Photograph of Anil Chawla


Author - Anil Chawla

Defeat in 2004 general elections could have been an opportunity for BJP to purge itself of deadwood and reinvent itself. Instead, the party seems to be going the Hindu Mahasabha way. As the sun sets on BJP, the party gropes in the dark while its leaders indulge in petty games in seven-star comforts.

Victory and defeat are two sides of a coin. Everyone faces defeat at some time or the other in one's life. The way an organization faces failure and defeat is the key to its future. In an organization on the upswing, every defeat is an opportunity to learn, to analyze, to purge the organization of dead wood and to grow. In such an organization, defeat provides the top leadership or management to appraise its own strengths and weaknesses rising above petty self interests. A touchstone of an organization's dynamism and inherent strengths is that the leadership's commitment to survival and growth of the organization is so complete that faced with an honest appraisal of its own weaknesses - present or future - it shows no hesitation in making personal sacrifices. For example, some time back, Infosys Chairman, Mr. Naryanmurthy, realized that it would not be too late when age would become his weakness. He decided to step down from the position of CEO of Infosys, keeping to himself a limited role as Chairman. It is no wonder that Infosys has continued to grow even when the market situation was tough.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a study in contrast. The party was dreaming of winning recent parliamentary elections. A resounding defeat shattered the dreams. The defeat could have provided the trigger for serious introspection. However, even though it has been about six weeks since the election results came in, one sees no such intentions on part of the top leadership. Instead one sees, on one hand, a game of hunting for scapegoats; and on the other hand, attempts by key leaders to fiercely guard and build their turfs; while simultaneously denying realities even as they stare in the face. BJP leaders are joined in all this by leaders from mother organization, RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), as well as from sister organization VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad).

Almost as soon as the results were out, VHP leaders went on record blaming BJP leadership, in particular Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, for the debacle. VHP accused Vajpayee and Advani of being traitors to the Hindu cause. As per VHP, people had punished BJP since Vajpayee and Advani had given up the ideology of Hindutva. VHP wanted to put complete blame on the two topmost leaders of BJP and probably take over the party from the moderates. At first, RSS seemed to be toeing the VHP line. But soon RSS was back to hunting with the wolves and running with the hares.

Within the BJP, Advani group moved quickly to consolidate its position. The group had too much at stake. On one hand, it could not risk a new group emerging in the party. On the other hand, it could smell the end of Atal Bihari Vajpayee era. The group chose to abstain from attacking Vajpayee. The strategy apparently was to kick Vajpayee upstairs to a ceremonial role at a newly invented post of Chairman of BJP parliamentary party, while simultaneously tightening grip on the party.

Even before the elections, Advani had begun to tighten his group on the party structure. Venkayya Naidu, whose only qualification is his loyalty to Advani, was appointed as party president. Naidu's team is packed with Advani loyalists. Majority of them have no mass base or popular appeal. Venkayya Naidu, Pramaod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley, Mukhtar Abbas Naqwi - these names are seen on TV channels in India almost every day. None of them can confidently win an election. All of them are blue-eyed boys who have chosen the backdoor entry route of Rajya Sabha.

Party's central office is full of Advani favourites. But, Advani knows that to keep an iron fist on the party, he needs regional satraps whose loyalty may be counted on in all times. Narendra Modi in Gujarat, Uma Bharati in Madhya Pradesh, Kalyan Singh in Uttar Pradesh, and many others in various states were handpicked by Advani and groomed. These satraps have been encouraged to adopt an autocratic style and to be ruthless in crushing any rumblings of dissent. No wonder each of these regional satraps has a running feud with the party organization of the state.

While over the past few years, Advani was busy building his steel grip on the party in a Machiavellian way; Vajpayee was content to have his hold on the government. It must be mentioned that Vajpayee draws his strength in the party from his personal charisma, his skill as an orator and his image. Advani does not enjoy any such personal advantages. He knows this weakness too well. So he makes it up by deft maneuvering.

Advani, with some assistance from Vajpayee, has effectively converted BJP from a cadre-based party to a largesse-based party. Every single office-bearer of the party, at the national level as well as at the state level, owes his position to the favour of Advani or one of his cronies (in rare cases to the favour of Vajpayee). Popularity among masses is no insurance against fall from grace. One may be extremely popular and yet be treated most shabbily. Sushma Swaraj learnt it the hard way a couple of years ago. She had become very popular and there were posters in Delhi declaring her to be the future Prime Minister. This was too threatening for Advani as well as Vajpayee to ignore. In no time, she found herself thrown out from all key positions. She even faced a disgraceful expulsion from her government accommodation in Delhi. It is rumoured that she could stage a comeback only after prostrating and declaring that she had no ambitions. After the comeback, she adopted a distinct low-key style. Govindacharya, Bangaru Laxman and Jana Krishnamurthy were not so lucky.

Two years back I wrote an article praising Manohar Parrikar, BJP Chief Minister of Goa. Parrikar is a graduate of IIT Bombay. I had argued that BJP needs leaders like Parrikar in other states too. When I met him a few months later, he told me that I had done him great harm. Surely, he did not want to be shunted out by insecure top bosses who feel threatened if a regional satrap starts growing a national image.

