BJP: Ayodhya or Ajmer?
by Sandhya Jain on 09 Dec 2008 11 Comments

Hindus voted the BJP to power in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh; Hindus turned away from the BJP in Rajasthan and Delhi; and Hindus have no meaningful presence in Mizoram. That, in a nutshell, is my view of the recent Assembly results.

Elections are fought on the basis of ideology; development is governed by ideology, and is not its polar opposite as some political pundits posit. BJP won where ideology and development converged, as they did in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh; it failed where they did not, as in Delhi and Rajasthan. Allow me to explain.

It is well-known that after Ms. Uma Bharati was forced to resign because of the bogus case filed by Congress in Karnataka, her protégé Babulal Gaur proved a failure, and was replaced by Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan. He began on a disastrous note with corruption cases smearing his public life on account of a domineering wife, but saw the light, fell quickly in line with RSS discipline, and implemented a people-specific agenda in cooperation with the Sangh Parivar. This has given him his handsome victory today – his administration did not exclude the minorities, but did not pander to them either. This retained Hindu confidence and caused the fearsome Uma Bharati to bite the dust; Madhya Pradesh will be important in the forthcoming national elections.

In Chattisgarh, Chief Minister Raman Singh was literally cornered with Maoists, human rights activists, foreign-backed NGOs, and sundry secularists gunning for him on account of his resolve to crush the murderous Maoists. But his Salwa Judum campaign to involve villagers in the fight against these armed goons was upheld by the Supreme Court. Raman Singh kept a modest public demeanour while implementing people-oriented schemes like 35 kgs. of rice/family at Rs 3/kg, which benefitted all poor alike. Again, his government did not exclude minorities, but did not make unnatural attempts to woo them either. Now, the continuity of administration may well crack the Maoist belt running uninterrupted from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh.

Defeat in Delhi is an indictment of the BJP’s dominant faction headed by Leader of the Opposition, L.K. Advani. It is, in fact, an encore. Last time, the party fielded Mr. Madan Lal Khurana who was totally out of tune with the needs of the city, who refused to raise any public issue affecting the voters, and simply bit the dust. This time, it fielded his aged twin, Mr. Vijay Kumar Malhotra, though it was Dr. Harshvardhan who nurtured the city unit for so many years, and was respected for his clean image. He should not be made the scapegoat for the shoddy campaign micro-managed by the half-clever Arun Jaitly.  

Fundamentally, Delhi signals the defeat of the geriatrics, and there is no way to avoid this conclusion. The writing on the wall says Mr. Advani must immediately quit as the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate; else the party is sure to walk out of the gates of electoral history, and into oblivion.

There are many reasons for this apparently harsh statement. It has been Mr. Advani’s style to factionalise the party and run it as a personal fiefdom, ruthlessly humiliating and undermining all possible rivals to the post he covets so hungrily. Despite an unremarkable performance as Home Minister in the NDA regime, he stoutly resisted attempts to persuade him to withdraw from public life after the defeat of 2004, pushing a frustrated RSS Sarsanghachalak to publicly state that it was time to make way for a younger leadership.

Though former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee promptly agreed with the suggestion, Mr. Advani and his coterie literally pounced upon Sudarshanji and Atalji, and compelled them to support his continuation in public life. But an old man in a hurry makes mistakes. He published his autobiography, a Freudian slip, as this is usually done after one’s public life is over. Worse, he made the startling revelation that retired Sarsanghachalak Rajinder Singh had in 2002 asked Atalji to step down as Prime Minister (no doubt to make way for Advani!)

There is no way Mr. Advani wasn’t party to this attempt to oust his own boss so gracelessly. However, Mr. Vajpayee was made to sterner stuff and survived his term. He continued to be the prime ministerial mascot until someone planted a story in a favoured newspaper that Atalji was suffering from a brain tumour. It is pertinent that though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Mr. Vajpayee in hospital, he and his government respected the family’s decision to keep the illness private.

Personal ambition apart, Mr. Advani has determinedly tried to steer the BJP away from its Hindutva platform, once epitomized by the movement to build the Ram Temple at Ayodhya. Having survived the scandalous Jinnah controversy because members of his coterie were well entrenched in RSS power structures, he continued to unabashedly court the minority community – not through general inclusiveness as citizens of the country, which is the Hindu ethos – but by gimmickry and special initiatives designed to rouse Hindu suspicions.

It was precisely this that cost BJP the Delhi election, when it was widely believed that the 62-hour Mumbai carnage would lead to a handsome victory. It is true Malhotra failed to connect with the voter, ran a negative campaign, and had no positive promises to offer.

But the enduring image of the BJP in the immediate aftermath of Mumbai – captured in newspapers across the city – was of Mr. Advani and cronies, heads covered with the Islamic prayer cap, standing devoutly under a ‘chadar’ being sent to Ajmer Sharif, while a maulvi recited prayers.

BJP was niggardly in its support for the patently innocent Sadhvi Pragya, and would not squeak for Lt. Col. Purohit and others implicated as Hindu terrorists in the Malegaon blast of 29 September (party president Rajnath Singh was repeatedly contradicted when he tried to support her in deference to Hindu sentiment). After the 62-hour carnage in Mumbai, this “namaazi” look would have galled Delhi voters. If ‘secularism’ is the mantra of a Hindu party, why not go for the real thing?

Interestingly, Ms. Sonia Gandhi generally sends a chadar at the same time as Mr. Advani, and I have no doubt she did so this time as well. But her entourage was savvier and took care not to release a photograph!

