was unthinkable until even a couple of years ago that Advani, the second tallest leader in the party, would ever become the target of dissidence.
But the ‘‘Advani hatao’’ campaign could not have been sustained and brought to fruition by a small bunch of disgruntled elements within the party. The epicenter of the crisis was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh itself. A section of RSS leaders has come to look upon the BJP as its own political arm and, therefore, would like the world to believe that whatever success the party has achieved so far is largely due to the contribution of the various siblings in the Sangh Parivar. For this section of leaders in the RSS and, especially the VHP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP’s founder president and also its tallest leader, was always a renegade, one who did nothing for the cause of ‘‘Hindutva’’ during his six years at the helm. Hence, as soon as he was out of office, he became the target of public criticism and derision by no less a person than the RSS chief, who even signaled that “Atalji should now retire from politics”. In doing so, he showed scant respect for the feelings of not only the rank and file of the BJP, most — I repeat, most — of whom have no association whatsoever with the RSS, but also of millions of non-BJP admirers of the former prime minister.
However, this section of RSS and VHP leaders wanted not only Vajpayee but also Advani to “retire”. For he, too, was increasingly being seen as “undependable”. Recall the ruckus they created over Advani’s entirely factual comments on Jinnah. Recall, too, how they did not join the national debate on Jinnah and the Partition tragedy in any cogent and enlightening manner. They apparently believed that noise, and not rational arguments, was all that was needed to nail Advani and to justify their allegation that he had committed “unacceptable ideological deviation”. Then, throwing to the winds even the pretense of not interfering in the BJP’s personnel matters, the RSS leadership made it clear that it was time for Advani to quit. Thus, it was apparent even to the detractors of the BJP that Jinnah was only a bahana (pretext). Their real goal: complete take-over of the BJP.
For a body that preaches discipline to the BJP, the transgression of organisational norms committed by the RSS chief himself was unprecedented. For more than three months, it was principally the RSS that caused the BJP to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The amount of damage all this caused to the BJP’s prestige in so short a time has no parallel in the party’s 25 year-old history. And nothing has boosted the self-confidence of the Congress more than the RSS-inflicted wounds of the main opposition party. Nevertheless, when Advani finally announced his decision to demit the party post, his detractors in the Sangh Parivar projected it as a victory for the RSS. “Now everybody knows who’s the boss,” they exulted.
What is baffling even sympathisers of the RSS is how its leaders seem not to care about the enormous harm their control-the-BJP exercise has caused to the Sangh’s own public standing and its chosen mission of character-building and promotion of patriotism. Some of the corrupting influences of too close an involvement in politics, through micro-managing the affairs of the BJP, are distorting the vision of the Sangh functionaries. But the present BJP-RSS fit is hurting the latter in another less-debated manner.
Is it, for example, a secret that the RSS has become a virtual pariah for all the non-BJP parties in the country? How many non-BJP leaders share a platform with RSS leaders publicly? When is the last time you saw a prominent RSS leader (excluding the non-conformist Nanaji Deshmukh) invited by a non-BJP minister in a state or at the Centre for consultation on any subject? It will be tempting for the RSS to explain this away by claiming that all the non-BJP parties are anti-Hindu and bitten by the bug of Muslim appeasement. But the truth lies elsewhere.
The truth lies in the RSS’s exclusive, almost proprietary, relationship with the BJP, as is evident from the long tradition of RSS cadres campaigning only for BJP candidates in elections. This has understandably alienated the RSS from other political parties, thus restricting the spread of the Sangh’s influence across the country’s political and social spectrum. The truth also lies in the fact that the Sangh’s Hindu-only concept of nationalism has no appeal not only for non-Hindus, but also for many Hindus themselves. By trying to impose this narrow nationalism on the BJP, and making it impossible for the latter to reach out to Indian Muslims and Christians in a consistent, sustained and earnest manner, the RSS is also limiting the growth of the BJP to its full potential.
For an organisation that claims to be committed to nation-building and has many admirable qualities (never mind the attempts by the communists and other Hindu-baiters to demonise it), the RSS has scarcely introspected publicly on why its influence in India’s political, intellectual and public life remains so limited — and rapidly shrinking. The RSS may or may not do such soul-searching. But if the BJP too shuns soul-searching, if it doesn’t pay heed to the hometruths spoken by Advani, its own space and influence in Indian politics will definitely shrink. If it does, the present crisis could mark a new beginning for the BJP and for non-Congress politics in India.
The writer is a former national secretary, BJP
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