On May 26-27-28 a three piece article on the BJP written by me after the 2004 general election was reproduced in these columns. After the 2009 poll and the second successive BJP defeat the article appeared even more relevant. The article was based upon my personal interaction with the BJP from 1980-84 after which I was expelled from its National Executive and decided to resign from the primary membership of the party.
The thrust of my observations was that the BJP retained form without the substance of democratic functioning. There was no accountability demanded from a caucus of leaders led by LK Advani that derived leverage from its perceived approval by the RSS. The RSS, out of its depth regarding the nitty-gritty of governance or electoral politics, exercised remote control without direct responsibility. Its cadres which mobilized BJP votes gave the RSS such authority. All my observations were contained in my resignation letter to AB Vajpayee who then led the party in 1984. My article attracted considerable flak from BJP loyalists. One described it as the ranting of a frustrated under-achiever.
Well, 25 years after my resignation the article does not appear too ridiculous, does it? Jaswant Singh, Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha, Khanduri, Vasundhara Raje Scindia and Sudheendra Kulkarni – all party stalwarts and insiders – indulged in mutual recrimination after the post-poll distribution of responsibilities. Earlier Uma Bharati, Madan Lal Khurana, Govindacharya and others had already distanced themselves from the party.
The core of the criticism voiced by Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie was precisely what I had said in my resignation letter. There was no accountability from a caucus led by Advani that took decisions in the party. Double standards were observed for caucus members and the rest. For the first time these BJP dissidents trotted out secret revelations about the dubious role of Advani and his loyalists. These revelations were made by a bunch of leaders who had benefited hugely from the spoils system prevalent in the party for the past few decades. None of them appears to have heeded the declaration by the late John F. Kennedy that those who do not speak when they should lose the right to speak altogether. As for BJP loyalists who had criticized my article so roundly when it appeared – I don’t hear anything from them these days.
Now we are told that the party will rise again from the ashes. Will it? Much store is laid on the influence that RSS boss Mr. Mohan Bhagwat will exert. Mr. Bhagwat himself has made clear that the RSS will not interfere in the affairs of the BJP which must be resolved by its own leaders. However, the RSS will not hesitate to offer opinion if it is sought by BJP leaders. In other words the RSS will not indulge in backseat driving. So, this is how things will work. As Advani drives the car flanked by colleagues, Bhagwat sits silently in the back seat. Whenever any leader turns around and asks: “Bhagwatji, should we turn left or right?” Then, and only then, will Bhagwat proffer advice. But will any BJP leader seek RSS advice?
You bet. Arun Shourie, with a non-RSS background, gushed to TV reporters: “Only RSS can save the party! It must take over the BJP and reconstruct the entire party after all the present leaders are made to resign. The RSS is being too democratic – it should be less democratic!” After such nauseating sycophancy the prospects of BJP leaders deciding matters on their own appears minimal. The sycophancy seemed to work. Poor Rajnath Singh dared not act against Shourie after the latter had invoked the name of the RSS!
Given these realities, can RSS salvage the BJP? I believe it can stabilize the BJP. I doubt if it can fundamentally improve its performance. Such stabilization may prove sufficient to warm the cockles of BJP hearts. The BJP could derive satisfaction from the nauseating sycophancy, and remote control exercised by 10 Janpath, prevalent in the Congress. The BJP could point out the worse conditions prevalent in regional parties led by tin pot dictators who derive authority from the black money funds they accumulate through dubious sources. But to expect a genuine improvement in the performance of the BJP, RSS help notwithstanding, appears far fetched. Why?
The answer is simple. Neither the RSS, nor any BJP leader nor any media pundit has suggested the obvious solution to the BJP impasse. All that needs to be done is for Advani to seek a vote of confidence from the parliamentary party. If none dares oppose him all the critics should shut up. If he fails to obtain confidence the party MPs should elect a new leader. The process of selecting the candidates for leadership and the votes each might mobilize would throw up the appropriate leader. A leader thus elected will derive authority from a majority of the MPs. He or she will always heed their concerns. A leader appointed by the High Command courtesy the RSS will quite naturally keep one eye cocked at Nagpur and remain oblivious to the rest. Democratic parties are supposed to function through elections. Unfortunately not a single party functions like this in India. The meek acceptance of leaders appointed by high commands is symptomatic of the malaise in Indian politics.
One last observation on which Mr. Bhagwat may care to reflect. During a recent speech delivered in Delhi he had said that the RSS was concerned with building character. RSS followers with exemplary character were expected to function in the diverse fields of their choice and serve society. The RSS was not interested in interfering with their work. This is welcome. But the question that should engage Mr. Bhagwat’s mind is whether the leaders of the BJP who were trained by the RSS have displayed satisfactory traits of character? If they have not, why not? In that event should not the RSS reappraise its own training methods? For example, the RSS is reputed to instill discipline and a sense of patriotism in its followers. But does that discipline degenerate into blind obedience? Does the sense of patriotism succumb to party or personal interest? Does the RSS drill in the minds of its followers some simple axioms that are generally taken for granted? Like, for instance, always to speak the truth…?