by Praful Bidwai, NavHind Times, Thursday, June 22, 2006
SO SORDID is the crisis that plagues the Bharatiya Janata Party that even insiders describe its recent transition as a journey from “India Shining” to “India Snorting”– i.e from its extravagant claim about India’s growing mass prosperity that caused the party’s defeat in the last Lok Sabha elections, to the sordid reality of sleaze and scandal that today permeates the “party with a difference”. That seems the most appropriate characterisation of the state of the BJP after the liquor-and-narcotics-overdose scam that apparently killed Vivek Moitra, long-standing party apparatchik and secretary of Pramod Mahajan, and landed Mahajan’s son and rising party star Rahul in jail on serious charges under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Prevention) Act.
Coming as it does barely four weeks weeks after the murder of Pramod Mahajan, the BJP’s foremost second-generation leader, by his own brother, the episode is one more nail in the coffin of the party’s political stature and credibility. It just won’t do for the BJP to pretend, as Ms Sushma Swaraj did, that the champagne-plus-cocaine (laced with heroin?) mishap was a “private” and “family matter”, which is in no way linked to the BJP. Ms Swaraj, an L K Advani groupie, was basically expressing a factional view and has since been repudiated by Mr A B Vajpayee, who says the party stands by Rahul.
In reality, Rahul Mahajan was being groomed and projected as his father’s political successor and was likely to be named by the party president, Mr Rajnath Singh as a BJP youth leader. Moitra was a BJP member for 15 years, and part of its Maharashtra executive committee. He served former deputy chief minister, Mr Gopinath Munde, and then his brother-in-law and mentor Pramod Mahajan, as secretary.
Moitra, like Mr Sudhanshu Mittal—routinely described as low-level operator, procurer and a tentwallah—was part of the inner cabal that drew up Mahajan’s fanciful plans for the 2004 “India Shining” campaign in the all-digital high-tech outhouse that served as Mahajan’s election strategy office at 7, Safdarjang Road in New Delhi. This cabal controlled and ran the command centre of the huge parallel financial network or “empire” that Mahajan erected within the BJP, right under the nose of Mr Vajpayee, and apparently with his approval.
It now emerges that this empire was not based on corporate connections alone. Sleaze, sex, drugs and crime have all been an integral part of it. Mahajan, contrary to claims, didn’t “modernise” the BJP. He gave it a semi-criminal, semi-corporate character. Neither the BJP, nor the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, can credibly distance itself from Pramod Mahajan after projecting him as a hero and tragic victim after his murder. His presence looms large over both. Not only was Mahajan the party’s principal candidate for the prime ministerial post and its ablest organiser and fixer. He was the principal patron of Mr Rajnath Singh and instrumental in making him party president—with the RSS’s blessings.
The RSS may not have approved of Mahajan’s lavish lifestyle and his penchant for holding party conventions in seven-star hotels. But it was never averse to receiving large sums of money from Mahajan, including generous grants for its ideological training centre, the Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini, with its vast grounds, near Mumbai.
For all its claims to austerity and puritanism, the RSS has been fully drawn into the web of venality and personal corruption that now engulfs the entire Sangh Parivar.
Skirmishes between different organisations of the Parivar, and within them—once rare, if not unthinkable—have turned into full-scale warfare, bitterly conducted in the open, often with the mediation of television channels. Over the past two years, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the BJP have been frequently at each other’s throats. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh has turned into a bitter adversary of the BJP. The Bajrang Dal has repeatedly denounced the party’s “weak-kneed” approach to the Ram temple issue. Parivar members are no longer able or willing to coordinate their activities. Within the BJP itself, numerous leaders viciously compete against one another in hatching conspiracies that would put the mafia to shame.
This emphatically does not mean that the BJP has stopped being communal or Hindu-sectarian. It still remains obsessed with a majoritarian and exclusivist ethnic-religious vision of society and politics in which the Hindus would enjoy primacy. What has changed is a second component of its original ideology—opposition to foreign capital, emphasis on swadeshi, and commitment to traders, rather than industrialists. The BJP now champions corporate-led globalisation and sees itself as a representative of Big Business. The party’s gut-level instincts remain deeply Islamophobic and hawkish on questions of security.
An instance is Mr Vinay Katiyar’s offer of a Rs 1 lakh reward to anyone who kills a terrorist in Kashmir. This was no different from Uttar Pradesh minister, Mr Yaqoob Qureshi’s offer to anyone who kills the Danish cartoonists who insulted Prophet Mohammed. It must be condemned equally strongly.
The Sangh Parivar’s ideological and organisational crises are compounded by its lack of political strategy. The BJP has failed to reconcile its own elitist social and economic orientation, and its upper-caste urban middle class roots, with the compulsion of practical politics, including recognition of the unstoppable “Forward March of the Backwards”, and the need to support the aspirations of the lower strata of the social hierarchy.
It dare not oppose the 27 per cent quota for OBCs in central universities and institutes, but its heart is with the anti-quota protestors. It likes and wants more right-wing “free-market” policies, but it’s not prepared for their consequences, including the suicide of 1,00,000 farmers over the past decade. It leads the opposition in Parliament, but has no logical basis for its adversarial stance, which is increasingly inconsistent, shrill and irresponsible.
What does all this mean for the BJP’s future? Its crisis is indeed comprehensive, multi-dimensional, all-pervasive and grave. It’s ideological, organisational and political, and aggravated by an increasingly bankrupt leadership. The party is, electorally, in shrinking mode. Unlike in the 1990s, when it was in the ascendant, ruled in close to half of India’s major states, and came to power nationally, it now resembles the Jana Sangh of the 1960s. Then, like now, the party was strong mainly in central and western India. The only difference is that the BJP has spread its influence into once-peripheral states like Karnataka and Assam, and strengthened its base among the Adivasis of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.
However, in the Hindi heartland, the BJP is at best a marginal player—unlike in the early or mid-1990s. In Uttar Pradesh, it faces the prospect of a total rout, falling to fourth place in a contest dominated by the BSP and the SP. In Bihar, it plays second fiddle to the Janata Dal (United). Worse, it is hit by splits in all the six states where it rules.
The loss of OBC firebrand, Ms Uma Bharati is likely to cost the BJP particularly dearly in Madhya Pradesh and parts of Uttar Pradesh (Bundelkhand). So will Mr Babulal Marandi’s decision to quit the party in Jharkhand where he was its sole MP and most respected politician.
Today, the BJP behaves as if it were consumed by a death-wish. Its leaders are their own worst enemies and bent on destroying one another. The party has no positive contribution to make to this society or polity. Its existen
ce seems pointless. One should shed no tears over its deepening crisis.