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Adrift at 25

ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY Adrift at 25 The BJP has never had it so bad. It did not suffer so much turmoil when innumerable scandals and rebellions rocked the party during the six years it was in power at the centre. When the BJP was ensconced in New Delhi, Atal Behari Vajpayee had emerged as the party

January 7, 2006 ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY
Adrift at 25 The BJP has never had it so bad. It did not suffer so much turmoil when innumerable scandals and rebellions rocked the party during the six years it was in power at the centre. When the BJP was ensconced in New Delhi, Atal Behari Vajpayee had emerged as the party’s high command. It was possible then for the party to ensure that defiance did not pay, a message which percolated to the rank and file who realised that they had much to lose by defying authority. The BJP had by then become like the Congress Party. Just as Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and then P V Narasimha Rao could ensure discipline with the threat of removal from positions of influence, Vajpayee too managed to function as the supreme leader of the BJP. Thus, the party could, in the wake of the Tehelka scandal, order party president Bangaru Lakshman to resign without a murmur of protest and ensure that nobody was left to speak for Govindacharya when he was removed from the scene. As long as the party was in office, the command mode worked. The problem for the BJP is that when it lost power in May 2004, the command mode became dysfunctional. This change is one which it has not yet come to terms with. The events during the past year culminating in the Mumbai meet reflect this so clearly. Yet, it would be wrong to read a steady weakening of the BJP in the recent problems of the “party with a difference”. In some ways, the BJP now resembles the Janata Dal of old. It is currently made up of individual leaders, who had joined the party stream through the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad route and had been groomed in the larger context of the anti-establishment sentiment that marked the political discourse during the latter half of the 1960s and the early 1970s. But then, unlike many others who emerged on to the political scene from that chaos and were drawn into the struggles of the time by a strong commitment to democracy and a dream to make the world a better place to live, those who now constitute the BJP’s second line of leadership are revanchist in their outlook and committed to the cause of Hindutva. How else could an otherwise modernist like Arun Jaitley stand up, within weeks of the Gujarat pogrom, to defend Narendra Modi at the BJP’s infamous national executive in Goa three years ago. Such incidents demonstrate the extent to which the RSS exercises a pervasive influence on the BJP. In other words, the occasional warnings from the RSS headquarters against the BJP leaders do not reflect any intra-party crisis. The BJP has remained and will continue to remain an arm of the RSS and will always lend its mite in the cause of Hindutva. Vajpayee, contrary to all his protestations, has affirmed time and again that the sangh is his soul. A forked tongue, indeed, has been the sangh’s strength all these years. The crisis that has engulfed the BJP cannot be seen as having to do with ideological differences within the party. It is, in many ways, no more than a problem thrown up by the BJP continuing to rely on the command mode though it no longer has the levers to make such an approach effective. The recent revelations establishing the corrupt ways of a section of its MPs certainly have thrown it into a quandary. And the fact that some of the MPs caught in the cash-for-questions scandal belonged to the RSS stable has exploded the myth about the sangh and its tradition of selfless service. This, however, will not destroy the party. Corruption and scandals have rarely affected the political expansion of parties. Nor does the departure of Vajpayee from active politics, as the former prime minister has announced, spell disaster for the BJP. The BJP’s emergence in the mid-1990s as the single largest party was not entirely due to Vajpayee’s leadership. Vajpayee only happened to lead the formation at a time when the Congress was losing its social base and the third front had lost its legitimacy. That situation has not changed. Despite all the trouble within, the BJP remains the rallying point for anti-Congress forces. And, as its new president, Rajnath Singh has declared, Hindutva will remain its operating ideology. EPW

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