Debating India

BJP

The Sangh strikes

Saturday 18 June 2005, by PANIKKAR*K.N.

The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s reassertion of authority within the Sangh Parivar has serious implications for the future politics of the country.

JPEG - 19.3 kb
THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY
L.K. Advani during the Somnath-Ayodhya rath yatra, which made the demolition of the Babri Masjid possible and inflicted a deep scar on the Indian civilisation.

WHETHER Lal Krishna Advani’s assessment of Mohammed Ali Jinnah as a secularist is historically accurate or not is not as much important as its implications for the future of Hindu communal politics as well as Advani’s own ideological positioning. Evidently, Advani’s speech in Pakistan was not a comprehensive evaluation of Jinnah’s role in the politics of the subcontinent in the 20th century. He did not refer to the manner in which Jinnah invoked religion to mobilise Muslims in order to carve out an independent state. Nor did he raise the question as to why the theocratic state of Pakistan idealised Jinnah as its father figure.

Jinnah, a liberal in his early political life, was not a devout Muslim. Yet, like Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the progenitor of the concept of Hindutva, he realised the potential of religion as a source of national identity and successfully manipulated it for political ends. That Advani chose to invoke only the speech delivered by Jinnah on August 11, 1947, to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly in which the founder of Pakistan had envisioned the new state as secular is significant. And more so that he defined secularism as "equality of all citizens in the eyes of the state and freedom of faith for all citizens". This, he added, "is what we in India call a secular or non-theocratic state... [where] there is no place for bigotry, hatred, intolerance and discrimination in the name of religion".

In India, however, Advani did not call it secularism, but had coined the word psuedo-secularism to describe it. Since Jinnah’s politics closely resembled his own there is some advantage in anointing Jinnah as a secularist. In doing so, he overlooked the fact that Jinnah’s August statement was an aberration, revised later by Jinnah himself and completely consigned to oblivion in Pakistan. The meaning and purpose of Advani’s statement, therefore, went much beyond an evaluation of Jinnah. Understandably, it has not only attracted different interpretations but has aroused strong feelings within the Sangh Parivar. Advani would not have been unaware of the possible political implications of his statement.

If so, his endorsement of Jinnah’s ideas on secularism, can only be the result of careful deliberation. Is it possible the `enlightenment’ that dawned on him in Pakistan was the outcome of a deliberate introspection about the nature of politics he had so far pursued and an indication of his conviction that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has to refashion its ideology and political practice in the wake of the defeat in the last general election and the consequent disintegration of the National Democratic alliance?

Advani and Hindutva

JPEG - 13.6 kb
S. SUBRAMANIUM
Advani and A.B. Vajpayee (above, at a function in New Delhi in May 2005) have carved out a space for themselves in Indian politics that is unmatched by any other Sangh Parivar leader.

Advani has been Hindutva’s hard face. In the past he has not deviated even a wee bit from the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). He was, in fact, the main RSS voice in the BJP. Unlike Vajpayee, he was not troubled by qualms of conscience when members of the Parivar overstepped the limits of civilised behaviour, which unfortunately has been quite frequent. He had reportedly celebrated the fall of the Babri Masjid and defended and supported Narendra Modi in Gujarat. The rise of the BJP to power is rightly attributed to his deft handling and manoeuvring of Hindu sentiments. He mounted a relentless attack on secularism, invented and propagated the notion of pseudo-secularism and led the rath yatra to Ayodhya, which appealed to the religious sentiments of Hindus. He thus gave a major boost to Hindu communal politics and came to be recognised as the architect of the BJP’s rise to power. He achieved it through an uncompromising adherence to the ideology of the RSS. If the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had won the last election he would have been the choice of the RSS for the post of the Prime Minister over the ever-vacillating Vajpayee.

Given this background, his Pakistan visit signalled a departure, possibly an attempt to project a new image for himself and the party. It appears that Advani had hoped to initiate a debate about the history of the subcontinental politics and about Hindutva’s approach to it. But the RSS shut out such a possibility by insisting that the Parivar’s existing understanding of Jinnah and his politics, which "led to the partition of the country and the killing of thousands of innocent people" is not open to debate. The RSS held that Advani’s visit to Pakistan has undermined the ideology and practice of the Sangh Parivar and his commitment to the Hindu cause became so suspect that he was termed a traitor. This response was not limited to the RSS, but was widely shared by a large number of leaders and cadres of the BJP. For, the disapproval did not come from the lunatic fringe like Pravin Togadia or Ashok Singhal alone, but also from very senior leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi and Yaswant Sinha, who described Advani’s statement as dilution of the ideology of the Sangh Parivar. And even his close associates in the party chose to maintain a discreet silence.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the RSS were so enraged that they demanded and obtained his resignation as party president. Advani had to retrace from his Pakistan stance in order to retain his post. The RSS has once again asserted as to whose fiat runs in the Parivar.

