Debating India

ANALYSIS

The BJP-RSS equation

Saturday 7 May 2005, by NOORANI*A.G.

The influence of an extra-constitutional body, fascist in its set-up and outlook and committed to the cult of hate, over a political party implies a serious threat to India’s parliamentary democracy.

"The BJP for its part will try to develop into a national political force, but it is questionable whether it can do so with a cadre drawn largely from the RSS. Within the party’s organisational structure, the cadre has been reluctant to share power with politically prominent figures from non-RSS backgrounds who could mobilise mass support for the party. The RSS training, emphasising the sacrifice of self for the larger good, and apolitical orientation of the RSS ideology, make it unlikely that politically charismatic figures will emerge from within its own ranks. On the other hand, it is questionable if the BJP could survive politically without the RSS cadre, and the cadre will not stay unless the leadership of the party stays firmly in the hands of the `brotherhood’."

Walter K. Andersen and Shridhar K. Damle; The Brotherhood in Saffron; Vistaar; pages 238-9.

THE Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have demonstrated that neither of them can possibly grow. The RSS’ limitations are obvious. Let alone the minorities, Hindus find it difficult to accept its revivalist ideology and its addiction to violence and hate, which is why it attacks "westernised Hindus". The BJP needed the Ayodhya issue to come centrestage. But it overshot the mark with the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, and needed political adventurers of flexible conscience to drum up the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 1998.

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S. SUBRAMANIUM
K.S. Sudarshan. He made his point for the entire Sangh Parivar to see. The panic in the BJP proved that he was the boss.

In power, the BJP failed to fulfil the RSS’ expectations or satisfy its boss, K.S. Sudarshan. Electoral defeat tests character. In 1945, British politician R.A. Butler sought only a room and a small staff to study and craft an ideology for the defeated Tories that the British electorate could accept. The narcissists of the Socialist Party went to pieces after the debacle in the 1952 general elections. It was torn apart between the unscrupulous politics of Lohia and the opportunism of Ashoka Mehta, both men of inordinate vanity. Far smaller men are the BJP’s leaders; smaller still are their masters in the RSS - men of little education, less intelligence and coarse to a degree. The reader might ask what, apart from ideology, are the traits that unite Sudarshan, Giriraj Kishore, Praveen Togadia, Dharmendra, Ashok Singhal and Uma Bharati, to mention some.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani certainly do not fall into this category; yet neither flinches from reckless falsehood and both practice the politics of deceit. Elementary honesty required them to tell the RSS leaders that construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya by the government is a constitutional impossibility in the light of the Supreme Court’s judgment; so is abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution under the very text of the Constitution. A uniform civil code is a political impossibility.

Advani, who took over the BJP’s presidentship from the incompetent M. Venkaiah Naidu after the defeat in the polls, is no Rab Butler. The man is inherently incapable of thinking anew. All he could do was to revive the cry of Hindutva. But the souffle rises only once. The BJP cannot grow with that archaic ideology and under the RSS’ tutelage. The RSS cannot grow either. Each feeds on the other. The BJP needs the cadre and the RSS needs a political front. They will squabble and make up; only to squabble again. Both are destined to irrelevance and an assured place eventually in the dustbin of history.

Sudarshan’s interview to Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief of Indian Express, in which this young man gave marching orders to the aged duo, Vajpayee and Advani, is, by any test, a historic occurrence. The wounds might heal; but the scars will remain (vide Indian Express; April 17, 2005, for the text of the transcript). Neither Sudarshan’s candidates nor any others of the next generation has talents of leadership or mass appeal.

The significance of this event can be assessed only in the context of the trend set by Sudarshan since he became the RSS supremo five years ago, on March 10, 2000. It was not a sudden aberration at all. He lacks the tactical skills and shrewdness of Rajendra Singh and is loud and assertive. Vajpayee’s attempts at appeasement by reviving the temple issue in Parliament on December 6, 2000, flouting the NDA’s Agenda for Governance, only whetted the RSS’ appetite. Significantly, Vajpayee’s offer in private to resign was prompted not by rumblings in the BJP but by orders from the RSS. For the same reason, Advani cannot survive as president of the party once its bosses in the RSS give him a clear order. The reality can no longer be concealed - the RSS is the organ-grinder; the BJP is its trained monkey. The record from 2001 to 2005 speaks for itself.

