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Mainstream, Vol. XLVII, No 27, June 20, 2009

Whither BJP?

Monday 22 June 2009, by Amitava Mukherjee

If the various reviews of the results of the just concluded Lok Sabha election are taken into account, then one cannot but conclude that the BJP has more sympathisers among the ‘pundits’ than what the Congress can count on. Lots of reasons for the BJP’s defeat and likely outcomes of it are being proffered—personal attacks against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Varun Gandhi’s vitriolic diatribe against the minority community, internal squabbles and so on. Pro-BJP scribes and commentators are pinning great hopes on younger generation leaders like Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj who, they think, will be able to bring the BJP back to power in the next general election. Amidst all these one thing is certain—great churning is taking place within the BJP and hopefully for the party the grand old man, L.K. Advani, has not stood in the way of it.

On the contrary Advani wanted to step down only to be persuaded by the RSS and BJP stalwarts not to precipitate the matter till December when changes are expected to occur in the BJP’s organisational structure. He is also reported not to have endorsed the views expressed by one of his close confidants, Sudheendra Kulkarni, that internal dissensions and lukewarm support from the Sangh Parivar were the main reasons behind Advani not becoming the Prime Minister after the election.

There seems to have occurred a sudden realisation within the BJP that more than 70 per cent of the Indian electorate are below 35 years of age. Hence the search for the younger generation of leaders for vital party positions. No doubt the selection of Arun Jaitley as the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and that of Sushma Swaraj as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha are steps in the right direction although time will say to what extent they would be able to sway the votes in favour of the BJP in future. But both of them have their positive sides. Arun Jaitley is a very disciplined man. He does not smoke or drink, is a good organisational strategist and well-versed in parliamentary affairs. Similarly precious will be Sushma Swaraj’s presence in the Lok Sabha. Both of them come from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad background. But Sushma is extremely balanced. She is generally known to be a stickler for decorum and does not indulge in uncalled-for interferences even when she holds any constitutional/statutory position. This is in stark contrast to the traits of many Ministers of the Manmohan Singh Government.

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But the BJP today is not even a shadow of its Jan Sangh days. Already Jaswant Singh, Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha are reported to be mobilising opinion against Arun Jaitley. The two Jaswants have unfurled their banner of revolt. Sudheendra Kulkarni had perhaps hinted at this kind of a mindset. Although Sushma Swaraj, who is however not in the line of direct fire from the opposing camp, had publicly controverted Kulkarni’s view, yet the ongoing developments are pointers to the fact that dissensions at the top had indeed seriously hampered the BJP’s prospects.

Even during the time of voting on the last confidence motion in the Lok Sabha it was evident that the BJP was a house in disarray. It has lost many opportunities to turn the tide back against the Congress. It could have reinvented itself had the party taken strong action against Narendra Modi just after the Gujarat riots. Today investi-gations are being carried out on Modi’s personal culpabilities in the Gujarat riots and if the report by the Special Investigating Team goes against Modi then the BJP’s credibility and its acceptability with the people of India will be under serious threat.

The general opinion is, however, that this theory of ‘young leadership’ is a cosmetic attempt to revive the fortunes of the BJP which, in effect, largely depends on how the party can reorient its relations with the Sangh Parivar, particularly the RSS.There is no denying the fact that the RSS has also been passing through a transitional phase and it would be too ahead of time to presume that the organisation would veer away from what it has preached since its birth.

The BJP is in no position to force the RSS to dilute its hardcore Hindutva stand. RSS cadres bring voters to the polling booth on the election day and history has shown that the BJP performs impressively in elections only when the RSS stands firmly behind it. In 1977 the Jan Sangh segment within the Janata Party did extremely well in the Hindi heartland as the RSS had thrown its weight—heart and soul—against Indira Gandhi. There was no Hindutva issue in the 1977 election. There was no need for it as the country was riding on an anti-Emergency wave. Arun Jaitley was then a leader of the ABVP in the Delhi University and Sushma Swaraj had just appeared in the national political scenario.

Association with the Socialists in the Janata Party and an unpleasant experience of the Emergency had created a condition where the idea of Gandhian Socialism had influenced quite a good number of stalwarts in the newly created BJP in the early 1980s as the RSS watched from a distance. A section of the media ‘pundits’ ascribe the BJP’s miserable performance in the 1984 election to this new ‘conversion’ to Gandhian ideals and the resultant RSS reaction to it. This may not be true as the Congress had fought the 1984 election on a sympathy wave in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

The BJP certainly went adrift in the following years and made a serious mistake, along with the RSS, by turning away from Gandhian concepts and some other liberal ideas which it had embraced during the 1977-1980 period. The bizarre Hindutva ideas of the Sangh Parivar gobbled it up and it even struck a chord with lumpen elements of the VHP that ultimately resulted in the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Now it is a crisis situation for the BJP. If it wants to dislodge the Congress in the next election then it must bring to its fold newer classes of the society. Friction with the RSS is most likely in such a scenario. But if it looks to history then clinging to the RSS ideals is the best option. That the BJP did extremely well in the elections that took place at the fag end of the 1990s was solely due to its strong bond that Advani had forged with the Sangh Parivar’s modus operandi. Aggressive Hindutva was then at its peak with the RSS championing the cause of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, a common civil code and abolition of Article 370 of the Constitution.

The choice before the BJP is now a difficult one.

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