The spontaneous and strong reaction of the Sangh Parivar can be understood only in the light of the place Pakistan and Muslims occupy in its political ideology. The Hindu communal ideological formation drew upon the otherness of Muslims, who were not only reckoned as outsiders but whose fanaticism and vandalism had done incalculable damage to Indian civilisation. Such a view was advanced by early communal ideologues like V.D. Savarkar and Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar and later adopted as central to the Parivar’s political and intellectual practice. Muslims, according to them, did not belong to the nation, culturally and politically, and the creation of Pakistan was the culmination of their sense of separation. As a result, they could not come to terms with the political reality of the creation of the independent state of Pakistan in 1947. Pakistan was considered an illegitimate state and its undoing was an integral part of the communal agenda which the Parivar pursued relentlessly since 1947. Its avowed aim was to re-establish a unified Hindu state, Akhand Bharat, incorporating Pakistan and Bangladesh and thus undo the historical reality of the formation of Pakistan in 1947. They attributed the partition of India exclusively to the hostility of Muslims to the Hindu nation. And Mohammed Ali Jinnah, supported by the British, is considered the main architect of this tragedy that befell Hindus. Advani has been a consistent advocate of this line of argument and his volte-face in Pakistan has left the Sangh Parivar gasping for breath.

Although Pakistan was central to the communal propaganda, it was, in fact, an extension of the demonisation of Muslims within the country. Among the many issues invoked for this purpose, the desecration or demolition of Hindu temples by Muslim rulers was the most potent. The ideologues - or are they historians? - of the Sangh Parivar have listed about 1,000 temples demolished by Muslim rulers. The communal agenda is to reclaim these temples and thus to avenge the insult inflicted on Hindus by Muslim invaders.

Advani infused life into the dormant movement for the construction of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple, alleged to have been demolished by Mir Baqui, a general of Mughal emperor Babar, in order to construct a mosque in its place. The rath yatra led by Advani from Somnath to Ayodhya, which eventually made the demolition of the mosque possible, was a defining moment in the history of contemporary India, as it inflicted a deep scar on Indian civilisation. It was the most powerful religious mobilisation witnessed in recent times and one which earned the BJP considerable political dividends. Consequently, Advani was hailed as the leader who realised Hindu aspirations and thus paved the way for the political success of the BJP. After the defeat of the BJP in the last election, Advani was re-inducted as the party president with the expectation that he would, as before, re-energise the party.

Meaning of the visit

The pronouncements of Advani in Pakistan ran counter to the above fundamental tenets of the Sangh Parivar, which Advani himself had helped to evolve, propagate and establish. That Advani, who is generally perceived as a hawk in relation to Pakistan, chose to undertake a visit in order to further friendly relations with a country which the Parivar had perpetually cast in the role of enemy, could be interpreted as a departure from the earlier position. After all, he was not fulfilling a protocol as a member of the government. The visit, therefore, signified a willingness to recognise the legitimacy of the state of Pakistan and, more importantly, giving up the cherished goal of re-establishing Akhand Bharat. Both Pakistan and the Sangh Parivar were alive to this implied political meaning of his visit. Therefore, the Pakistani authorities played up the visit, despite his inimical past, and the members of the Sangh Parivar were upset by the body blow it had dealt to their ideological convictions.

Advani also used the visit as an opportunity to express regret over the demolition of the Babri Masjid of which he can be called the chief instigator. He confessed in Pakistan that the day of the demolition was the darkest day in his life. Although he had expressed some such sentiments before also, his statement in Pakistan carried an added significance. It sounded like a confession and an apology addressed to the Islamic world. To the Sangh Parivar, the demolition was not a matter of regret. They hailed it as a religious and patriotic act, which redeemed the Hindu national pride and self-esteem. Even Vajpayee had described it as an expression of national sentiments. The Sangh Parivar imputed to it a meaning which went much beyond the demolition of a mosque; it was construed as a symbolic act avenging a historical wrong committed by Muslims. The target was not the mosque but Muslims all over the world. To the Parivar, therefore, it appeared that Advani had destroyed the self-esteem that Hindus had redeemed by the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Ideology undermined

JPEG - 21.9 kb
ANEEL MISHRA
At a Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram programme in Bhubaneswar. Drawing the tribal people into the Hindutva fold has been part of a Sangh Parivar strategy to realise its vision of a Hindu Rashtra.