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VINO JOHN
L.K. Advani

Early in 2001, Rajdeep Sardesai noted two salient features in the BJP-RSS equation. One was that "it is no longer the sarsanghchalak sitting in Nagpur, but the PMO in Delhi which calls the shots". The other was that "the daily attendance at the RSS’ early morning shakhas (units) is showing a decline in many regions. By contrast, the streetfighting tactics of the VHP [Vishwa Hindu Parishad] and the Bajrang Dal have seen their members grow rapidly" (Indian Express; February 19, 2001). Sudarshan knew he had to act and go beyond taking pot-shots at Vajpayee for neglecting Hindi, caving in to the World Bank and the multinationals, attacking beauty contests, celebrating Valentine’s Day or the "Mummy-Daddy" culture instead of "mataji-pitaji" (The Times of India; February 19, 2001); a fine reflection of his insights on the outlook of the young. He had to revive Hindutva and construct its tangible symbol, the temple. The NDA’s allies would comply, he thought, not altogether wrongly.

On February 24, VHP leaders met Prime Minister Vajpayee and demanded that he hand over 67 acres of land, acquired by the government near the disputed site at Ayodhya, in order to begin construction of the temple, so as to foreclose an adverse court verdict. "If the Ram temple is not built during your tenure as Prime Minister, when will it be built?" they asked him (The Hindu, February 25). On the same day, Sudarshan asked Muslims to "adopt Indian culture" and Hindu names: "Why can’t there be a Mohammed Prasad or Mohammed Das in India?" (The Telegraph; February 25). Christians were asked to severe links with the Vatican (The Asian Age, March 9).

This set the tone. The temple campaign had begun in earnest. Ashok Singhal, the VHP’s "working" president, set Shiv Chaturdashi in 2002 as the target date for commencement of its construction. It is its total failure which aroused the RSS’ wrath. Electoral defeat in 2004 lifted restraint on its expression. Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi seized the opportunity to tell the Liberhan Commission on March 22 that the courts cannot solve the Ayodhya issue. It can be resolved only by an accord or - by separate legislation as the BJP had demanded until 1998 only to drop it rather than lose power. It had done no more than drop an impossible demand. But the wildmen of the RSS were not convinced. Joshi voiced their views in order to embarrass Advani (The Asian Age; March 23).

The Tehelka exposure on March 14 led to BJP president Bangaru Lakshman’s ouster. K. Jana Krishnamurthi succeeded him on March 20. The RSS’ organ Panchajanya welcomed him on April 3 while castigating the party. It was not amused when Vajpayee told his Iranian hosts in Teheran on April 11 that Islam had been an integral part of India’s national life and he had ever been "moved by the story of the supreme sacrifice of Imam Hussain at Karbala". Since his youth, Moharrum processions "made a profound impression on me" (The Hindu, April 12). It was a secret he had successfully concealed in India, all these long years.

Ashok Singhal warned: "If the BJP does not improve its style of functioning, we will eat up the BJP" (The Asian Age; April 23). Vajpayee responded by hosting a lunch for three senior RSS functionaries: H.V. Seshadri, Madan Das Devi and M.G. Vaidya. Sudarshan was out of town. They agreed to eschew, at least in public, criticism of the government," Harish Khare reported (The Hindu; May 13).

Vajpayee shared the dais with Sudarshan at a book launch. They had not met for over a year. He praised the RSS in fulsome terms. Harish Khare’s portrait of the gathering catches the change that had come over the movement: "The majority of the 300 or so crowd belonged to prosperous-looking, safari-donning `sympathisers’, while the RSS `pracharaks’ were rather conspicuous in their hand-washed kurtas. The women too were fashionably dressed; if not exactly the Indian Fashion Week crowd, they certainly did Karol Bagh proud. And, the shiny cars of the swayamsewaks told a tale of new-found prosperity" (The Hindu; August 19). It is not hard to guess the sources of the newly gained affluence.

