April 21, 2021
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BJP's Anti-Revisionism

The party has once again exhibited disturbing tendencies reminiscent of those of Stalin and Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi during the days of the Emergency between 1975 and 1977...

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BJP's Anti-Revisionism

Stalin used to call members of the Soviet Communist Party who questioned the party's core ideological beliefs as Revisionists. He used to expel them from the party and have them jailed for anti-party and anti-state activities. They used to become non-persons--no more heard or seen or spoken or written about. They just disappeared from public view and the pages of history.

Revisionism was seen as a serious crime against the party and the state. Many critics of the party and the state controlled by the party just disappeared from public view after they were branded as revisionists. We saw this happen in the erstwhile USSR, the former Communist States of Eastern Europe, China, North Korea and Cuba.

We are seeing this happening today in democratic India in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In the eyes of the BJP leadership, Jaswant, Singh, former external affairs and finance minister and a senior leader of the party, has been guilty of revisionism for reportedly projecting Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who played an active role for the creation of Pakistan, in a positive light and for questioning some of the conventional historical wisdom regarding the role of Vallabh Bhai Patel, who was deputy Prime Minister and home minister under Jawaharlal Nehru for some years after India became independent in 1947.

Jaswant Singh has been unceremoniously thrown out of the party in a humiliating manner because large sections of Hindutva opinion were outraged by his positive projection of Jinnah and by his analysis of the role of Patel. Fortunately, the BJP is not in power. Even if it is, Indian democracy and public opinion will not tolerate a political leader or any other individual being harassed for his political views.

Fortunately again, in this modern age of mushrooming TV channels and a vigorous and irreverent print media, no state or no party--whether communist or non-communist--can render a revisionist a non-person any longer. Instead of becoming a non-person, the revisionist Jaswant Singh has already become even more well known than earlier--not only in India, but also in the rest of the world--thanks to the unwise action of the BJP leadership, which would have made Stalin proud of them.

I have not read his book. Nor extracts from it in any print media. I only saw his interview by Karan Thapar [Part I, Part II]. I would have expected Karan to question Jaswant Singh in some detail on his research, including his sources, on the basis of which he came to his revisionist conclusions. Karan didn't. No one has gone into his research methodology. As a result, one does not know how well-founded is his analysis of the pre-1947 political events in the sub-continent, which led to the Partition.

I myself grew up during the independence struggle. Though very young, I was an avid reader of The Hindu. I hardly missed attending the public meetings of Gandhiji, Nehru, Patel , Rajaji and other leaders whenever held in Chennai. My own recollection is that the role of Jinnah was not as positive as reportedly projected by Jaswant Singh and the role of Patel was not as negative as reportedly projected by him.

One can understand the BJP's discomfiture over the book and over the way Jaswant Singh has questioned the conventional wisdom in the party. The right thing for the party would have been to set up a small group of party historians to go into the book and come out with a rejoinder for the education of the party cadres.

Instead, by expelling Jaswant Singh in a humiliating manner and starting a campaign to discredit him, the party has once again exhibited disturbing tendencies reminiscent of those of Stalin and Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi during the days of the Emergency between 1975 and 1977.

One might ask why I say "once again". Remember the Tehelka episode of 2001 when the BJP was in power at the head of a coalition? Remember the manner in which the Government of India went after the Tehelka company and its chief for organising a sting operation to expose alleged corruption in the government and the BJP? The company was reportedly ruined financially as a result of this campaign. This intolerance of criticism emanating from inside or outside the party has been a disturbing feature of the party. Unless the party leadership does an introspection and rids itself of the negative features of its working, its hopes of returning to power again one day may again be belied.

Another negative feature of the BJP, which has come to the fore after the elections, is the determination of L.K.Advani, its leader, to stick to the chair despite his ripe old age and despite his perceived role in the failure of the Party to win the elections. Contemporary history has many laudable instances of famous leaders graciously bowing out either because their party fared badly in the elections under their leadership or because they wanted to pave the way for a younger leadership to come to the top.

As examples of the former, one can cite John Major of the UK and Abdullah Badawi of Malaysia. Both of them were much younger than Advani, but decided to bow out graciously because their parties did badly in the elections. As examples of the latter, one could cite former Singapore Prime Ministers Lee Kuan-Yew and Goh Chok Tong, who were again much younger than Advani. They graciously bowed out as the Prime Minister in order to pave the way for a younger leadership.

All of them continue to be active as senior mentors in their parties and civil societies, which listen to their views and advice with respect and follow them, when called for. Such grace does not come naturally to the BJP. 

B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.

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