[Update at the end]
The conventional assessment of the BJP National Executive meeting (June 20-21) is that its primary purpose of providing members with an opportunity to let off post-election steam has been achieved. This will put an end to trading of charges and levelling of allegations. It will be back to business as usual.
It is also being claimed (and I endorse this partially) that those who have been cavilling against the party’s ideology and its core idea, Hindutva, have been silenced. Ideology shall continue to enjoy primacy and Hindutva shall remain the guiding force.
Third, niggling doubts about the leadership issue have been put to rest. The party has asserted the principle of ‘democratic centralism’ and this is the way it shall be. Never mind what the party constitution says about electing leaders from bottom up.
My assessment differs on all these counts and more.
The unabashed finger-pointing that was witnessed marks a departure from the past when sobriety was the norm during National Executive meetings. Little or no purpose has been served by the mutual recrimination that marked the discussions till Sunderlal Patwa intervened with an emotional speech.
Patwa’s intervention may have forced an end to the ugly trading of charges, including between Shahnawaz Hussein and Maneka Gandhi, and diverted attention from the points raised by Arun Shourie, but the internecine war is by no means over. At best it is tactical retreat, not even temporary truce.
It is a pity that two ‘leaders’, whom LK Advani referred to as “two eminent Muslim colleagues of ours”, were allowed to adopt an abrasive tone and level all kinds of charges while others were disallowed to raise issues that are much more fundamental for the party’s well-being.
But I guess it is useful to promote the fiction that the BJP lost the election because of what Varun Gandhi said (or did not say) in Pilibhit. That way, the real reasons shall remain swept under the carpet.
[Sushil Modi in his intervention mentioned that Hindutva upsets the JD(U) and could strain the BJP-JD(U) alliance in Bihar. That’s as unconvincing as Naveen Patnaik’s claim that he parted company with the BJP because of the violence in Kandhamal. If Nitish Kumar is convinced that he can win a majority on his own he will part company with the BJP: Nobody likes to share power. A section of the JD(U) feels that an alliance with the Congress makes better sense because it would fetch political returns at the Centre here and now.]
Here is a fact that should have been the subject of serious discussion but was ignored by the National Executive: Of the sitting MPs in the 14th Lok Sabha who contested this year’s election, only 37 have been re-elected. In 2004, nearly a hundred sitting MPs of the BJP lost the election.
It would be absurd to suggest that barring 37 sitting MPs the remaining lost the 2009 election because of Varun Gandhi’s alleged inflammatory comments or a harsh and narrow interpretation of Hindutva. I don’t think there is any evidence to suggest that Hindutva was even mentioned during their campaign, leave alone giving it a sinister twist.
The reasons why such a large number of sitting MPs lost are four-fold:
. Poor track record of the individuals;
. Poor organisational back-up;
. Poor campaigning at the constituency level; and,
. Poor selection of candidates.
The BJP obviously does not want to discuss these issues as that would result in quite a few red faces at the high table. Patwa has saved them from acute embarrassment.
Second, there is no clarity as yet on either ideology or Hindutva.
Both LK Advani and Rajnath Singh stressed on the inclusiveness of Hindutva and how it militates against bigotry and fanaticism. That’s a nice thought. But what does it stand for?
. LK Advani said “BJP’s understanding of Hindutva is fully in accord with the unanimous judgement given by the 3-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court on December 11, 1995.”
. Rajnath Singh said “Hindutva … has a sense of respect and a place for everyone and it is a concept of co-existence. It is this cultural consciousness which has made Hindutva so benevolent and flexible.”
. The Political Resolution moved and drafted by Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “Hinduism or Hindutva is not to be understood or construed narrowly confined only to religious practices or expressed in extreme forms. It is indeed related to the culture and ethos of the people of the India, depicting the way of life of the Indian people.”
The Indian people’s “way of life” has nothing to do with politics or political campaigns to secure state power. If Hindutva is only what the Supreme Court thinks it is, then it should not be the political creed of any party, least of all the BJP.
The political resolution bizarrely equates Hinduism with Hindutva. This was best avoided. Hinduism is about faith, which is by definition narrow and exclusive. Hindutva is about political mobilisation, which has to be inclusive and all-embracing.
The party should have said:
Hindutva is rooted in India’s cultural and civilisational ethos, of which faith (Hinduism, Islam or Christianity) is only one inter-changeable component; it is representative of India’s identity as an ancient nation and a modern nation state; it links India’s past with its present and mirrors its aspirations for a better future.
It defines Indianness or Bharatiyata. It is the cornerstone of cultural nationalism, the BJP's USP.
It is rooted in egalitarianism, tolerance and compassion. It celebrates democracy. It harmonises differences. It rests on the principle of justice to all, appeasement of none.