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H. SATISH
Uma Bharati

Four days later Vajpayee went further to mollify the RSS. He swore allegiance to its flag and offered the "Guru Dakshina". He made an RSS veteran adviser in the Indian Embassy in Washington in the "personal" rank of Ambassador. Besides, Vajpayee claimed on August 27 that talks were afoot to secure Muslims’ consent to build the temple (The Asian Age; August 28). The claim was denied, angrily.

The RSS was not a bit mollified. On September 10, its spokesman M.G. Vaidya declared: "The RSS will be putting forth its stand on all important issues as explicitly and unequivocally as possible. We are not going to bind ourselves by the constraints and compulsions of the coalition politics" (The Telegraph; September 11).

Vajpayee refused to learn from experience. He assured the VHP leaders recklessly that he would solve the Ayodhya dispute by Shivratri, March 12, 2002 (The Asian Age; October 11). He knew, of course, that this was simply impossible. The VHP leaders held him to his words; but were not taken in. Eight days later its supporters stormed into the disputed site. Advani only encouraged the RSS leaders when he said: "If we had not started the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, the BJP would not have been where it is today" (The Asian Age; October 22). It was an abject confession of dependence on the RSS-VHP combine and of the fact that the BJP had nothing else to offer to the nation, except Hindutva and the temple.

Emboldened, the RSS kept up the heat: "How can the Prime Minister, who is a part of the party, be superior to it?" Vaidya asked (The Statesman; November 10). He affirmed on December 6, the anniversary of the mosque’s demolition, that "the temple will be constructed at any cost... . We will support all the VHP’s programmes that will go on until March 12, 2002" (The Telegraph; December 7, 2001). Vajpayee ostentatiously revived the Ayodhya cell in the Prime Minister’s Office to fulfil his impossible promise.

As 2002 dawned, Vajpayee belatedly asked the VHP to put the issue on the back burner (The Hindu; January 4, 2002). The VHP moved on regardless. This is a record of the RSS-BJP in which Ayodhya is but an important item. The devious attempts to drum up an accord and the course of the litigation are reflected in the documents, which the writer compiled (The Babri Masjid Question 1528-2003; Volumes. 1 and 2; Tulika). Rather late in the day, Vajpayee began swearing by the court’s verdict. Simultaneously, he threatened the Muslims that the BJP would win the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections even if they voted against it. They should not adopt an "anti-BJP stance" - despite its policies (The Hindu; February 20, 2002). The characteristic Vajpayee disclaimer followed, as always, after two days.

WHILE all eyes were fixed on the countdown to March 12, 2002, came the Godhra incident on February 27, followed by a pogrom of Muslims in the Narendra Modi-ruled Gujarat. Vajpayee and Advani were not concerned by what was happening in Gujarat. They were engrossed in parleys with the Sangh Parivar (The Times of India; March 2).

The VHP proposed a face-saving formula - a three months’ grace time to the government if "symbolic-bhoomi puja" was allowed on March 15. On March 8, the Vajpayee government agreed to permit that (The Hindu; March 9). On its instructions, Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee, applied to the Supreme Court to permit puja at the "undisputed" site. The court’s decisive, explicit rejection of the plea on March 13 marks a definitive moment. The government realised that its plans had no chance of success. The RSS and the VHP were convinced that the Vapayee government was impotent to fulfil its pledges and was insincere, anyway. Relations between the BJP and the RSS headed for a steep decline after March 13, 2002. Success in the 2004 general elections would have emboldened the RSS to renew its demands. The debacle left it frustrated and embittered. It had been used and cheated.

Vajpayee told Muslims on March 12: "I do not represent any particular community, but the entire nation." None of his predecessors had felt it necessary to assert that. On April 12, at the BJP national executive meeting in Goa, Vajpayee famously condemned Muslims en bloc: "Wherever there are Muslims, they do not want to live with others" (vide the writer’s article "The man behind the image"; Frontline; July 16, 2004, for Vajpayee’s record on Gujarat pogrom).

