Debating India


Advani’s political doosra gets called

Tuesday 14 June 2005, by SAINATH*P.

L.K. Advani’s troubles are not all about Jinnah. Nor are they over with his return as president of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

L.K. ADVANI is back. But on terms approved by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The "remarks-were-taken-out-of-context" campaign is in full swing. And, ahem, Jinnah led a communal movement that resulted in Pakistan. And whatever may have been his vision, Pakistan is now anti-secular. So if this much was agreed on, what was all the fuss about?

One favoured theory is that some deep and well-thought-out strategy underlay Mr. Advani’s statements on Jinnah in Pakistan. His remarks were in pursuit of a subtle patriotic plan the rest of us fail to perceive.

Note that the BJP now trumpets a temple angle (How clever of him to have made his remarks while he took part in a function to restore old Hindu temples in Muslim Pakistan.) Some columnists have focussed on the same point but differently. Here, they contend, was the scourge of Babri Masjid reviving temples in Pakistan. It was a big push for the peace process. More hidden aspects of this grand design have begun to surface. The BJP now calls Mr. Advani’s Pakistan trip a success. He raised the far more important issue of terrorism. Jinnah can rest in pieces.

This notion of Mr. Advani having pushed a shrewd strategy conflicts a wee bit with reports of the leader’s deeply wounded feelings. A result of his party’s failure to stand by him. But perhaps that is part of the plan, too. Obviously the strategy has to be a complex one. Asking the Sangh Parivar to re-assess Jinnah is urging Tyrannosaurus Rex to go vegan. Both roads lead to the same end result. Extinction. However, an evolutionary compromise seems to have been arrived at.

Perhaps the most candid - and profound - assessment of what happened comes from BJP leader Kalraj Mishra. Advaniji, he points out innocently, was speaking to a Pakistani audience after all. For Mr. Mishra, that explains everything. He was selling in another market. Different audiences, different propaganda.

The truth is that Mr. Advani and his old colleague, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, have done this for decades. Both often say the opposite of what they did just days earlier. Editorial writers have often termed this `statesmanship.’ The less charitable call it doublespeak. (Jyoti Basu, for instance, says Mr. Advani reminds him of Jinnah. The deeds of both, he feels, suggest they were men who lacked firm convictions. He must feels vindicated by Mr. Advani’s latest volte face. In the late 1980s, Mr. Basu pleaded in vain with today’s peacemaker to spare the country the savagery of the Ayodhya stir.)

Old story

For the street, Mr. Advani presented the rath yatra, its blood, guts and gore. Put him before another class of audience and December 6, 1992, becomes "the saddest day of my life." He’s done it all before. Mr. Vajpayee shed copious tears on that date. But calmly expressed very different sentiments when speaking to his storm troopers at other times.

Both have been bowling political doosras for years. The doosra is the `second’ or `other’ delivery. It looks like a regular off-break. But just when you think it’s spinning towards the bat, it goes the other way, like a leg-break. Just when you think Mr. Advani is turning one way, he spins the other. And here he is doing it once again. No wonder the party’s second line leadership consists of so many spin doctors. They’ve spent years at the nets, training at the feet of the master.

The wrecked yatra to Pakistan was very important. But Mr. Advani’s troubles are not all about Jinnah. Nor are they over with his return as BJP president. The present farce takes away in some sense from the internal - non-Jinnah - turmoil of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. The resignation show may be over. The larger drama isn’t. Take the sacking of Venkaiah Naidu. Or the Uma Bharati soap opera (episode 3). Or the ritual humiliation of Mr. Vajpayee (denounced by the RSS as one of the "weakest" leaders of the country).

The party’s growing crisis has been on display for a while. More frustrating, no external `conspiracies’ can be found to explain it. The rout of the BJP in the recent by-elections adds another dimension to this. In by-polls to 16 Assembly and two Lok Sabha seats across the country, it won just one. In only two did its vote cross 25 per cent. In seven Assembly and two Lok Sabha seats, it fell below a pathetic five per cent.

