Muzzling dissent

It was not unexpected that the BJP would take action against senior leader Jaswant Singh for his views on Muhammed Ali Jinnah and the partition of India, expressed in his biography of the founder of Pakistan. But the action came fast and soon, even before the party leadership had, as Jaswant Singh has himself remarked, read the book. But the views, a gist of which has already been made known, went against the party’s and the RSS’ view of history. L K Advani had lost his position as president of the party for an adulatory remark he made on Jinnah while on a visit to Pakistan in 2005. Jaswant Singh’s comments went beyond an off-the-cuff remark and were the result of years of study of the events that led up to the partition of the country and his assessment of the role of leaders and parties in it.

If Advani was only warned, Jaswant Singh has been summarily expelled because he is not a ‘mass leader’ who can cause any damage to the party in retaliation. But his expulsion is a sad commentary on the style of functioning of a national party. Even if the BJP does not agree with his point of view, the leadership should have shown the maturity to allow a person of Jaswant Singh’s intellectual stature to hold and articulate his stand point on historical events. The democracy will be poorer if dissent or alternative views are sought to be muzzled with a sledgehammer action, even without a debate or discussion at the party forum. Admittedly, Singh had been on a collision course with the leadership ever since the last Lok Sabha elections and had even said in public that he did not know what Hindutva was. He has always been considered a scholarly gentleman, often uncomfortable in the political company that he had.

The action against Jaswant Singh shows that the party is unable to disengage itself from an ideology based on a view of the past. Jaswant Singh’s views are not new, and have been articulated by others. The debate is likely to continue, but the BJP will not be part of it. For that matter even the Congress does not accept any deviation from its version and has condemned Jaswant Singh for his views. It’s ironical that the BJP’s silencing of a critic has come from Shimla where senior leaders are assembled for a ‘chintan baithak’ to look at the party’s future and strategise for it.

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