Advani asserted that "there was no need to be apologetic about our party’s ideological moorings" (The Hindu; April 14). Even a pogrom could not inject sobriety in minds inebriated with power and bigotry. The VHP’s "international" general secretary Pravin Togadia declared, on the morrow of the pogrom that "the Muslims have to be taught a lesson once and for all" (The Hindustan Times; April 22). Amidst it all Vajpayee said revealingly: "It has to be acknowledged that we have the responsibility of the majority community on us." This was even as he failed dismally in discharging his "responsibility" to Muslims. On this, he was defiant. India "does not need to learn lessons of secularism and pluralism from the world". Never since Independence had the country incurred such odium abroad.

On April 27 and 28, a two-day summit of the BJP and the RSS leaders was held in New Delhi. Assembly elections were due in the next year in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. The participants were Sudarshan, Seshadri and Madan Das Devi, on the RSS side, while Vajpayee, Advani, Joshi, Pramod Mahajan, Venkaiah Naidu and Jana Krishnamurthi represented the BJP. Venkaiah Naidu’s remarks at the end of the exercise provide a clue as to what transpired: "There should be understanding of the compulsions of mass organisations and the limitations of the government" (The Hindustan Times; April 29).

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V. SUDERSHAN
Sushma Swaraj

The RSS won, as it always did. On May 1, Jana Krishnamurthi restructured the BJP into five zones placing them under RSS pracharaks - Kushabhau Thakre, Kailashpati Mishra, V. Ramarao, Pyarelal Khandelwal and Sanjay Joshi. This was in response to Sudarshan’s pep talk at the summit.

Thus, four years after it won power at the Centre, the BJP had come completely under the RSS’ direct control. The net result of the parleys at the summit was revealed by "a senior RSS leader" on May 9 to Sanjay Basak. The government was "expected to keep the RSS informed about all major policy decisions on the domestic and international front" (The Asian Age; May 10). In Uttar Pradesh, the man who once declared that Muslims should either be in the graveyard or in Pakistan was made president of the BJP’s unit on June 24, 2002. He was Vinay Katiyar, former convener of the Bajrang Dal.

By now Vajpayee was effectively sidelined. Advani said on July 13: "The party (read: the RSS) and government link should be maintained and I will do so." He had become Deputy Prime Minister and Venkaiah Naidu had replaced [Jana] Krishnamurthi (The Asian Age, July 14). The paper carried a report by Seema Mustafa and Sanjay Basak on August 19 on the exemption from income-tax which the RSS and the VHP enjoyed, enriching themselves by crores.

Venkaiah Naidu lost no time in assuring the RSS that the BJP was "proud of our connection" with it (The Hindu; September 5). Advani revived the issue of cow slaughter on September 6. None of this worked. On October 8, Panchajanya criticised Vajpayee and Advani for "failure on all fronts", and adding that a "government intolerant of criticism deserves a place in the dustbin of history". It went on to make a remark calculated to wound and hurt: "All our faults are heaped on Pakistan." There was no way the BJP could win, no matter how low it bent in obeisance to the RSS.

A pattern was set - every outburst by the RSS was followed by an RSS-BJP meeting, followed by a lull only to be broken by yet another outburst. Advani and Venkaiah Naidu pleaded for understanding when they met Madan Das Devi on October 15. Five days later, the BJP held a conclave at a five-star hotel in Mumbai. Venkaiah Naidu said, after the meeting ended, "we will speak to the RSS to understand each other’s problems without giving scope for ideological rivals to take advantage" (Indian Express; October 21). Another RSS-government dinner meeting followed four days later in New Delhi at Vajpayee’s residence at which he tried to buy peace by assuring Sudarshan that he would "consult" the Sangh [Parivar] on all national issues much more frequently (Radhika Ramaseshan, The Telegraph; and Neena Vyas, The Hindu; both of October 25).

