Debunking BJP’s self-serving myths
BJP leadership has to get out of this self-serving myth that the coalition compulsions are slowing down the party in consolidating and expanding its acceptability base. The grim reality is that the BJP in its pure, unadulterated form has no takers; the party needs the allies to come to power
By Harish Khare
The hype-makers want us to believe that the Bharatiya Janata Party has changed, just because there is a new president nominally presiding over the organisation. The new president himself wants us to believe that there is a generational change. M. Venkaiah Naidu is a wonderfully garrulous man and since taking over the president’s chair at Ashoka Road, he has given us a fairly good idea about the manner in which the change came about. If we add to the Naidu sound-bytes L.K. Advani’s own copious interviews since getting anointed Deputy Prime Minister, the illegality of the change in the party leadership is quite obvious.
For a party that has always taken pride in its internal democratic espirit de corps and in its respect for its constitutional functioning, the ouster of Jana Krishnamurthi and the installation in his place of Mr. Naidu were a throwback to the Soviet Communist Party culture. By Mr. Advani’s own post-Deputy-Prime-Minister-revelations, the decision to show Mr. Krishnamurthi the door was taken by him and/or the Prime Minister during the party’s National Council session in Goa. The National Council members were not deemed worthy of any say in the matter. It is no secret that Mr. Krishnamurthi went out screaming and kicking, no less quietly than did Sitaram Kesri when Sonia Gandhi’s plotters staged their coup on March 14, 1998. The Sonia Gandhi-accession was a hostile takeover, but at least 18 CWC members were party to the unconstitutional change of guard.
The Naidu-for-Krishnamurthi decision is one of a piece with the entirely anti-democratic elevation of Mr. Advani as Deputy Prime Minister. If the saffron cheerleaders are to be believed, it appears that the RSS bosses who presented Atal Behari Vajpayee with a demarche that given his indifferent health he ought to start making the way for the much fitter Mr. Advani. Again, at least in this decision, Mr. Vajpayee took care to sound out the NDA allies. But within the BJP the anti-democratic impulse asserted itself with a vengeance.
Political decisions stealthily taken yield an unhealthy crop. Earlier, the decision-making in the BJP was a collective affair, involving three or four leaders — Mr. Vajpayee, Mr. Advani, Khushabhau Thakre and Murli Manohar Joshi; since the advent of the NDA Government, Mr. Thakre and Mr. Joshi have gradually been eased out from any effective say, and the party has become the hand-maiden of the Vajpayee-Advani duo. Now, of late, Mr. Vajpayee has yielded more and more space and say to Mr. Advani. In Mr. Naidu, Mr. Advani has now got a proxy president. It is therefore for the BJP cheerleaders to say what, if anything at all, has changed, except of course the arrival of a new set of office-bearers. Not much will in fact change unless the BJP leadership comes to terms with its own limitations and makes an honest attempt to re-forge its organisational personality as “the party of government” in terms of the ever-changing requirements of the Indian state order. The bogus debate whether the party has given up or not given up its original agenda confuses or distracts no one except the BJP leaders themselves.
To begin with, the BJP leadership has to get out of this self-serving myth that the coalition compulsions are slowing down the party in consolidating and expanding its acceptability base. The grim reality is that the BJP in its pure, unadulterated form has no takers; the party needs the allies to come to power. Though Mr. Naidu may feel mighty pleased with himself for having coined “the BJP jhanda/NDA agenda” rhyme, it does not overcome the party’s (un)acceptability curve. Second, the party leadership should disabuse itself of another self-serving myth: that it alone can boast of deshbhakts and honest leaders. Good intentions alone do not make a politician an effective administrator. If the process of governance was as simple as the BJP wants to make out, Mr. Advani should have been the most successful Home Minister and would have by now taken care of all our internal security problems.
There is a sub-text to this myth: the party has to come out of its opposition mindset. This presumes that the BJP and its leaders are different from others. When Mr. Advani boasts that in no other political party would two Cabinet Ministers have come out of the Government to serve the party, the idea is to perpetuate the myth of the BJP being different. After four years of an indifferent governing record and after a familiar litany of scams, the BJP rulers, at the Centre and in the States, appear as tainted and as incompetent as those provided by other political parties. Where perhaps the shoe is pinching is that the BJP leaders are now the victims of the very political culture of accusation they themselves promoted during their days in the Opposition. Every newspaper report, verified, unverified or motivated, was used as incontrovertible evidence to throw mud at those in the Government.
Yet, notwithstanding the BJP’s limitations of talent, ideas and vision, the country has to be governed and the BJP happens, for now, to be the party with a mandate to rule. The much-touted “younger generation” in the BJP would do well to attend to three areas of concerns if it does not want to repeat the mistakes of the Vajpayee-Advani-Joshi-Thakre generation. First, a ruling party at the Centre has the enormous responsibility of sustaining an all-India authority structure of the Indian state. When the ruling party at the Centre does not command a political presence in large parts of the country, it tends to rely on instruments of bureaucratic power to negotiate conflicts. The results invariably are far from satisfactory. For instance, the BJP has no presence in the Northeast, and therefore the Centre finds it difficult to “sell” any accord with this or that underground group. Or, it has no presence in Tamil Nadu, and therefore has to make its peace with separatist groups and individuals such as the PMK and the MDMK.
If the younger generation of leadership wants to move the BJP beyond north and western India, it would need more than a south Indian face. What needs to be done is an inculcation of pan-Indian concerns, postures and prescriptions. A party that hopes to rule India cannot have, for example, one face in Gandhinagar and another face in Srinagar. The BJP in particular has to tap the most constructive, enlightened and progressive of its nationalist impulses. This also means that the BJP has to find ways of liberating itself from the clutches of the three sets of political mafias: the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. These organisations inject the most unadulterated form of communal idiom and passions into the BJP, thereby preventing it from acquiring an all-India reach and vision.
Third, this patron-client relationship prevents the BJP leaders from coming to terms with the changed nature of political activity in the post-economic reforms eras. With the shrinking space the state occupies in the economic and public life, the nature of political motivation has changed. And if the BJP wants to emerge as a genuine right wing, conservative political party suitable for the 21st century, the “younger generation” must use its new empowerment to help the organisation align with contemporary India. Genuine generational change would mean that the party gives up its insistence on settling medieval scores. —The Hindu