BJP's way out

THINKING ALOUD

The BJP’s turmoil recalls the late Piloo Mody, the corpulent Swatantra Party MP, saying that if an Indian could not make the grade in any profession, he became a journalist. If he failed even in that, he went into politics.

Jaswant Singh’s problem is that he is the exception to the rule, a gentleman fallen among politicians. That matters more than any fancied insult to his party’s creed buried in the often convoluted prose, in turns romantic and passionate, of Jinnah, ‘India-Partition-Independence’, on which he has laboured for five years. It is impossible to believe that anyone in Ahmedabad or Delhi sat down and pored through that massive tome of 669 pages, numerous appendices and lengthy endnotes before expelling him. At the heart of the dispute lies a vital difference in style, culture values and beliefs. The book provided the excuse.

That gives a national dimension to what might otherwise have been dismissed as a personal tragedy born of factional strife. The BJP is a necessary element in India’s political balance. More overt RSS control will hamper its effectiveness if it encourages gangs like the Bajrang Dal and Ram Sena to indulge in what Krishna Byregowda, the Byatarayanapura MLA, calls ‘cultural fascism’. Any surrender to Sangh Parivar rowdiness would strengthen Left and centrist forces, thereby denying the right of adequate representation to a huge orthodox constituency.

If the latter feels deprived of its legitimate legislative voice, it will make itself heard and felt through further vandalism of the kind we have witnessed in Ayodhya, Gujarat, Orissa and Mangalore. So, the process moves in a vicious circle, emphasising the need for politicians who are both conservative (in a social as well as politico-economic sense) and responsible to project orthodoxy’s point of view.

Indira Gandhi used to claim that even an opposition was unnecessary because the Congress spectrum reflected all shades of opinion. True, as many fellow travelling ‘progressives’ as Hindu conservatives sheltered under the Congress umbrella at one time. But she erred (deliberately no doubt) in implying that their conflicting but freely articulated views helped to shape policy. Nothing of the sort because democratic discussion was alien to the Congress ethic. The leader’s will was all that mattered.
The most desirable alternative to that de facto one-party autocracy to which there can be no return is a polity whose right and left balance each other and keep the centre in check. Fragmentation is not a serious impediment for the smaller parties are all splinters of bigger groups and owe their existence to personal ambition rather than ideological differentiation. The left, right and centre gain weight from like-minded allies and ensure that no leader is anyone’s ‘bonded slave’, to use Manmohan Singh’s cri de coeur during the trust vote debate.

Exceptions

The Prime Minister also carries “a heavy handicap … in this heartless race of political influence in India”, quoting Jaswant Singh on Jinnah. Manmohan Singh is not “a 24-hour politician”. Among those that are — and this is said with no disrespect for their considerable, if specialised, talents — must be counted people like Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee. They are only the most obvious candidates for a label that applies to hundreds of others.

A P Sharma, a former Union minister and governor of West Bengal, highlighted the difference at its most basic during Indira Gandhi’s last election from Rae Bareli. Sharma was her official election agent, so when Makhan Lal Fotedar bustled into the scene, I asked Sharma who was in charge. “I am”, he replied, “but you will understand that in an election certain things have to be done with which a person of my stature cannot be associated”. Given that Sharma himself was no mean operator, we can imagine the gulf between Jaswant Singh and Rajnath Singh.

The system needs both. One counters and supplements the other. No structure that claims to represent an entire country relies any longer only on high-minded patrician purists. That is especially impracticable in a country as diverse as India. But the most recent and glaring demonstration of the extent to which a polity is shaped by the quality of its human resources comes, sadly, from the Mother of  Democracies.

The British boast that Westminster is the most aristocratic of democracies and the most democratic of aristocracies. But the current expenses scandal is neither democratic nor aristocratic. When British MPs sought a pay increase, they were quietly advised that a bill to raise salaries would cause a furore in parliament and the media. It would be more strategic to make up the money they wanted in expenses that would be passed without attracting public notice. Hence the outrageous and patently false claims on account of houses that do not exist, journeys that were never made, furnishings that were not bought, charges that were not levied and staff who are not employed.

That is the real world of politics in which every MP and MLA, as Atal Behari Vajpayee told a parliamentary committee, starts his legislative life with the lie of the false election return he submits. Each Jaswant Singh who is squeezed out makes way for another cynical careerist.

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