On December 2002, Narendra Modi won 127 seats in the 182-member Gujarat Assembly after a rabidly communal election campaign in which he capitalised on his performance on the pogrom. Vajpayee felt vindicated: "Why didn’t may people of the Muslim community condemn the Godhra incident? Even today there is no repentance... that we committed a mistake or that this should not have happened and that it was a crime" (The Telegraph, December 18). An entire community was held responsible for Godhra; this, despite the fact that the truth about the Godhra incident was far from clear even then. Advani said on that occasion: "We must not be ashamed of our ideology." Victory did not instil moderation. It only made the Parivar leaders more brazenly communal in their utterances: "We shall replicate the Gujarat experience everywhere. It was a mandate for the (Hindutva) ideology," Venkaiah Naidu promised the BJP national executive (The Hindu; December 24). Vajpayee went one better. "What is this talk of a Hindu Rashtra in the next two years? India has always been a Hindu rashtra" (The Asian Age; December 25). Sudarshan told Panchajanya (December 30) that the Gujarat polls had set the stage for a war of Mahabharata between the votaries of Hindutva and their opponents."

AFTER all this, inevitably, 2003 saw a revival of the demand for constructing the Ram temple. What else did the BJP’s words imply if not its approval, the RSS felt, not unreasonably. Advani also resurrected the two other issues - Article 370 and uniform civil code - ahead of the Assembly polls despite their omission from the NDA’s agenda (The Hindu; January 21).

On February 5, the government moved the Supreme Court seeking vacation of its order of March 12, 2002, banning any kind of religious activity in the disputed land at Ayodhya. On February 13, the court declined to fix an early hearing on this application, which had been made in view of the VHP Dharma Sansad on February 21. On this day, the court fixed March 6 for hearing the government’s plea. The case was heard that day, the court reserving its verdict. The Supreme Court’s judgment on March 31, 2003, affirming its order of March 13, 2002, put a quietus to the RSS’ moves and the government’s support to them. The rule of law had triumphed leaving the RSS frustrated and bitter at the government’s emotions which built up gradually and found expression in Sudarshan’s periodic outbursts.

Bowing to pressures the BJP agreed to let the RSS play a yet greater role in the party’s affairs by assigning RSS men for the BJP’s organs. This was the outcome of a meeting between Venkaiah Naidu and Mohan Bhagwat on February 13 (The Hindu; February 14). The pact came in the wake of intemperate attacks on the BJP by VHP leaders. The BJP ran for cover and sought the RSS’ protection. The RSS bridled the VHP while extracting a price from the BJP - greater compliance.

Vajpayee and Advani met Sudarshan and other RSS leaders on March 20 to consider issues of "national importance". These confabulations had assumed the character of a confessional between priest and follower, rather than internal discussions among members of the same family (the Sangh Parivar). On May 1, 2003, a three-day conclave of around 55 top leaders of the Sangh organisations began in New Delhi with Sudarshan in the chair. The BJP leaders were told that if they could "" their partners in the NDA, "there should not be any difficulty in accommodating the views of Sangh organisations". With elections round the corner, the BJP needed the Sangh Parivar’s goodwill and active help during the campaign. The BJP was represented by Vajpayee, Advani, Joshi, Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu and other party office-holders; the ones with an RSS background. The RSS representatives were Seshadri, Mohan Bhagwat and Madan Das Devi. Vajpayee’s abusive detractors in the VHP were present, too; namely Ashok Singhal and Pravin Togadia (The Hindu; May 2).

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RAMESH SHARMA
Arun Jaitley

On May 3, RSS spokesman Ram Madhav told presspersons that the BJP’s total support for a legislation to resolve the Ayodhya issue had been promised (Neena Vyas; The Hindu; May 4). The claim was not contested. Vajpayee praised the conclave and hoped such meetings would be held more often.

The VHP had made itself useful. Its "trishul diksha" did more than raise "Hindu consciousness". It raised funds. Applicants for a trishul diksha had to cough up money. On May 4 alone Rs.2.25 lakhs was raised (Sanjay Basak; The Asian Age; May 7). The VHP is a creature of the RSS, which rushed to its support when it was marginalised because of its leaders’ vituperation. Ram Madhav said on June 17 that "the VHP cannot be ignored or kept in the dark over the Ayodhya negotiations. The VHP has to be taken into confidence" (The Asian Age; June 18). The RSS conducted a real pantomime. Again and again the VHP would abuse the BJP, accusing it of betrayal on Ayodhya. The BJP would seek the RSS’ help, which was given in exchange for the BJP’s obeisance. Madhav’s statement came soon after Singhal and Togadia met Sudarshan. The government was using the Kanchi Shankaracharya, Jayendra Saraswati, as a "mediator" on Ayodhya. The VHP rejected him as "unsuitable" because he was a "Shaivite" (worshipper of Shiva) (The Asian Age; June 20).

