''Hindu Fevicol' is what makes BJP special'

'What makes the BJP special is what I call Hindu Fevicol’

The author Vinay Sitapati says that the communists on the other hand couldn't stay united while BJP was

In this file photo taken on April 7, 1996, BJP national president L K Advani and senior leader Atal Bihari Vajapayee release the party's manifesto in New Delhi. Credit: DH/PV Archives

Political scientist Vinay Sitapati in a conversation with Sagar Kulkarni delves into the reasons for BJP’s electoral successes and discovers the “secret sauce” of organisational unity that makes it possible. Sitapati’s recent book, Jugalbandi: The BJP Before Modi, provides the backstory for BJP’s dominance through the 60-year-old relationship between veterans Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani. Edited excerpts:

Why ‘Jugalbandi’?

Indian politics has changed rapidly for a lot of people and Modi’s India seems so dominant. But really the argument of my book is that it has taken 100 years to create Narendra Modi. To understand today’s society is a 100-year project that begins in the 1920s when Savarkar writes his famous essay on the ‘Essentials of Hindutva’. That is also the period when RSS was created, it is also the time when Hindu Mahasabha, the first Hindu national party, was created. All those ideas have now fructified in Narendra Modi. That was the purpose of the book. I tell this story through Vajpayee and Advani and their 60-year relationship, which is really the history of the BJP before Modi. I also chose the word ‘Jugalbandi’, because, in the Indian context, jugalbandi is a duo. But it is a duo who are different from each other, but yet they are playing equal music. 

We tend to see Advani as a hardliner and Vajpayee as the moderate face of the BJP. But your book speaks about how this was not necessarily a given…

Advani is called as the hardliner, but he is actually what the RSS derisively calls as a ‘Macaulayputra’. He spoke English, before he learnt to speak Hindi, grew up in the cosmopolitan Karachi of 1920s and 30s, came from a very rich family. He joined the RSS because Partition seemed likely and there was this talk of breaking of Sindh from the rest of India. Atal Bihari Vajpayee came from a very poor Gangetic Brahmin family, a very traditional and very parochial family. One would associate that kind of a background with a hardliner, but instead, he becomes moderate. But, Hindu nationalism always wanted both—an orator as well as an organiser; the hardliner as well as the moderate—as it was both a movement that was trying to shape the society as well as a party trying to form a government.

So, in the Jana Sangh itself, you had Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who was the orator in Parliament, and Deendayal Upadhyay from the RSS who is more of an ideologue and more of an organiser. Then you had Vajpayee and Advani and now you have Amit Shah and Modi. 

Do you see similar examples in other political parties as well?

Well, certainly. The Communists come to mind because communism is a movement aiming to change society as well as a party seeking government. During the heyday of communist rule in West Bengal, you had Jyoti Basu as the chief minister and Pramod Dasgupta as the head of the party in West Bengal—an orator-organiser jugalbandi. The difference is that the Communists did not understand the importance of being united, which is why they split from CPI to CPM to CPI(M-L) and even within M-L there are factions. The BJP rarely splits. In my book, I explain this as “Hindu Fevicol”. 

How different is the Modi-Shah jugalbandi compared to Vajpayee-Advani?

The Modi-Shah jugalbandi is still playing out. The two differences I can see immediately are that Vajpayee and Advani were very different from each other. On 90% of the issues, I think Modi and Amit Shah agree. In that sense, it is not a partnership of people who are different.

Another big difference is that Advani-Vajpayee partnership was a partnership of equals. From 1968 to 1986, Vajpayee ran the party, but in 1986 the RSS asked him to step down and Advani took over. Then once again from 1995 to 2004, Vajpayee was the boss and Advani served under him. Today, it is very clear that Narendra Modi is the boss and Amit Shah the subordinate. We cannot imagine them swapping roles, but who knows? It has happened once in the BJP and maybe it will happen again.

How has the RSS-BJP relationship evolved over the years?