In Goa, it lost four of the five seats it contested. Haryana was a humiliating rout for the BJP. Uttar Pradesh an embarrassment. In Kerala, it sat out the race. The BJP had made the arrest of the Shankaracharya of Kanchi a national issue. Yet, it did not dare to contest the Kancheepuram seat in Tamil Nadu. The Hindu Mahasabha candidate its cadres supported lost his deposit.

If the United Progressive Alliance gets its act together in Bihar, it will be a rough ride for the National Democratic Alliance in that State. In West Bengal and Kerala next year, the BJP isn’t in the picture. In Tamil Nadu, where it has broken with its old ally the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, it faces total eclipse.

Meanwhile, in Madhya Pradesh where it won the last Assembly polls massively, it has been plagued by factional feuds. In Gujarat, rival groups challenge Narendra Modi openly. Mr. Modi himself has been at the centre of one embarrassing controversy or another. The UPA’s first year has been a poor one. Yet, with its silly boycott of parliament, the BJP has been unable to pin its rival on the back foot. Its whiz kids are out of fizz and its spin doctors don’t like their own medicine. Out of power, its leaders find their followers no longer give them the deference they got while in office. Another time, another era, Mr. Advani’s "image makeover" might have gone unchallenged. This was not that time.

Crucial mistake

One crucial mistake was playing on Pakistani soil. A bad pitch. The fans at home didn’t like it. And Nagpur, home of the political doosra, called his action. He has to now work with the bio-mechanic experts of the RSS to correct his action. When in power, Mr. Advani might have even survived making his Jinnah remarks in India. The larger public is far more tolerant than the saffron mob. And there would have been the captive columnists in a largely sycophantic press to add spin to his words. This time, even the `second-rung’ of BJP leaders, never too busy to show up at the nearest TV studio to sneer at their rivals, have been cameraphobic and soundbite shy. Another error was in not understanding how much the political situation has changed. How demoralised his party is. How little it needed to spark off more internal political bloodletting. A third problem was in thinking that you can just switch off all the hatred you have nurtured as the basis of your politics. That might work to some degree, and for a while, when you’re in power. Not so easy when you’re out.

The doosra is too deeply embedded in the parivar’s politics to end it. Remember the dramatic turnaround on swadeshi, to take just one instance. The complete reversal of stand on neo-liberal policies. The hypocrisy on the charge sheeted ministers’ issue is a more recent example. Still more striking is the multiple spin on Gujarat. Mr. Vajpayee once said it would have been better if Mr. Modi had stepped down. Then followed a staunch defence of Mr. Modi - by Mr. Vajpayee, amongst others. Next, Mr. Advani claimed Gujarat was just about the best-run Atate in the country. Now Pramod Mahajan `regrets’ what happened in that State. It all defied the laws of political gravity and had to hit the ground at some point.

Standard stuff

This is standard stuff with the Sangh Parivar and its political arm. Given the right audience, it even tries to appropriate Gandhi. Indeed, its various arms are set up on that principle. Different consumers, different salesmen. The BJP is the political arm of the RSS. But it can’t capture all markets. So you have the VHP, which is the BJP on steroids. And the Bajrang Dal, which is the VHP on more dangerous banned substances.

Even now, a battery of bowlers can be seen turning their arms over at the doosra. Mr. Togadia calls Mr. Advani a traitor. Another VHP hit man denies he said this. The BJP scolds the VHP. But remains silent on the rebukes of the RSS. Yashwant Sinha says Mr. Advani was wrong in what he said about Jinnah. The next day, he changes his run up and bowls from wide off the crease.

The RSS is more honest. All this is an internal matter of the BJP, it says. And since the BJP is an internal matter of the RSS, we’ll do what we need to about it. And they have. The dons of the doosra have spun and enforced a new resolution. It’s business as usual. Until things spin out of control again.

See online : The Hindu

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