The ideological cohesion of the Hindu communal forces built around the concept of Hindu Rashtra has been under strain for quite some time. The RSS, the VHP and the BJP have been speaking in different voices on issues central to the Hindu communal agenda. Constrained by coalition politics, the BJP agreed to freeze the issues of Ram Mandir, Article 370 and the common civil code in order to gain access to power and thus to promote its political fortunes. The other wings of the Sangh Parivar were none too happy with the reluctance of the BJP leadership to pursue an undiluted communal course. A commonly shared notion around which their influence and following were built over the years was the rejection of secularism as a political practice.

So long as it remained in the Opposition, the BJP could project itself as an advocate of the Hindutva agenda. But once it entered the murky realm of coalition politics it could not but succumb to compromises, even on core issues of Hindutva, in order to gain the support of the `secular’ parties. As a result, although the BJP-led government pursued a Hindu communal agenda it was not able to implement completely the Hindutva programme, particularly the construction of the Ram temple, introduction of a uniform civil code and the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution.

Consequently, considerable strain developed between the BJP and the other members of the Parivar. Vajpayee’s `liberalism’ was anathema to the Parivar and it had expected Advani to be more loyal to their demands. But in order to work the coalition, both Vajpayee and Advani were forced to tread the ground carefully and to assume a semblance of independence from the RSS and the VHP. In doing so, they had hoped to expand the coalition and to carve out some independent space for the party without unduly straining the relationship with the other members of the Parivar. This, however, created considerable disquiet within the RSS and the VHP. Consequently, they became critical of senior leaders like Vajpayee and Advani. When the NDA lost the elections, both the VHP and the RSS had attributed the defeat to the reluctance of the BJP leadership to pursue Hindu interests.

The defeat in the elections increased the rift between the RSS and a section of the BJP. The RSS believed that a more fundamentalist stance would have to be taken and that only rallying Hindus on the basis of the ideology of Hindutva would enable the party to regain power. Both the RSS and the VHP had initiated steps in this direction by expanding their activities to `Hinduise’ the Adivasis and Dalits. In contrast, a section of the BJP leadership headed by Vajpayee and Advani and supported by the modernist second generation, realised that the party’s prospects lay in creating a right-of- centre image, without sacrificing its religious support base, but without depending entirely on it either.

Given the influence of caste-based parties in different regions of the country, the steady increase in the following of the Left parties and the new-found energy and enthusiasm of the Congress under Sonia Gandhi, this section within the BJP realised that Hindutva was not likely to shine in the future to the extent necessary to regain power. Hence, it preferred a revisionist policy that would appeal to a larger section of the population. Advani’s pronouncements in Pakistan were a precursor to this possible change of track. It misfired because it was premature and without adequate preparation.

The RSS was conscious that the Vajpayee-Advani duo was trying to carve out an independent space for the BJP in the political domain during the NDA regime. It could not come out openly at that time because of its interest to maintain `Hindu rule’. Moreover, both Vajpayee and Advani had earned a niche for themselves in Indian politics, which no other leader in the Parivar could match. Consequently, they could exercise a certain lattitude and could also manage to prevaricate when pressure was exerted by the RSS and the VHP. It is on record that both the RSS and the VHP resented this attempt at independence and conveyed it privately to the leaders.

The VHP often threatened to form a new Hindu party and the RSS summoned the leaders for occasional couselling. The RSS Sarsanghchalak, K.S. Sudarshan’s demand that both Advani and Vajpayee give way to a younger leadership is the culmination of this rift. Sudarshan was looking for leaders of lesser stature who would be amenable to the dictates of the Sangh. That was a friendly advice before the lethal strike.

Strike it did by using Advani’s Pakistan pronouncements as an occasion. Nonetheless, the reasons for the strike were far more serious than the departure from the Parivar ideology that Advani’s speech represented. The RSS used the occasion to reaffirm its dominant position in the Parivar and to remind the BJP leaders that their party was not an independent political formation but only a subordinate political arm of the RSS. If during the last five years the freedom enjoyed by the BJP in the realm of governance had created a different impression, it was high time to correct it. The Advani episode leaves no doubt about who wields the whip. If the iron man could be humbled in this manner, what about the lesser mortals in the party? The serious implications this assertion by the RSS holds for the future politics of the country can hardly be overlooked. For the assertion by the RSS means that the BJP is likely to move towards a more fundamentalist and obscurantist politics.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

Volume 22 - Issue 13, Jun 18 - Jul 01, 2005

SPIP | template | | Site Map | Follow-up of the site's activity RSS 2.0