Advani and Vajpayee, both, have always encouraged pygmies within party organization. Men of stature, who may stand up to idiotic diktats, are shunned. It is no surprise that Arun Shourie, in spite of his exemplary performance as a cabinet minister of Vajpayee government, found it difficult to get a nomination to Rajya Sabha. (He was almost denied the ticket losing the race to an unknown figure like Chhatrapal Singh, whose only claim to glory is his loyalty to a state satrap. After public and media pressure mounted, Shourie was accommodated.)

After the defeat in general elections, BJP had an opportunity in recent Rajya Sabha elections to project a new generation of bright, intelligent, educated leaders. A purge would have been too much to expect, but a few new faces was the least that was expected. Instead one saw discredited deadwood being sent to the upper house. In Madhya Pradesh, BJP nominated three eighty-year-old infirm persons along with an unknown Tamil politician who does not even know the geography of Madhya Pradesh. In Uttar Pradesh, Dr. M.M. Joshi was nominated along with Arun Shourie and a business magnate, who was at one time very close to Congress. Dr. Joshi, as Cabinet Minister for Human Resources Development, had single-handedly alienated the urban middle class by his arrogant handling of renowned educational institutes. Due to his arrogant ways, he lost Lok Sabha election. It should also be noted that this was the first time when BJP got a lower percentage of votes and seats in urban India. Rewarding Dr. Joshi with a Rajya Sabha ticket is a mockery of democracy and of people's will. But he has company. Nazma Hepatullah, who had been a Congress MP for decades, now sits with BJP members. The list of BJP nominees is sufficient to make any BJP loyalist throw up his hands in despair. A senior BJP leader remarked privately, "Surely, all of them have a glorious past; but doesn't the party want a bright future rather than just a past that our future generations would mention with pride?"

Focused on the past, out of touch with the present and without a vision for the future - that sums up the present state of BJP. This was illustrated once again by the extravaganza put up by the party at a seven-star hotel on the banks of Mumbai's Powai Lake. This spectacular entertainment full of irony and paradox was called National Executive meeting of the party. Handpicked puppets of Advani and Vajpayee could either feast in seven speciality restaurants of the hotel or could enjoy dishes from every part of India served on the best silver in the banquet hall. Rolling in this luxury, the delegates passed a resolution declaring the commitment of the party to RSS ideology.

Apparently, neither Advani nor Vajpayee nor any of the national executive members of BJP even understands the basics of RSS ideology. More than Hindutva, it is simple and Spartan living that defines RSS way of life. Even today Sangh Sarsanghchalak (head of RSS) sits on the floor along with other RSS workers and has his daily meals. No special elaborate five-star or seven-star meals for him, whether he is at Nagpur or when he is travelling.

As far as hindutva is concerned, neither BJP nor RSS has tried to define it. The word is assigned meanings as convenient from time to time. For some, Hindutva means virulent anti-Islam and anti-Christian sentiments. In some other context, Hindutva is a synonym for Indian nationalism and Muslims as well as Christians living in India are Hindus. The confusion suits Sangh clan. For VHP, Hindutva is constructing magnificent temples and being vegetarian. For BJP, Hindutva is Ekatm Manavwad, an ideology called in English by BJP as integrated humanism.

Every member of BJP is supposed to sign a declaration affirming faith in integrated humanism. Yet, ask any four top leaders of BJP about integrated humanism, either you will get four different answers or in all probability, at least three of them would go into a long monologue about Deendayal Upadhyay, the founder of Jansangh. The confusion about its ideology makes BJP adopt different postures without really believing any of them. Finally, when it comes to governing, it has no ideology and each leader adopts what seems correct to him.

The past six years of BJP-led NDA government at centre was marked by no ideology. Dr. Joshi made some changes to history textbooks but the party had little to do with it. No other action of BJP-led government could in any way be related to any ideological direction. By and large, NDA government continued with the policies of Congress government.

Can one say that the reason for defeat of BJP is related to its non-action and confusion on the ideological front? Yes and No! Of course, hardcore BJP supporters found no reason to vote for BJP and they remained aloof. On the other hand anti-BJP voters used the opportunity to the full. However, this phenomenon was not as widespread as some might like to believe. Generally speaking, ideology was not an issue in the elections.

The reality that stares BJP in the face is that the party, which till the other day was the hope of urban middle class, has ceased to inspire any hopes. Shorn of its sheen as "the party with a difference" and with an aging octogenarian leadership eager to keep the party as a personal fiefdom, the party faces the prospect of fading away into oblivion. In the fifties and early sixties Hindu Mahasabha was in a similar state. Even now, you can see the grand building of Hindu Mahasabha in Delhi. That is all that remains of Hindu Mahasabha, the historical party that could be truly credited with fathering India's freedom movement. Does a similar fate await BJP?

One does not know whether BJP leadership, intoxicated with arrogance and conceit, is even aware of this danger. Everyone else, however, knows that BJP has entered the twilight zone. As the light fades away, BJP leaders find it convenient to blame everyone else for their fall. Without an intellectual team to provide directions, the party finds itself groping in the dark. As it throws up its hands and feet in erratic actions, one can only wonder whether the convulsions are a sign of the final end or will the sun rise again!

Anil Chawla
27 June 2004

Please write to me your comments about the above article.

ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer (and now a lawyer too) by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.

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