Venkaiah Naidu met Sudarshan on June 22 to placate an angry RSS and to brief him about the "chintan baithak" (brain-storming session) held in Mumbai. The RSS stand was simple. It rejected negotiations as well as adjudication and urged legislation; a law passed by the majority of the day handing over the disputed site to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, a trust controlled by the VHP. It mattered not that the NDA might have split on the issue; that it lacked the requisite majority and that the law would be unconstitutional. Its sponsorship would send a message to the electorate and bar avenues of retreat by the BJP.

Neena Vyas reported that as a result of Venkaiah Naidu’s meeting with Sudarshan, the BJP had "fallen in line with the RSS’ view" on two points - Kashi and Mathura would not be bargained away as part of an accord on Ayodhya (as Advani had offered in 1990) and the VHP had to be involved in the talks on Ayodhya (The Hindu; June 24). Pramod Mahajan, the BJP’s general secretary, confirmed at Gwalior on June 25 that the VHP would indeed be involved in the talks. Its chief Ashok Singhal demanded, on July 3, that if the government did not sponsor the desired legislation, Vajpayee and Advani should resign. "Those are his personal views. Vajpayee need not resign," Ram Madhav said the next day. Two years later, Sudarshan demanded just that. On July 13, Advani ruled out legislation in informal talks with the editorial staff of Tarun Bharat, a pro-RSS paper. He advocated a pragmatic approach.

On July 19 at Raipur, the BJP’s national executive moved as close to the RSS’ position as it possibly could. "The legislative approach would be fruitful if our allies in the National Democratic Front as well as the parties in the Opposition, particularly the Congress, extend their support to it." It, nonetheless, promised that the legislative option "should be explored".

Meaningless overtures such as this explain the RSS’ charge of deceit. On August 1, addressing mourners at the funeral of the veteran Mahant Paramahamsa Ramchandra Das in Ayodhya, Vajpayee promised: "We will fulfil the Mahant’s last wish. We are confident that all obstacles will be removed and the path for temple construction will be cleared soon" (Amita Verma; The Asian Age; August 2). He knew very well precisely what the "obstacles" were. Two days later in New Delhi he "clarified" that there was no change in the government’s stand and the tangle could be resolved only by an accord or judicial verdict (The Times of India; August 4).

The VHP planned to hold a convention (Sankhalp Sammelan) at Ayodhya and a "peaceful" darshan of the Ram idol installed there after the demolition of the mosque. As Union Home Minister, Advani pleaded with the U.P. government not to prevent the VHP’s activists from reaching the site. The security forces, however, foiled the march.

The year 2004 proved to be a decisive year. Advani began the election campaign with a pledge to build the temple (The Times of India; January 14) while Vajpayee asked for a renewal of the mandate to fulfil "my promise" to build the Ram temple in Ayodhya (The Asian Age; February 8). Vajpayee warned Muslims, as before, not to be hostile to the BJP (The Statesman; February 26). He did not forbear from playing the Pakistan card; nor did Advani. The BJP’s three pet projects were included in its "Vision Document".

However, while the BJP wooed Muslims for their votes, Sudarshan rejected the very concept of minorities as a Western idea (The Hindu; March 17, 2004). This, of course, made a mockery of the explicit guarantees to the "minorities" in the Indian Constitution (Articles 29 and 30).

Advani pledged himself to fulfil the "dreams" of Hindus for a Ram temple if the BJP was returned to power (The Hindu; March 31). Construction would "begin within a short time after the new government assumes office" (Indian Express; April 6).

Those who make promises recklessly, in utter disregard of their incapacity for fulfilling them, have only themselves to blame when the moment of reckoning comes. Advani’s remarks at Ayodhya on April 6 gave him away. "It was this movement which kept the Hindu communities united" (The Asian Age; April 7).