In Rajasthan, Ms. Vasundhara Raje was an outsider who won the 2003 election on account of her novelty value. She was sent because stalwarts like Mr. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat were singularly incapable of nurturing a successor leadership – a common problem with many leaders of his generation. She did do some good fiscal management, pulling the state out of the BIMARU ranks, but completely failed to connect with local leaders on account of personal haughtiness, and completely mishandled the Gujjar agitation because of an inability or unwillingness to identify it as the personal issue of Congress MP Sachin Pilot whose Dausa pocketborough was being hit by the fresh delimitation of constituencies. Ticket distribution and 65 rebel candidates (all personally angry with her) took care of the rest. I can only marvel at the brains of the person who gave a BJP ticket to the son of K. Natwar Singh, when he is under formal investigation in an alleged scam! Not surprisingly, Natwar himself was seen embracing Sheila Dixit after her Delhi victory. 

Other than a craven desire to be America’s favourite poodle, the Advani faction has no big idea about the economy, terrorism, or national security. Worse, it has no logical consistency or commitment to any issue. The party took up the Batla House encounter and attacked those who challenged the martyrdom of Inspector M.C. Sharma, but party stalwarts were missing at the funeral and related ceremonies.

It attacked the Jamia Vice Chancellor and others for supporting the accused in the Batla House encounter, but shamefully refused to resolutely support beleaguered Hindu religious leaders, Army officers and others being implicated in the Malegaon and other blasts. Party leaders were quite cynical about Sadhvi Pragya – she was supported for formality’s sake to silence the enraged Hindu constituency, while maintaining enough distance to drop her at the first sign of trouble. Lt. Col. Purohit and the Sharada Peeth Shankaracharya were simply abandoned to the wolves, even when the case was falling apart at the seams, and whispers began to do the rounds that ATS chief Hemant Karkare was unhappy at being forced to incriminate Hindus and was seeking a transfer.

The BJP is now at a crossroads – it must choose between Ayodhya or Ajmer. There is no way it can straddle both boats.

The need of the hour is an unambiguously Hindu leadership and agenda. India was a 100 percent Hindu country, which is now 85 percent Hindu, and may one day become a non-Hindu country if Hindus continue to be decimated by jihad and conversions. Hindus need reassurance and security in their native land. They do not need to be falsely implicated by criminal politicians trying to establish parity between Muslim and Hindu terrorism.

Mr. Advani’s public meetings have evoked poor response for many months, and his various yatras have always had to be cancelled midway since the defeat of 2004 for precisely this reason. It is likely therefore that pressure to quit will mount in coming weeks, as the party analyses the election results and contemplates defeat under his leadership.

In such a situation, BJP does not need more of the same. Notwithstanding what the chatteratti think, BJP does not need Mr. Narendra Modi – not if it doesn’t want to repeat the fiasco of Rajasthan!

Mr. Modi outsmarted his detractors and won two elections, partly because Congress had no leadership in his state. But he has a mega-size ego, a penchant for self-aggrandizement, and a very un-Hindu inability to stomach dissent – a characteristic unacceptable in a country where a dhobi could cause a queen to be exiled without adverse consequences to himself.

In 2003, Mr. Modi took everyone by surprise by his implacable hostility to former state home minister Haren Pandya, to the extent of denying him the party ticket in the assembly elections. This trait has surfaced repeatedly, causing many valued party colleagues to part ways, and open squabbles with senior VHP leader Dr. Pravinbhai Togadia.

That Mr. Modi has not improved one bit was demonstrated most recently when he ordered the arrest of a senior VHP leader for allegedly sending derogatory SMS’ about him. As we have not been entertained with the content of the messages, it would be difficult to gauge the extent of the “crime,” but it surely could have been tackled differently. This was followed by the demolition of nearly 300 Hindu temples allegedly encroaching public space in Ahmedabad city, an action that ended only after an ailing but agitated Ashok Singhal reached the city.

If these two near-simultaneous actions are linked – as I believe they are – by a desire to project a secular non-Hindu (read anti-Hindu) face, then BJP would be ill-advised to select such a leader. His projection of himself state CEO, rather than a mere politician, seems guided by an American Gujarati fraternity that roots for him constantly, causing suspicions about his goalposts.

Narendra Modi did not even stir to shore up security in Gujarat, though Pakistani terrorists used the state to reach Mumbai. He had no words of sorrow for the Gujarati fishermen murdered in cold blood on the high seas, nor compensation for their families. So far, he has said nothing about ridding the state of illegal Bangladeshis, a third of the fishing community alone.

Yet he jarred everyone’s nerves by rushing to Mumbai when operations were still going on at the Taj (though Mr. Advani had already visited the state with Mr. Jaswant Singh); visited the family of Mr. Hemant Karkare though they had asked him not to come; and announced a compensation of Rs. one crore for the families of slain policemen, which was refused. As there is no precedent or justification for a Chief Minister of one state going to another state and giving compensation to its citizens, this was nothing but megalomania.

Mr. Modi is incapable of team work; his advisers are shadowy and unknown persons; and his deliberate positioning of himself as someone who is over and above the party and the people leaves a poor taste in the mouth. 

BJP is fortunate that the nervousness of the Congress leadership seems to have postponed the general elections to April 2009. This will give it valuable time to settle its leadership and ideological issues by uprooting the old coteries that caused the failure of the NDA regime and the current debacle in Delhi. BJP will have to decide whether it is a Hindu party committed to Ram Rajya (the welfare of all) or a Congress clone determined to pander to minorities, even at the cost of national security. En route, it may also figure out that America is a sinking ship and not a superpower worth befriending.

The author is Editor

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