Mr. Advani's Error
In the course of his speeches delivered at the BJP's silver jubilee national convention in Mumbai Mr L.K. Advani made two wrong assertions. First, he said that BJP had created history by ushering bipolar polity in India. He described Congress and BJP as the two poles in India's national politics. It is astonishing that the birth of the Janata Party in 1977 got blanked out from his mind. He was one of its general secretaries. It was indubitably the Janata Party that created bipolar polity in India.
The success of the Janata Party in 1977 totally vindicated the late Dr Ram Manohar Lohia's thesis that a united opposition could defeat the Congress which repeatedly won elections by obtaining votes less than the total opposition vote. This simple calculation based on arithmetic was denigrated by his critics as Dr Lohia's 'anti-Congressism'. What Dr Lohia cogently pointed out was that if a common agenda could unite opposition parties the differences of approach within the new party would not exceed those prevalent within Congress.
It was opposition to British rule that united politicians as diverse in outlook as Mr Parshottam Das Tandon and Mr Nehru under the Congress banner. For a diverse nation such as India rigid ideological dogma made little sense. After Independence it was only power that kept these diverse groups together. Perhaps that was why Mahatma Gandhi advocated dissolution of the Congress Party before he was assassinated.
Congress excesses during the fraudulently imposed Emergency laid the foundation for opposition unity. It was this unity more than any political wave that ensured the Janata victory. Jan Sangh, the forerunner of present BJP, more than tripled its tally of MPs in 1977 compared to earlier elections. It was the second largest constituent of the united Janata Party.
What is overlooked by most analysts is that in 1979-80 the Congress returned to power neither on the strength of any pro-Indira wave nor due to public repugnance with performance of the Janata government as subsequent media hype made out. The Congress won simply because the opposition was no longer united. If votes of the Janata Party and the Lok Dal, the two divided factions of the Janata Party, were added, the united party would have again won, although with a very slightly reduced majority.
The second wrong assertion made by Mr Advani was that BJP was born because its leaders chose to break away from the Janata Party in order to retain links with RSS. The truth was opposite. It was the others who broke away from the Janata Party because they found links with RSS unacceptable. It was dual membership of the Janata Party and RSS that led to the party's split. Jan Sangh faction leaders and RSS always maintained the fiction that RSS was a cultural body with no political role to play. But it was painfully apparent that Jan Sangh faction leaders within Janata Party continued to take orders from the RSS. The RSS claim of being a non-political organization was blown to bits by media exposure. A weekly paper quoted a sworn affidavit by the RSS stating it was a political organization for which reason it should be exempt from paying tax. The crisis snowballed and the party split with factions loyal to Mr Charan Singh and Mr Raj Narain breaking away. After the drubbing received by the divided opposition in the general election, the non-Jan Sangh factions led by Mr Chandrashekhar reappraised the situation. They objected to continued links with RSS. It was then that the Janata Party further split and the BJP was born.
Mr Advani made another odd assertion in Mumbai. He said that BJP must eschew Congress culture which led to corruption. His memory needs to be refreshed. During the Janata government's tenure it was the Jan Sangh faction that strove to strike a deal with Mr Morarji Desai and Mr Jagjivan Ram in order to marginalize Mr. Charan Singh. The latter's faction had the largest number of MPs in the House. Mr Raj Narain was Mr Charan Singh's hatchet man as was Mr Nanaji Deshmukh for the Jan Sangh faction. Not surprisingly these two strong men didn't see eye to eye.
Eventually the middle class manners of former Congress factions were found more compatible by RSS and Jan Sangh leaders. Mr Narain's earthy approach and occasional buffoonery put them off. There were secret moves to rope in even members of the Indira Congress. A discreet meeting between Mr C.B. Gupta, Mr Bahuguna, and Mrs Mohsina Kidwai took place in Lucknow with tacit blessings of Mr Desai and Jan Sangh leaders. Media exposure in just one journal, and subsequent cold feet, scuttled the move.
Mr Advani's exhortation to his party men therefore to adopt a culture different from the Congress rings somewhat hollow.
It is not just the Congress carnage-for-votes enacted in 1984 that found echoes in the more recent BJP monitored riots in Gujarat. During the post-riots Gujarat poll campaign the Congress did not take the BJP head on regarding communalism. Instead, Mrs Sonia Gandhi adopted soft Hindutva to counter the BJP. Little wonder that a former pillar of the BJP in Gujarat, Mr Shankarsinh Vaghela, felt comfortable organizing the Congress campaign.
So when Mr Advani proudly asserts that Congress and BJP are the two poles in national politics, he overlooks the obvious truth that they are the two poles precisely because they are similar. Their similarity ensures support for both by the international and domestic corporate establishments. On economic reforms both parties adopt one posture in power and another in opposition. Lest the Left Front leaders conclude they are different, they should recall that while economic reforms were being introduced during the tenures extending from Mr VP Singh's to Mr IK Gujral's, there were periods when government depended on Left support for survival. The government was never toppled by the Left, as it is not being toppled today. Meanwhile economic reforms continued apace. There does occur occasionally a hollow histrionic gesture of protest by the Left leaders in the misplaced conviction that they are successfully deceiving the working class they claim to lead.
Normally there is little point in dwelling on the past. But Mr Advani is leader of the opposition. He deserves a reality check. Especially because he was right in at least one assertion he made in Mumbai. He urged his party men to prepare for a mid-term general election. The imminent Supreme Court judgment on the unconstitutional dissolution of the Bihar assembly, the ongoing investigation of the Volcker report which identified Congress party as a beneficiary, and the strains between Congress and Left partners, does suggest that the government could blunder into a mid-term election this year. That makes it all the more crucial for Mr Advani and his NDA partners to recognize that no party or coalition following the RSS agenda could possibly replace Congress. Indeed, the RSS agenda even precludes opposition unity. After recent experience the stratagem of formulating a common minimum programme without formal dissociation from the RSS is unlikely to succeed this time. The public will now seek stability and coherence in government.
Can Mr Advani and his party colleagues possibly part ways with RSS? That appears next to impossible. The manner in which RSS leaders openly dictate terms to BJP indicates their stranglehold on the party. And the manner in which Mr Advani and his colleagues remained tongue-tied after the RSS leader openly described them as prostitutes rules out possible revolt. Short of a miracle, it will be up to the non-Congress, non-BJP forces in the country to unite and challenge this government. Unity of these forces can be achieved on the basis of an agenda that meets the broad aspirations of every Indian. Such an agenda is not difficult to make. But first opposition leaders must have desire and resolve to create in India a genuine national alternative. Then they must summon the will to achieve it.