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M.LAKSHMAN
Pramod Mahajan

While on the one hand he boasted that the BJP was a "party with a difference" and stood apart, on the other he was bitter at its isolation. He could not understand why it was distrusted, as his interview to The Asian Age revealed (April 17)

It was the electorate that rejected the BJP and its ramshackle coalition, the NDA, decisively in the Lok Sabha elections in May. The BJP was stunned. It could win only 138 seats in a House of 545, and 22.16 per cent of the total vote. The RSS and the VHP rushed to attribute the defeat to "dilution" of the Hindutva ideology. Vajpayee cited the Gujarat riots as one of its causes (June 12). The party defended Narendra Modi as did the RSS. Vajpayee retreated. Moves for Modi’s ouster from the office of Chief Minister got nowhere.

Manini Chatterjee tersely summed up the results of the BJP’s conclave at a five-star hotel in Mumbai: "It had forgotten nothing and learnt nothing" (Indian Express; June 23). The national executive saw Vajpayee threaten to retire one day and retract the threat the next day. The RSS went berserk, uttering inanities. Sudarshan said on July 17 that "the English culture converts our children to lesbianism and free sex which is not objectionable in the West". The Left ("Marxputras") was not spared. Jawaharlal Nehru was reviled (The Asian Age; July 18).

This was an hour of trial. Mettle is tested in defeat. The BJP’s veterans failed the party and their supporters dismally. There was not even a pretence of sober retrospect. They sought solace in knee-jerk revivalism. On July 26, the trio - Vajpayee, Advani and Venkaiah Naidu - went to the RSS’ headquarters at Jhandewalan in New Delhi to assure its leader for the umpteenth time that the party would unflinchingly stick to the RSS’ credo.

Two forthcoming events loomed large. A chintan baithak in Goa on August 1 and elections to the Maharashtra Assembly, apart from those in Bihar, Jharkhand, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh. Hopes largely rested on the Maharashtra polls. The former yielded a 10-point mantra of exhortations. Venkaiah Naidu revamped the party machinery with six RSS men as zonal organising secretaries. Defeat in Maharashtra in October dashed all hopes of an early revival.

Venkaiah Naidu stepped down as party chief. Advani began his fifth term as president with the RSS’ support. The VHP preferred Joshi (The Telegraph; October 19). Advani amply demonstrated that he was hopelessly confused, no sooner he formally took over the office on October 27. India, he said, had entered "an era of coalition politics". But this did not inhibit him from reviving the Hindutva plank. "Ideology is what gives the BJP its distinctive identity. We are a party with a difference precisely because we are firmly wedded to a set of core beliefs, which of course, the nation rejected. He pleaded that "the environment" had changed since 1990. But "the Ayodhya movement ensured that Hindus can no longer either be taken for granted or their sentiments blatantly disregarded.... The issue extends beyond the Ram temple... . The modern world demands a Hindu Renaissance.... " Advani is too intelligent not to know what his politics spell, not only for the minorities but also for the great Hindu community itself. What he does not realise is that it is the Hindus who reject his ideology as good Indians would.

The RSS was not unaffected by defeat as its executive’s deliberations at Hardwar on November 5 showed. It watched helplessly as personal attacks were made publicly by its pracharaks in the BJP. All Mohan Bhagwat could say was that "the BJP has given an assurance that they will return to Hindutva", adding meaningfully: "Let us see how they fulfil it" (The Hindu; November 7). It noticed, in disbelief, that when the NDA leaders met on November 15, it was to sing a different tune - an accord or a judicial verdict on the temple, "preferring" the former.

Advani’s penchant for cleverness overcame discretion when he held his first meeting of office-bearers in full glare of the media to upbraid Uma Bharati. She had not reconciled herself to her loss of office as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh because of an old case in a court in Hubli and was too spirited to take the public insult lying down. She walked out while the television cameras were rolling, roundly attacking Mahajan, Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj as Rajya Sabha members who could not risk fighting a Lok Sabha seat. She went straight to the RSS headquarters. Advani was rebuked soundly by the RSS organ Organiser (November 17) for this cheap stratagem.

