01, Aug 1993
The BJP’s claim of being “within striking distance of the Centre” is bogus. But only the purblind will deny that, as of now, the party which is playing with fire seems to be the only dynamic force in the political arena
WHAT do you do when the market-place will buy no more of the dubious product you peddle and the sales graph refuses to rise above the plateau? How about adding some new hypes to the Hindutva brand of politics and re-launching it with a fresh sales pitch?
Gimmicks don’t work with buyers beyond a point if the object on sale is inherently flawed. But, as was evident during the BJP’s as was evident during the BJP’s national council meeting at Bangalore in June, the merchants of saffron are doing their best.
After December 6, 1992 no one can deny that in the business of whipping up religious frenzy and sustaining it over years, instigating communal violence on a sub-continental scale, setting up the largest network of fanatics, lying in Parliament and before the highest court in the land, reducing a mosque and a national monument to rubble in a matter of hours, thrashing journalists who are only doing their job, there is none to match the organizational prowess of the Sangh Parivar.
True, the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation has catapulted the BJP from the fringe existence of the Jana Sangh to dizzying political heights. But it is equally true that a one-point party cannot a national government make.
Towards the end of last December, a nation-wide India Today-MARG opinion poll showed that country-wide riots which revived memories of the communal holocaust in 1947 had created a political climate in which an immediate election could yield 170 seats for the BJP in the Lok Sabha.
An impressive jump from the existing 119 seats, but still over a hundred short of the number needed to form a government in New Delhi. In January, some high-flying sadhus who thanks to the Sangh Parivar have tasted politics – and like it a lot – announced their own plans to bridge the electoral gap for Hindutva. The Babri Masjid, they declared, was but a small step in the forward march of the saffron brigade. The kar sevaks future targets for demolition, they said, include the Jama Masjid in Delhi and the secular Constitution of India.
Swami Vamdev and Swami Muktanand of the VHP promised a return of the caste system and an end to all personal laws so that, religion no bar, men could marry not just four but 44 women if they pleased. For added appeal, the president of the women’s front of the BJP, Mridula Sinha, declared through an interview in The Telegraph that home is where a woman should be. She praised the unique dowry institution in India and held that in most cases of domestic violence a woman has only herself to blame.
Obviously, not every member of the Sangh Parivar is adept in the carefully cultivated art of double-speak. As public alarm grew with saffron prematurely revealing its true colour, bring back the “suave”, “urbane”, “statese-man-like” L.K. Advani with a damage repair, image rebuild brief.
Advani has done it before. But that was before he stood amidst frenzied kar sevaks in front of the Babri Masjid and issued instructions to Kalyan Singh to hang on to the chief minister’s chair in U.P. until nothing but rubble remained where there once was a mosque. (See page 7).
Big Bull Harshad Mehta helped a lot. He fine-tuned his charge of having personally paid rupees one crore to Prime Minister Narasimha Rao (Corruption!) to coincide with the BJP’s national council meet.
More than Advani, Mehta dominated the BJP meet in Bangalore. Apart from demanding the immediate resignation of Rao, the party announced a three-month long nationwide campaign against corruption. If Bofors brought V.P. Singh to power, won’t history repeat itself, for the BJP’s sake this time?
Doubtful. The country has yet to decide who the liar is Rao or the scamster? But questions are being asked from day one of the revelation about the credentials of a party which wants to launch a moral crusade against a rupee one crore bribe in league with a man charged with having committed a Rs. 5,000 crore fraud.
The predicament of the BJP is of its own making. It showed an indecent haste in revealing before journalists in Bangalore all the salient features of Mehta’s claim two days before the Big Bull’s own press conference in Bombay. By mid-July, the BJP’s own feedback from the grassroots was that the corruption plank had failed to fire the imagination of the masses.
To be fair to the BJP, other issues, too, figured at the national council meet. Advani promised to all Indians “a riot-free society, a corruption-free administration, a debt-free economy and free, and violence-free, elections.”
As if that wasn’t a lot already, a social policy document released on the occasion guaranteed social justice not only to the scheduled castes, women, and other backward castes, but even to Muslims.
Fed with a rich dose of optimism by the leadership, BJP workers departed from Bangalore with a firm conviction that the next government in Delhi will be “ours”. Why else would celebrities like editors (R.K. Karanjia), cricketers (Mohinder Amarnath and Kirti Azad), film folks (Laxmi, Ambarish, Jai Jagdesh, Dwarakesh) and Carnatic musician, Gopalakrishnan, join the bandwagon?
But whether the bulk of the national electorate will buy so many goodies on offer from the BJP is another matter. The scepticism is understandable. The BJP’s claim that there were virtually no riots “in states where we were in power” is taken by Muslims and secular-minded. Hindus to mean, “Be sure of riots if you don’t vote us to power.”
Again, as an editorial in the Economic Times immediately after the Bangalore session stated: “The experience of BJP governments in four states shows that its appetite for corruption is no less huge than that of the Congress.” As for the claim of violence-free polls, one need only recall the blood-letting in Bihar during state level organizational elections in June.
After the euphoria, the comedown. “The party is now unstoppable”, “It’s within striking distance of central rule.”
While these were the buzzwords in Bangalore, during a meeting of the party’s top brass barely two weeks later, senior leaders were confiding before trusted journalists on the BJP beat that, one, it did not expect to win more than 170 seats in the Lok Sabha if an election were held soon, and, two, it wasn’t even confident of returning to power in the four states it earlier ruled, except U.P.
It must be said to the credit of the BJP that, despite the exaggerated claims it puts out for public consumption from time to time, its leadership has a fairly good feel of the ground reality which it discloses in private conversations with scribes and others.
The boast that it will rule from Delhi after the next polls is bogus. But that does not take away the fact that unless the secular forces unite in U.P. – of which there is no guarantee as of now, – the BJP is certain to improve on its present tally of 119 Lok Sabha seats.
While its pretentions to power in the immediate future have no basis in reality, there is no denying that as of today the BJP appears to be the only party with prospects of growth. Advani said in Bangalore: “The Congress is hurtling downwards, with the collapse of communism internationally Marxist parties in India are in disarray and the JD is in tatters. BJP, is, therefore, the “natural” party of India’s future.”
Columnist S. Nihal Singh has rightly commented that if the Sangh Parivar persists with its politics, there will be no India left, so where’s the question of its future. But secular parties have to contend with the fact that in recent years, the BJP is the only party which has proved itself capable of moving in quickly to occupy any political vaccum. Gujarat and Karnataka are good examples for this trend, Andhra could well be the next in the list.
The biggest hurdle between the BJP and power today is not secular forces so much as the self-limiting nature of saffron politics. With factionalism surfacing with a vengeance in a party that once prided itself on iron discipline and with sadhus having discovered an insatiable appetite for politics, there is the growing prospect of the BJP being swallowed by the Sangh Parivar’s creation. (See box).
But secular forces cannot afford to wait for the BJP to go down with a self-inflicted wound.
Advani : Mathura and Varanasi are not on the BJP’s agenda.
Question: Does that mean that the BJP would never take them up?
Advani: I never said that.
Murli Manohar Joshi: “A political party takes into account the happenings in the country, the feelings and sentiments of the people, their desires and aspirations.”
Professor Rajendra Singh, joint-general secretary, RSS : “The RSS will offer full-fledged support to the VHP in case the latter launches a movement for the liberation of temples at Mathura and Kashi.”
H.V. Sehadri, general secretary, RSS: “Minorities should join our organisation. Closer, direct interaction is needed to remove distrust.”
Muslims who believe that 3,000 mosques if not more should be handed over to Hindutva’s high command should immediately apply.