Some may perceive merit in waffle we heard at the National Executive meeting, but it will not help remove the confusion that prevails at all levels. The party needs to enunciate Hindutva for our times. I wonder when the BJP’s ‘Blair moment’ will come.
The BJP would have done itself some good had it used this National Executive meeting to also clarify a related point: Core issues of the party are not core elements of Hindutva, they are at best tangentially linked.
Abrogation of Article 370 is to do with integration of the States and Centre-State relations. Retaining Article 370 keeps open the issue of Jammu & Kashmir’s full and final integration with the Union of India and allows others to refer to it as ‘disputed territory’. It also accords to Jammu & Kashmir a special status that is denied to the other States of the Union. None of these is a key component of Hindutva.
Article 44 of the Constitution states: "The state shall endeavour to secure for citizens a uniform civil code.” This is primarily meant to uphold the republican principles of equality for all, irrespective of gender, religion and caste. It is also aimed at modernising Indian society by ridding it of regressive personal laws. Where does the demand for Uniform Civil Code fit into the concept of Hindutva?
By not separating these two core issues from the core of its ideology, the BJP has failed to put an end to the campaign of calumny by the ‘secular’ political establishment and the ill-informed sections of media. More importantly, it has missed an opportunity to remove misconception in the minds of its cadre.
Advani has talked about organisational weaknesses and the need to address them as well as expand the party’s base in States where it is almost non-existent. The “train compartment” mentality he has referred to is extremely relevant. Hopefully it applies to all in the higher echelons of the party.
As for strengthening the organisation and strategise for the next 20 years, it will require a mindset change across the board at the top: The needless craving for allies and alliances has to be replaced by determination and a can-do spirit.
Unfortunately, those who speak about it are also strong votaries of subjugating State units of the party to allies so that local leaders don’t grow in stature and want a place inside the “train compartment”.
A last point: States representatives at the meeting were unanimous and unambiguous in their praise for Narendra Modi. Every where he visited during the campaign, they said, the cadre were galvanised and supporters enthused. Nothing more need be said.
. This whole differentiation of 'moderate', 'soft' and 'hard' Hindutva makes little sense. Hindtuva needs to be seen as a concept, an idea, the core of the party's belief and the base of its political positioning. The moment it begins to label Hindutva, it suggests a certain discomfort with everything that this idea stands for.
. There are some in the party who believe that to be one with 'Young India' they must ape the worst trait that manifests itself in urban India among those who feel embarrassed about being an Indian and describe themselves as 'global citizens', which is no more than an imaginary identity as opposed to an identity rooted in the soil of your motherland. Hence, the effort to disown and distance yourself from Hindutva.
. Young India, we must note, lives not only in cities but in villages and district towns. That Young India is not yet a deracinated lot.
. The BJP will (hopefully) never come to resemble a Congress dominated by beautiful people who adorn Page 3 and mesmerise the chattering classes.
. The 'aspirations' that are often referred to in connection with issues the BJP should address to widen its support base cannot exclude Hindu aspirations, especially the aspiration to be treated with honour and dignity in Hindu majority India. This is not about crude majoritarianism but the majority's right not to be treated shabbily and with contempt.
. My own view is that Muslims will never vote (or vote substantially) for the BJP. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh was shunned by the Muslims as a 'Hindu' party (Varun Gandhi wasn't born then); the BJP was and continues to be shunned as a 'Hindu party'. The BJP can stand on its head and do a double somersault and a twist-and-turn. There will be applause but no votes. So, let those in the BJP who keep on plugging the secular/Muslim line not waste their breath. Muslims will either consolidate behind the Congress (if the party is seen to be able to practice aggressive appeasement, eg, communal job and education quotas) or they will vote tactically to defeat the BJP. Muslims are believed to be the decisive factor in 54 Lok Sabha constituencies; by 2014, this number will further increase. The mullah and the masjid will ensure the breach is never bridged, not even if Vande Mataram is replaced with qawaali.
. Similarly, the BJP should get rid of its diffidence for being seen as a 'Right-wing party'. Or else it should either disband of fashion itself as a clone of the Congress, a 'B' team, so to say. There is no halfway house on this front. To be 'Right' does not mean to be wrong. Nor is conservative or 'Right-wing' politics 'unenlightened'.
. Meanwhile, in the context of short-sighted political alliances, the BJP should ponder over what it has lost by striking an alliance with the Gorkha Jana Mukti Morcha in Darjeeling district of West Bengal. What it has gained is one Lok Sabha seat, limited to this election.
These are some stray thoughts I felt I should share with you after going through my notes on the National Executive.