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V.V. KRISHNNAN
A.B. Vajpayee. His attempts at appeasement by reviving the temple issue in Parliament on December 6, 2000, flouting the NDA’s Agenda for Governance, only whetted the RSS’ appetite.

His prestige never recovered from this self-inflicted blow. Rejected by the people, he took refuge in the claim that "the BJP is really the chosen instrument of the Divine to take the country out of the present problems and to lofty all-round achievements" (The Hindu; November 27).

The RSS gave it no respite. It supported King Gyanendra of Nepal’s dictatorial take-over of power on February 1 (Organiser; February 13, 2005). The BJP’s "experts" on foreign policy maintained an embarrassed silence. In speech after speech Advani pledged fealty to the RSS. On April 6, for instance, he pledged a "total, unshakeable and irreversible" commitment to the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya. Only five days later came Sudarshan’s demand for his departure from office.

It was particularly cruel. He had at the BJP’s councils stridently supported the RSS and looked forward eagerly to occupying centrestage in the party’s silver jubilee celebrations. The VHP dutifully endorsed the RSS’ demand the very next day, on April 12.

Uniquely, the Sangh Parivar’s politics is never free from a comic touch. Shared distress brought Vajpayee and Advani together albeit, for 12 minutes. The RSS asked the VHP to hold fire and began to distribute copies of the transcript of Sudarshan’s interview to its State units and among activists in order "to put the whole issue in perspective" (Indian Express; April 15, 2005). Belatedly, on April 19, Sudarshan praised Vajpayee’s record as Prime Minister. He was not responding to any criticism for there was hardly any. The BJP first tried to dismiss the remarks as "very general observations". After a long meeting on April 11, its general secretary Arun Jaitley read out a terse statement expressing confidence in Vajpayee and Advani and lauding the record of the NDA government (Indian Express; April 12). A week later, Vajpayee endorsed Sudarshan’s stand. He himself held no post in the party anyway. Advani could decide for himself. Joshi saw an opening for himself. On April 18, he criticised the NDA’s record on the temple (The Statesman; April 19).

None of the BJP’s star performers on the TV came forth to defend their leaders. Sudarshan had triumphed. The BJP was his to mould.

This denouement will have lasting consequences on the morale of the BJP’s next-generation leaders and on its rank and file. Sudarshan had made his point for the entire Parivar to see. The panic in the BJP proved that he was the boss. He had no real interest in removing Advani now. Vajpayee was out anyway. From now on Advani will be more respectful to Sudarshan and so will be the NGLs (next-generation leaders). Its implications for Indian democracy seem to have gone unnoticed. If leaders of half a century’s record in public life can thus be shown the door by a person who is not even a member of their party, what independence can his nominee as their successor ever hope to enjoy? He will owe his office to the bounty of the RSS supremo and will be bereft of any credibility in the eyes of the people.

Sudarshan’s remarks squarely raise a question of fundamental importance to India’s parliamentary democracy. Its basic principle is the accountability of the elected government to the legislature and to the entire electorate. Well-established norms govern the relationship between a ruling party’s parliamentary and organisational wings. The BJP’s record of obeisance to a body outside and superior to both the wings, the RSS, violates these norms. An extra-constitutional body, fascist in its set-up and outlook and committed to the cult of hate, with a proven record of violence, calls the shots.

Two decades ago, the BJP was in decline. It was revived only by the Ayodhya movement. But this issue only constricted its growth. It is also the cause of its humiliation at the hands of its creator, the RSS. That it is a threat to India’s democracy and plural society has not been concealed by the RSS, the VHP or the BJP. "Our fight is not confined to the Ram temple, but to establish a Ram Rajya," Pravin Togadia’s statement at Kozhikode on July 8, 2003, was very much on the lines of Advani’s exposition of his movement when he launched it 15 years ago (The Hindu; July 9, 2003). The temple was only a "symbol". The goal was a wider one. It was to recast India’s polity.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

Volume 22 - Issue 10, May 07 - 20, 2005

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