During the Vajpayee-Advani era itself, there have been ups and downs. RSS played a huge role in BJP from 1986 to 1995. It pushed the BJP to adopt the Ram Janmabhoomi movement into its agenda. However, in the 1984 elections, the RSS voted for Rajiv Gandhi and not for Vajpayee. As the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser said, Rajiv’s party was the Hindu party. From 1998-2004, Vajpayee’s biggest opponent was the RSS. Specifically, K S Sudarshan, the RSS chief had a personal animus with Vajpayee. You are not seeing Mohan Bhagwat make any public criticism against Narendra Modi. The difference in tone today is quite obvious compared to the Vajpayee years in power.

Would this jugalbandi have been different had Vajpayee got a majority on his own?

The jugalbandi was heavily shaped by its political context, as the Jan Sangh and the BJP was considered untouchable for much of this period. Even when it became the single largest party, the allies considered it untouchable. And with the Nehruvian idea of India being dominant, Vajpayee had to adopt a different strategy. I also think the Hindu voter has changed today compared to the period I am writing about and I think that today Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have shown that you can talk and practice Hindutva and still win elections. Vajpayee and Advani were quite convinced that this was not possible when they were in power.

But what makes Modi and Shah win elections year after year?

Well, my book ends in 2004. As an academic, I can talk confidently on things that I have done research about and should avoid commenting on areas I have not done research on. But Amit Shah and Modi seem more sensitive to caste in India than Advani and Vajpayee. This trend of attracting tribals and OBCs began in the 1980s under Advani and Vajpayee, but Modi has been able to attract Dalits as well. I suspect it is because of his own social location as an OBC, even though he doesn’t play it up. I think Advani did not understand caste because he came from the region of Sindh, where caste among Hindus was not really practised.

Vajpayee himself didn’t quite see how caste arithmetic could be used to form a Hindu vote bank. They had begun it. In the 1980s they had Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti as backward class Hindutva leaders, but that idea has been taken to new heights by Modi and Amit Shah. Another thing in Modi’s favour is that he is a better mass politician than both Vajpayee and Advani. Neither Vajpayee nor Advani could really win even one state. 

Do you see the dominance of BJP continuing in the future?

Yes. The period that we are currently in is analogous to 1967 to 1989 in India, where the Congress was either the single biggest party or, if you had to come to power, it was an anti-Congress alliance that came to power. Similarly, I feel that in the next 10-15 years either we will have a BJP government in power or an anti-BJP alliance in power, which is united only by the shared hatred for BJP. The BJP is going to be the principal pole on which politics oscillates for the next 10-15 years. 

What lessons should the Congress learn from the BJP?

Don’t split. The problem is that Indians are very bad at teamwork. One of the reasons for this is dynasty and nepotism, where you constantly support your relatives rather than encouraging merit. Congress only reflects this problem in India. That is why it keeps splitting. It doesn’t have an organisational core. What makes the BJP special is what I call the ‘Hindu Fevicol’. They fight with each other, they don’t like each other, they have ideological differences. But it is like one of those joint families where there is a lot of fighting, but there is no divorce. That is the secret sauce of the BJP. It is like a family that never splits. Or very rarely. In Karnataka, there have been a few cases, in Gujarat Shankarsinh Vaghela did split. But the exception proves the rule. It is so rare in the BJP that you remember it. It is very hard to remember in Congress because it is happening every week.

Why does this Pakistan fixation exist within the BJP?

The BJP uses a modern form of Hinduism. But one feature it shares with traditional Hinduism is the idea of sacred geography or the ‘teertha sthans' of India. The idea of Akhand Bharat as a religious idea is embedded in traditional Hinduism. They see the Partition of India as a partition of its religious geography. Kashmir is the unfinished business of Partition.

In that sense, Pakistan is a religious affront to their nationalism. It is not just a simple question of Hindu or Muslim. It is a deeper one. It is for that reason, in that context, that Vajpayee did more than any prime minister for better relations with Pakistan. For example The Lahore bus yatra or the Agra peace summit, or his many overtures to Kashmiris.

Even Advani, who should have had a personal animus against Pakistan, because it was an idea that hurt his family, supports 100% in this endeavour. I think that is remarkable.