Sunday, Oct 02, 2022

BJP: Between Jinnah & Patel

BJP: Between Jinnah & Patel
BJP: Between Jinnah & Patel

The release of Mr Jaswant Singh's book has proved to be very convenient for the BJP stalwarts who were supposed to do some chintan in their baithak at Shimla. 

SMSs and tweets on "Jinnah wahaan, marnaa yahaan" and "BJP ke teen naam: baithak, bhojan, aur vishram [BJP is only good for three things: meeting, eating and resting] have been doing the rounds for some days now.

But that the party is very good at diversionary tactics is perhaps lost in this whole hai-tauba that has been created since Mr Jaswant Singh's book was released, which has now assumed a feverish pitch after his unceremonious sacking from the party.

Frankly, his sacking should be a cause for no surprise for anyone who's followed the party.

One may disagree with it, or the disgraceful manner in which it was done, but Mr Singh should have seen it coming, particularly considering the party's recent self-destructive behaviour.

Given his appearances on TV, Mr Singh appeared to be rather blase and non-chalant about the whole thing, some would even say that he was being too cavalier and may have thought that he too would be allowed to get away with reprimands, just like Mr Shourie and Mr Sinha.

If nothing else, he should have known that the BJP was desperately on the look-out for a fall-guy after the open-defiance by Vasundhara Raje and recent remarks by the Sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh.

By ordering his expulsion, among other things, instead of having to assign any accountability for the loss in elections, or doing any honest introspection, the cabal that rules the BJP has managed once again to successfully fudge the issues. Or so it would like to think.

The discussion once again is on what happened 62 years ago and not what happened some three months ago. On whether Mr Singh deserved to be thrown out or not instead of debating the rationale of asking  Ms Raje  to resign as the leader of opposition and her open defiance.

Even if we are confusing consequence for sequence, this much is clear that while the party might excel in speaking in a multiplicity of voices when it suits it, there has always been a very clear Lakshman Rekha, much like in the Congress: thou shalt not speak against the family.

And Mr Jaswant Singh has paid the price for crossing it with disdain.

That apart, the myth of inner party democracy in the BJP and the party encouraging free thought and debate has always been just that: a myth. Ask Balraj Madhok (in the pre-BJP days) or Govindacharya (the original mukhauta man much before masks became common) or indeed, even, if are to discuss the RSS, Mr LK Advani ever since his passage to Pakistan.

That Mr LK Advani survived the Sangh onslaught and stayed on in the party after his Jinnah remarks and was even its prime ministerial candidate in the last election and continues to be the leader of opposition is  more a case of the insecure Generation-Next leaders happy to bide their time under an ageing Mr Advani than one of their "younger" competitors assuming a position of power.

Besides, it should not be forgotten that Mr Advani, being senior to Mr Sudarshan, the then RSS chief, and having been an old RSS-hand, had barely survived the aftermath and came out with much of his stature and credibility diminished.  At that time, other than Mr Vajpayee,  Mr Jaswant Singh was the only other senior leader who had  unambiguously defended Mr Advani.

More than that, the parivar leadership was persuaded that his continuance was a necessity in the vacuum created by Mr  Vajpayee and a way to prevent the faction fight that was bound to ensue should Mr Advani also have been forced to quit.

The fact that Mr Advani had to step down as the president of the party, and the party had been forced to pass a resolution condemning Jinnah's two nation theory , should have prepared Mr Jaswant Singh for what was in store for him.

The signs were all there. Mr Bal Thackeray had already loudly questioned if there was some Jinnah DNA among the BJP leaders. Party insiders suggest that the Maharashtra elections were also a decisive factor. That the Congress would go to town on the Bhartiya Jinnah Party was of course a foregone conclusion.  

Perhaps Mr Singh was encouraged by the fact that all this while, despite opposition from the party, the RSS, and other parivar outfits, Mr Advani himself maintained that he stood by his remarks on Jinnah. Indeed, he had even repeated them in his memoirs and later put them up on his website.

But he should have known clearly when everyone from the BJP boycotted the launch of his book. Mr Advani had clearly made his peace with the RSS and was in no mood to jeopardise his position as the leader of the opposition.

Besides, Mr Singh had clearly been in the cross-hairs, and hasn't exactly endeared himself to either the RSS or Mr Advani -- or any of the two main factions fighting for control of  a rapidly imploding BJP --  ever since he circulated a note questioning the 'parinaam and puruskaar' in the aftermath of the Lok Sabha elections.

If there was any hope, after Rajnath Singh's distancing of the party from the book on Tuesday, it was quashed the same day with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat laying down the law for the BJP in a television interview: there should be zero tolerance to ideological deviation and indiscipline.

With open defiance by Vasundhara Raje, and the support demonstrated by her, it therefore suited the top leadership to make a fall-guy out of Mr Singh,  whether or not the RSS had asked for his head specifically. It wanted to send out a tough message to try and show that that the leadership was in control, up to the task and meant business.

