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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 37, August 29, 2009

BJP in Turmoil, Opposition in Disarray

Editorial

Monday 31 August 2009, by SC

As the number of deaths due to swine flu in the national Capital rises to three taking the total toll across the country as a consequence of the pandemic to 66 and India faces the worst dry spell in 91 years with about half of its landmass (246 districts comprising 46-47 per cent of our territory to be precise) coming under the grip of drought, the current political scene is dominated by disarray in the Opposition camp with the BJP, the principal Opposition party, in complete turmoil following the leadership’s “unanimous” decision to expel senior leader Jaswant Singh, who held the portfolios of External Affairs and Finance in former PM A.B. Vajpayee’s Union Cabinet. Jaswant’s forced exit has triggered a kind of revolt in the party’s higher echelons with another erstwhile Minister in the NDA Government, Arun Shourie, lashing out in public at party President Rajnath Singh, and a close aide of Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani, Sudheendra Kulkarni, dissociating himself from the BJP while complimenting Jaswant for authoring and publishing Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence, the book that caused the storm within the organisation.

The BJP Parliamentary Board, which took action against Jaswant on August 19 just before the party’s chintan baithak (that started in Shimla the same day), gave the reason for the disciplinary step: the book whose contents, as Arun Jaitley explained, militated against the party’s “core beliefs and ideology”. His extolling Jinnah as a “great man” (he quotes Mahatma Gandhi on that score) and his observation that Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhabhai Patel were responsible for India’s partition are being presented as examples of Jaswant trampling underfeet the party’s “core beliefs and ideology”. It is true that in the BJP’s view, Jinnah is held as the real villain behind India’s partition, and though there is no love lost between Nehru and the BJP, Sardar Patel is viewed as one of the icons of the party. So on both these counts Jaswant fell foul of the leadership. In fact exhibiting its illiberal approach once more the Gujarat Government under CM Narendra Modi went so far as to ban the book in the State (for which move there was hardly any protest even within the State Congress thus testifying to the unique ‘consensus’ on the issue of the Sardar in Gujarat).

While these may well have been the cause for anger and indignation within the BJP, one is not so certain if these alone were responsible for such a harsh action against Jaswant who was not even shown the courtesy of the issuance of a ‘show-cause’ notice before being thrown out of the party (although none questions the Parliamentary Board’s prerogative to take the drastic step, one expected a different treatment being meted out to such a senior leader as Jaswant Singh). That is because Jaswant was guilty of something more serious than his observations on Jinnah and Patel: he told a TV channel which interviewed him on his book (before his expulsion from the party) that the Indian Muslims were the worst sufferers of the partition, adding: “Look into their eyes and you will find the pain they still endure.” (This is also brought out in the book.) This was anathema for the RSS and its political organ, the BJP. (Jaswant, by his own admission, never belonged to the RSS and thus could think and act independent of the sarsangchalak for which he had to pay the ultimate price at a time his friend and mentor A.B. Vajpayee was not around in active political life to protect him.) So those who place Jaswant and Advani in the same category and accuse the BJP of “double-standards” (because Advani too had hailed Jinnah during his visit to Karachi in June 2005), must think again. Apart from the fact that Advani did not pass any final judgment on Jinnah in that speech (wherein he referred only to the founder of Pakistan’s address to the country’s Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947 highlighting the citizenship of Pakistan beyond the Hindu-Muslim divide), the erstwhile Deputy PM and Union Home Minister refrained from saying anything on the state of Indian Muslims post-partition. In fact when the interviewer asked Jaswant how he could reconcile his views with those of his party on the subject (Muslims in India), the interviewee tried to defend the BJP by saying it was grossly misunderstood. Now he probably has a better understanding of his parent party of which he claimed to have been a founding member.

Of course, Jaswant being a “soft target”—an individual without any mass base or following and also having no links with the RSS—was summarily driven out of the organisation, but Arun Shourie has not yet been shown the door. One reason for that is Shourie’s close association with the RSS to which he has earnestly pleaded for ‘taking over’ the BJP (a matter over which Jaswant differs from him). He has been asked to clarify his position on several points although Shourie’s outbursts against the party leadership have been sharper than Jaswant’s before the latter was given marching orders. Is it a case of once bitten twice shy? One would have wait for a definite answer in this regard.

However, what is unmistakble is that as a result of the action against Jaswant as also the banning of his book in Gujarat, the BJP is not only losing its claim to be a ’party with a difference’ but, more importantly, is becoming the same regimented organisation that the Bharatiya Jana Sangh was and throwing all its ‘liberal’ pretensions to the winds. No doubt this is a backward march for the organisation which once boasted of being the ‘real alternative’ to the Congress in the twentyfirst century. The fangs it has bared of late prove that the Congress, despite its dynastic culture, is no worse than the BJP—rather, it is better as it still espouses liberal values which are losing all meaning in the principal Opposition party.

The other Opposition parties are faring no better. The acrobatics of the BSP and Samajwadi Party are for all to see. The Left too has failed to engage in genuine self-introspection and self-criticism after its electoral drubbing. Rather, the West Bengal CM’s latest cliche-ridden infantile statements against the Railway Minister have only turned him into a laughing stock generating strong sarcastic comments from among leading members of the State’s intelligentsia. In Kerala there is no perceptible improvement in the functioning of the CPM with factionalism still holding sway in the organisation. Meanwhile the RSP’s most visible face in the Capital has resigned from the party before disciplinary proceedings could be initiated against him for having reportedly written a letter to the PM favouring a specific industrial house. The picture of disarray in the Opposition ranks is coming out in bolder relief with each passing day.

Not a healthy sign for Indian democracy which is already under strain from diverse quarters.

August 26 S.C.

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