Whither BJP’s values?

Advani’s timely plain-speak

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets BJP senior leader L K Advani on his birthday at his residence, in New Delhi, on November 8, 2018. Twitter Photo via PTI

Unlike western societies, a distinctive feature of Indian society – indeed, of all eastern civilisations – is the importance given to family elders. Even after they cease to be ‘productive’ members of their families, they continue to be respected for their past efforts, their love and best wishes for all their kith and kin, and also for their wise counsel whenever the situation demands it.

What is good for families is also, generally, deemed valuable for political institutions. In India, the BJP proudly proclaims that it is a member of the larger ‘Sangh Parivar’ — a large family of organisations mothered and mentored by the RSS. Both the RSS and the BJP claim they are deeply committed to the values and traditions of Bharatiya Sanskruti (Indian culture). Naturally, one expects the BJP to seek margdarshan (guidance) from its elders, especially from those who have made outstanding contribution to its political and ideological growth in the past.

Therefore, when the BJP formed, in the aftermath of its massive victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, a new unit within the party called ‘Margdarshak Mandal’ (Committee of Guiding Elders), the move was welcomed by many within the Sangh Parivar. It included Atal Bihari Vajpayee (who was then alive, albeit bed-ridden), LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Rajnath Singh.

However, there was one catch – it was headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. By no yardstick could he have been regarded as a party elder. He had never
served as a BJP president. His contribution to party-building at the national level was not weighty. His sole qualification was that he had become the country’s prime minister in May 2014.

As subsequent developments would show, the fact that the ‘Margdarshak Mandal’ (MM) was headed by Modi, and the related fact that his close confidante Amit Shah became the BJP president in July 2014, sealed the fate of this welcome invention in the Sangh Parivar. It became clear at the very beginning that the duo from Gujarat (“One-man show, two-man army”, in the words of Shatrughan Sinha, who recently left the BJP to join Congress) actually wanted MM to be still-born.

Advani, a co-founder of the BJP, and one whose contribution to the party’s growth since its formation in 1980 is comparable only to that of its founder Vajpayee, came to know from the media that a new entity called MM had been formed and that he had been made its member. Worse still, Modi and Shah ensured that MM did not meet even once in the past five years, thus proving that they attached zero importance to it. Nor did they informally seek Advani’s guidance on any important matter concerning the party or the government.

If Modi and Shah really cared for party elders, they would have personally met Advani and Joshi and sought their blessings before embarking on the BJP’s 2019 election campaign. They did not do so. Denial of tickets to Advani and Joshi was also done in a most disrespectful manner, without any prior consultation by Modi and Shah.

In short, the prime minister and party president treated MM as an old-age home, to which the BJP’s unwanted and inconvenient elders were sent out, only to be met on occasions like their birthdays, and that too for photo-op purposes. Their dishonesty, hypocrisy and hubris are now out in the open.

Anguished blog post

To his abiding credit, Advani has given vent to his anguish in a dignified manner, as the contents of his blog, now a subject of intense discussion all over the country, clearly show. As behooves a loyal and disciplined soldier of his party, Advani (who groomed all the current leaders of the BJP) showed no trace of bitterness or complaint in his blog. On the contrary, there is an immense lot in it that is going to be debated for a long time both within the Sangh Parivar and in the larger political establishment in India.

Modi’s duplicity was again on display after Advani pointedly disapproved of the BJP leaders’ new habit of maligning their political opponents as “anti-national”. Even though the prime minister had promptly “welcomed” Advani’s blog — more as a damage control ploy — he is now back to his divisive narrative of branding the Congress party and its president Rahul Gandhi, his principal challenger, as being pro-Pakistan and anti-Hindu.

Even though Advani counselled against undermining the “independence, integrity and fairness of all our democratic institutions, including the media”, the Modi government continues to misuse these institutions, selectively and coercively, against BJP’s opponents. Worst of all, the Election Commission has allowed an impression to gain ground that it is doing the BJP’s bidding.

Advani may have highlighted the need for “transparency in political and electoral funding, which is so essential for a corruption-free polity”, but the Electoral Bonds scheme introduced by the Modi government is nothing but a scam that legalises opaque bribery by corporates. No wonder, the BJP has grabbed a lion’s share of funds through Electoral Bonds.

The moot questions are: Why are right-thinking people in the Sangh Parivar (and there are many) not questioning the degeneration in the family values within the BJP? Why have RSS leaders allowed Modi and Shah to behave so arrogantly, disrespectfully and ungratefully toward party elders? Why is there so much fear and lack of democratic communication within the party?

Another ‘taboo’ question: Why do Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi give so much respect to Manmohan Singh even now, even though his political contribution to the Congress is nowhere comparable to Advani’s role in founding and building the BJP?

Whatever the outcome of the elections on May 23, there will surely be many sane voices within the BJP and RSS asking these and several other questions, triggered by Advani’s timely plain-speak.

(The writer was an aide to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the PMO)

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