By Rajinder Puri, The Statesman , 7 Jan 2007
The NDA’s showing in the Maharashtra civic polls is a shot in the arm for the BJP. But the euphoria is misplaced. Last week when BJP President Rajnath Singh reshuffled his secretaries it attracted media speculation. One wonders why. Does the game of musical chairs in a declining party matter? Until now there have been two so-called national parties forming unprincipled, uneasy alliances with regional partners, to create a UPA-NDA polarisation. The influence of neither of the so-called national parties extends beyond half a dozen states. And both parties have proved equally ineffective in power. Both parties have done nothing to improve their respective organisations. Both parties have relied up to now on the government’s poor performance and the incumbency factor to be voted back to power.
Now the situation might change. The BJP is floundering so badly that even this pathetic arrangement could end. The BJP could all but disappear under the severe crisis that overwhelms it. One may ignore the indiscipline, rebellions and defections that have begun lately to splinter the party. One must focus instead on the changed perceptions of a new generation, on life as changed by globalisation, and on the unchanged mindset of those who lead the BJP. The crisis in the BJP is fundamental. The party is directionless because it is flawed in structure, in ideology and in culture. Let us see how.
Out of politics
The BJP is a party of leaders without workers. The workers belong to the RSS. That is why the RSS controls the BJP. That is why BJP leaders do not emerge through a healthy political process but are appointed by the RSS. True, one could say that the same happens in the Congress. After all, Mrs Sonia Gandhi appointed Dr Manmohan Singh as PM. But there is a difference. The Congress functions like monarchy with a royal dynasty. The RSS functions like a bunch of oligarchs squabbling behind the curtain. There is certainty in the Congress; there is confusion in the RSS. Also, Mrs Gandhi is the president of her party. She is upfront in politics. Through her party she acts as the mentor of the government. The RSS is out of politics. It exercises power without responsibility. It acts like a backseat driver who has never driven a car himself.
The RSS is secretly flattered when compared to Hitler. But its reputation for militancy is questionable. As the late ML Sondhi once humorously remarked to me, “I don’t know why people associate RSS with Hitler. They should associate it with Baden-Powell, who founded the Boy Scout movement!” Morning calisthenics and staff-waving do not add up to militancy. For communal violence the RSS does what other organisations do. It exploits anti-social elements to spread mayhem. It is only the emergence of the VHP that has tended to greatly alter the situation. And it has also greatly compounded the confusion and debilitation of the RSS.
The RSS was always dominated by Brahmins and Banias. The Banias mobilised funds but the Brahmins called the shots. The Banias got fed up with this arrangement. So they created the VHP as part of the Sangh Parivar. But they controlled it. The VHP is militant and capable of unleashing violence on its own. It is led by Banias like Dalmia and Singhal. Its footsoldiers are drawn from lumpen OBCs. Its favoured mass icons are OBCs, such as Uma Bharati, Vinay Katyar and Kalyan Singh. The financial links of VHP leaders with NRIs abroad have enabled them to mobilise funds required for a big organisation. With autonomous control the VHP forged its own agenda. In the demolition of the Babari Masjid it was the VHP leaders who took the lead. The RSS was an approving bystander. Sometimes fissures between RSS and VHP are discernable. When this happens it is the VHP mostly which prevails. Narendra Modi, for instance, was the blue-eyed boy of the RSS until he fell out with the VHP. Now the RSS has been forced to remove him from the BJP parliamentary board. Thus while the BJP is controlled by RSS, the latter is in turn pushed and pulled by the VHP. That is why the party lurches without direction.
This confusion has spread to the BJP’s ideology. In truth, the Sangh Parivar never had an ideology. It had an attitude. It has always been anti-minority. A party is entitled to hold its views. But it invites ridicule when its views are glaringly self-contradictory. For instance, in the recent issue of the RSS weekly Organizer, the RSS number two, Mohan Bhagwat, has once again eulogised Akhand Bharat. How can an Akhand Bharat of even cultural nationalism ~ such as Mr LK Advani frequently dwells upon ~ co-exist with the VHP brand of Hindutva? The two preclude each other. The truth is that Sangh Parivar leaders have neither ideology nor consistency. Recall Babari-wrecker Kalyan Singh leaping into the arms of Babari-defender Mulayam Singh, and then leaping back into the arms of the BJP! It speaks volumes of both the leader and his party which after this welcomed him back. There are issues galore to develop and propagate for expanding political constituencies. This is not the occasion to identify them. The BJP has no interest in a political agenda that meets the real aspirations of the public. Like a stuck gramophone needle it keeps repeating a tired refrain.
No real leaders
Can the BJP change? Editorial writers have urged Mr Vajpayee and Mr Advani to make way for younger leaders. But political leaders are not appointed. They seize power after rising through their own sweat and toil. One columnist has urged that the BJP should have a proper election for a leader. Does he not realise that if an election were held and Vajpayee threw his hat into the ring he would win hands down? Probably none would dare to even challenge him! That is the political culture prevalent here today. There is no real politicking, no real political issues, and no real leaders. What counts are soundbytes on TV and the ability to snuggle close to corporate sharks for funds .
On present reckoning the UPA government is in no danger of demitting office. It has even notched up a few popularly perceived gains in foreign policy. It faces no outside challenge. It can only collapse through some monumental stupidity of its own. In the remaining two years of this government’s tenure the BJP’s decline will continue, unless the party reinvents itself. The prospect of that happening is remote. The party in its present shape seems to have little future. If it does, India under its governance may have none.
The author is a veteran journalist and cartoonist