The leadership would also hope that Mr Singh's expulsion would also help soothe the Raje loyalists who had been complaining about Mr Singh's role in the loss in Rajasthan.

Before the RSS chief went public with the need to enforce discipline, neither Mr Advani nor Mr Rajnath Singh, nor anybody else, seems to have expressed their reservations about the book to Mr Singh, other than requesting him to postpone its release  till after the elections.

As anybody who's followed the party would know, Mr Singh has never been a favourite of the RSS, and the latter had made no secret of its views ever since Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee formed his first cabinet.

On top of that, by excluding the other Generation-Ex leaders -- Mr Yashwant Sinha and Mr Arun Shourie -- from the baithak, the BJP had already made it abundantly clear that it was in no mood to seriously engage with any criticism or introspect on reasons for defeat in the polls.

That the baithak would be a mere formality had been indicated some days back by Mr Advani himself at the end of the Parliament session when he said that 

  • he was there as the leader of opposition for the full term and 
  • the chintan baithak would not be so much about the post-mortem of the electoral defeat as about the road ahead.

The book-launch, just before the chintan-baithak, could not have come at a worse time, from the point of view of the party. For that once again brought to the fore the contradictions and double-standards within the BJP. And with no Vajpayee -- or even a Pramod Mahajan figure -- around to bat for him, Mr Jaswant Singh proved to be a soft-target. 

Some BJP spokespeople have tried to rather disingenuously suggest that there is a clear distinction between what Mr Advani had said -- and has maintained -- about Jinnah and what Mr Singh has now said. 

The suggestion, so as to save Advani, now is that it is the insult of Patel and not remarks on Jinnah that are responsible for Mr Singh's expulsion. This could have carried some conviction for after all, the BJP has all but appropriated Vallabhbhai, just as the Congress has abandoned him, and Mr Advani and Mr Modi see no irony --  indeed they revel in -- in the appellations of "Iron Man" and "Chhote Sardar" respectively. But all that has been produced by such apologists as "uncharitable comments against Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel" is one innocuous line from the 669-page book:

"Jinnah did not win Pakistan, as the Congress leaders Nehru and Patel finally conceded Pakistan to Jinnah, with the British acting as an ever helpful midwife."

Mr Advani, with all his tall-talk of encouraging debate and standing by his remarks on Jinnah, insiders say, was a party to the decision to expel Mr Singh. By not sticking to his decision to resign in 2005, and by not coming out in support of Mr Singh's right to hold views that may not be acceptable to a majority in the party now, Mr Advani has only highlighted what has been long concluded about him: he lacks the courage of what he calls his convictions and would go to any extent to cut his critics down to size.

And therein, perhaps, lies the real reason why there was not even a charade of a show cause notice or seeking a written or an oral explanation before summarily expelling Mr Singh, as was done in the past with the likes of Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti, Babulal Marandi and Shankersinh Waghela, for example.

For that would have meant more public comparisons with the man who is best described as the former future prime minister of India. And perhaps more debate, just the sort that the "iron man" wanted to have with the prime minister before the elections.

With this expulsion, the chintan baithak ironically highlights the very reasons that it should have done some chintan on: the reasons for the party's abject defeat in the polls.  It is just another manifestation of the faction-fighting and contradictions plaguing the party and only underlines its petty, self-serving, short-sighted and knee-jerk reactions when faced with any crisis or substantive issue.

Whatever be his faults, or motivations for writing this book, Mr Jaswant  Singh would at least be remembered for being graceful even in the face of being so unceremoniously sacked on the telephone, as he said, without even the courtesy of being informed in person. After 30 years in the party, after having been, in his own words, Vajpayee's Hanuman (Kandahar, all those long walks with Strobe Talbott...) to thus being reduced to a Ravana, must hurt.  His breaking into tears at the press conference only revealed that he had clearly failed to understand the party he served for so many years.

And all for a book that for all its derivative scholarship (Ayesha Jalal, Patrick French, and others have been there, done that much before, presumably with far more academic rigour and research) could, in another day, in the old BJP of Vajpayee, have been used to launch an attack on the role of the Congress and its leaders in partitioning Bharat Mata.

On the other hand, it is rather farcical to see the RSS and BJP react thus to imagined slights and slurs on Nehru and Patel. The spin from the BJP of course is that this is the beginning of the purge of all those who do not believe in the ideology of the party.

I do not know about the ideology of the party -- I don't think any one else does either -- but clearly if its top leader is only busy to ensure his continuance as the leader of opposition, so as not to lose out on the privileges of a cabinet rank, not much can be said for its future. Going by the issues it seems to get all worked up about,  it is bound to remain stuck in the past, and, if it survives, in the opposition.

And all that said, to be fair, would the fate of a Congressman for having written a similar book been any different? It's a fair guess that Rupa & Co. would have still ended up with the spoils...

Also See: Jaswant Singh on Devil's Avocate with Karan Thapar: Part I, Part II


Post Script: It is hard not to admire him for being so dignified and graceful:


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