Debating India

Power equations in the Parivar

Wednesday 15 June 2005, by VYAS*Neena

The BJP-RSS arrangement ignores a basic democratic principle: a political party draws its strength from the people it represents.

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BESIEGED?: Bharatiya Janata Party president L.K. Advani. - PHOTO: PTI

LAST WEEK, during his Pakistan yatra, L.K. Advani committed the cardinal political sin of forgetting who he was, where he came from, and which constituency his party represented. A comment doing the rounds at the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters in New Delhi is that he forgot he was elected from Gandhinagar, not from Karachi, that he was president of the BJP, not the Muslim League.

It underlines the fact that Mr. Advani not only misjudged the effect of his laudatory Jinnah pronouncements on his constituents in Gujarat, where the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has threatened not to allow him to enter his Lok Sabha constituency, but also the fallout on his ideological parivar, headed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

A political party draws its strength from the people it represents, from the constituency that votes for it and sends its candidates to the Lok Sabha or the State Assemblies. And it is to the people that it should be answerable. The problem with the BJP-RSS arrangement is that it ignores this basic democratic principle. The people elect the BJP and its candidates, but the BJP draws its "inspiration" and even its electoral strength from the RSS, a non-elected body. Every RSS member takes an oath of allegiance and loyalty to the bhagwa dhwaj (saffron flag symbolic of the RSS `guru’), and this is renewed each year when swayamsevaks offer guru dakshina. The word of the RSS chief, the Sarsanghchalak, is final.

It is not a coincidence that over the six years the BJP was in office - and this has continued even after it lost the last Lok Sabha election - the most strident criticism has come from the RSS and its affiliates. During the stand-off with the Vajpayee Government on the shila pujan programme organised in Ayodhya, VHP leaders told Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Advani to their faces that had it not been for the Parishad’s support, the Ramjanmabhoomi "movement" would not have taken off and they would not be in office.

Persistent grouse

This is also the grouse of the RSS leaders. In power, on one excuse or the other, the BJP was disloyal to Hindutva ideology; its leaders paid less than the respect RSS leaders thought was due to them; yet whenever elections neared they organised coordination meetings with the Sangh Parivar to ensure the party got the full benefit of canvassing by RSS volunteers. Much of the BJP’s success in the tribal areas of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, for example, was the result of the work done by the Vanvasi Kalyan Kendra, an RSS outfit.

The RSS has often been described by BJP leaders as their party’s parent body, its friend, philosopher and guide to which it can turn when it is confused or needs ideological clarity. As long as the BJP and its earlier "avatar", the Jana Sangh, had an insignificant presence in the political arena, this definition served the BJP and its RSS masters well. But first in 1977, when the Jana Sangh merged with the Janata Party to become part of the then Government, and the second time between 1998 and 2004 when the BJP led the National Democratic Alliance coalition Government at the Centre, it became clear that the so-called "dual membership" issue was not only proving to be an embarrassment but was unworkable.

The "dual membership" or "dual loyalty" issue that has plagued the BJP, and earlier the Jana Sangh, led to the collapse of the Janata Party in 1980. And in the six years that Atal Bihari Vajpayee headed the 12th and 13th Lok Sabhas, his governments had to contend with the extra-constitutional demands of the parivar headed by the RSS. Mr. Vajpayee was forced to drop the name of Jaswant Singh for the Finance portfolio in the 1998 Cabinet after a senior RSS leader went to his residence and demanded that this be done. On key economic issues such as allowing foreign direct investment in the insurance sector, the BJP-led Government held long discussions with leaders of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (yet another RSS affiliate) to convince it that this did not constitute a deviation from the party’s swadeshi economic policy favoured and approved by the RSS.

The BJP has often spoken about Sonia Gandhi as an extra-constitutional authority to whom Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has to turn when taking decisions on Cabinet formation or even policy issues. But what is undemocratic or unconstitutional about a Prime Minister consulting the president of the leading party in government? After all, she led her party to victory at the hustings and has the people’s confidence, and democracy is all about this.

The Pakistan yatra of Mr. Advani and the furore about his Jinnah remarks have once again demonstrated who calls the shots in the Sangh Parivar. The entire country was treated to the extraordinary spectacle of the chief of the second largest political party, the Iron Man, being rapped on his knuckles.

RSS’ snub

On the very first day after his return from Pakistan, Mr. Advani grandiosely announced that there should be a "national debate" on Jinnah. The very next day he was virtually forced to write his resignation letter without waiting for the debate even as RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav stated publicly that there was no need for a debate for "the debate is over."

Even as the RSS made it clear that it could not care less whether Mr. Advani stayed as BJP chief or not, he withdrew his resignation letter after stating that he would neither retract his comments nor withdraw his resignation. The BJP has made it only too clear that it is accountable not to the people, not to Parliament, but to a bunch of people who set themselves up as super patriots, the super nationalists, who know what is best for the country. Don’t forget, that the RSS has never accepted the Indian Constitution. If the BJP were to ever come to power on its own strength, it would mean rule by an unelected body, the RSS. Democratic India as we know it today may become a thing of the past.

See online : The Hindu

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