BJP will Remain Under RSS' Thumb
Since defeat invariably leads to internal rows in a party, it is no surprise that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is experiencing acrimonious finger-pointing over the reasons for its setback in two successive general elections.
The problem is compounded, however, by the fact that the BJP is not quite the master of its own destiny. Unlike other parties, it does not stand alone, but is part of the Sangh Parivar (the fraternity of Hindu nationalist groups) headed by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).
In fact, it can be regarded as the political wing of the Hindu supremacist RSS although the various members of the Parivar, which includes, apart from the BJP, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, like to maintain the fiction that they are all autonomous entities.
The fact that they pay an annual 'gurudakshina' or tuition fee to the RSS, however, suggests the latter is their friend, philosopher and guide.
Not surprisingly, when anything goes wrong, the tendency among some in the BJP is to blame the RSS for its ideological stranglehold on the party. Usually such criticism is voiced by those who have drifted into the BJP from other disciplines, such as journalism, and includes those who had once flirted with the Left.
Few of them are able to accept the whip-hand held by the RSS over the BJP although this dominance is acknowledged without any murmur by the true-blue - or, rather, true-saffron - members of the BJP who have grown up with the party.
One "outsider" to voice his criticism of the RSS is Sudheendra Kulkarni, a former leftist, who was L.K. Advani's aide during the election campaign. In his view, the RSS is the villain of the piece for exercising its malign influence over the BJP although, Kulkarni alleges, it does not have too many admirers even among the Hindus.
In addition, Kulkarni argued that the RSS made Advani look weak where Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi made Manmohan Singh look strong by their wholehearted support.
That it didn't even take a day for the BJP to dissociate itself from Kulkarni's statement tended to confirm his charge about the influence wielded by the RSS.
In contrast, the criticism of the party's performance by Jaswant Singh has steered clear of any reference to the paterfamilias. Singh undoubtedly knows that he has to tread carefully for he too had drifted into the BJP from the Janata Party conglomerate. That was one of the reasons why the RSS had vetoed his selection as finance minister in 1998 by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Notwithstanding his cautious approach, Singh may be courting danger by arguing, first, that the BJP looks like a "party of yesterday" and, secondly, that its concept of Hindutva lacks clarity.
Brajesh Mishra, former national security advisor and a close aide of Vajpayee, too is reported to have said the BJP's "message of Hindutva...did not get across to the voters..." and that the RSS needed to bring moderation in its ranks.
Since Hindutva is the party's and the Parivar's lifeblood, any attempt to clarify it may be interpreted by the RSS as an attempt at dilution because the concept stands for the ideal of "one people, one nation, one culture". This theory of cultural nationalism, which is the alternative term for Hindutva, may seem innocuous at first sight unless one realizes that its emphasis on "one culture" means Hindu culture and runs counter to the multicultural polity favored by the secular camp.
This is the essential difference between the BJP and the other parties and may well be the reason why it is stagnating today after its initial surge because the minorities and the liberals are unwilling to accept the dominance of Hindu culture. Besides, those who had been misled by its pro-Hindu stance have realized that it was no more than a cynical political ploy.
Unless the BJP is able to bring its cultural nationalism in line with pluralism, chances are that it will remain a "party of yesterday". Till now, there is little indication that it intends to do so - or will be allowed to do so by the RSS.
Jaswant Singh's plea, therefore, for clarifying the concept of Hindutva may engender more heat than light as few in the BJP will have the gumption to defy the RSS to signify the party's acceptance of all cultures at par.
As before, the latest debate is again between the advocates of a moderate and a hard line. But the difference is that the moderates have lost a great votary in Vajpayee's absence due to ill health. As such, they do not have anyone of stature to present their case.
Advani may have done so, but his position is weakened by his earlier image as a hardliner, which suggests that he may not be wholly sincere.
Of the others, party chief Rajnath Singh is too dependent on the RSS to strike out on his own. Besides, he is an instinctive hardliner who will not dare to deviate from the straight and narrow path delineated by the head of the Parivar.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi too belongs to the same hawkish category although he is not a favourite of the RSS because of his individualistic style. His friend in Delhi, Arun Jaitley, is still a lightweight and Sushma Swaraj, another outsider, will not endanger her seemingly bright future in the party by alienating the RSS.
So the BJP may go through the motions of an internal debate but is likely to end up toeing the RSS line.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com)
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