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Hindutva and 'moth-eaten' governance

FRONTLINE,  Feb. 13 - 26, 1999

As the sordid drama of internal rivalry in the Sangh Parivar unfolds, it
should be clear that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee is himself part of the
'farce' he complains about.


IN some ways the Bharatiya Janata Party is like the Bourbons: it forgets
nothing, learns nothing. Nearly 20 years after the Janata Party broke up
bitterly on the "dual membership" issue, the question of the Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh's relationship with the political party to which most
of its members belong has again come to the fore - in as decisive and
potentially catastrophical a way as earlier. Madan Lal Khurana's
resignation, the most dramatic manifestation of internal rivalry in the
Sangh Parivar, is nothing if not a virtual replay of the same moves,
with the same inevitability about them. The only difference is that the
site now is the party of Hindutva itself, not a conglomeration of
different currents as the Janata Party was. The erupting struggle within
the Hindutva camp could well mark the beginning of the end of this

This is not because Khurana is a heavyweight or a politician of high
national stature. He is essentially a Delhi leader with strong local
roots, although he played a crucial role in negotiating the alliance
between the BJP and the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Haryana Lok Dal led
by Om Prakash Chautala. His potential for creating trouble for the BJP
at the national level will remain relatively limited unless the party's
top leadership precipitates matters by taking severe disciplinary action
against him. What makes his "martyrdom" (as Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee
put it) important is the fact that it highlights the serious tensions
that have grown within the Sangh Parivar, which have led to the "hollow"
and "moth-eaten" governance of which Vajpayee publicly complained on
January 31.

The "farce" that Vajpayee talked about is something he himself is very
much a part of. Or else he would not have gone on a fast on Martyrs' Day
partly to express his helplessness as the head of the government, and
partly to protest against the "extreme" elements in the Parivar which
are making life miserable for him. On law and order the Vajpayee
Government is under pressure from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the
Bajrang Dal, which are hell-bent on cleansing the country of the "evil"
influences of Christianity. On economic policy, the swadeshi lobby
remains recalcitrant. On international issues, the Prime Minister has to
fight his friends in the VHP and the RSS who are resisting nuclear
restraint and who want India never to be out of the international media
headlines on Christian-bashing. On culture, his Government faces the
likes of K.N. Govindacharya, who has already declared that India is
"geo-culturally" a "Hindu Rashtra" (The Times of India, January 30).

The Government is beleaguered by its own ideological mentors and
organisational gatekeepers. And yet, it is hard to sympathise with
Vajpayee and Khurana. They still remain committed to the RSS ideology
and "the-Sangh-is-my-soul" perspective. As Khurana said in his letter to
BJP president Kushabhau Thakre, "I have been associated closely with the
Sangh Parivar, Jan Sangh, Janata Party and BJP for the last 54 years. I
have spent my childhood and youth for this party with dedication." He
has since reiterated his loyalty to the RSS and "the party to which I
remain dedicated." Vajpayee too has repeatedly affirmed his faith in the
RSS' leadership role. Both of them fail to relate what the RSS and its
sister organisations are doing to what they are - formations driven by
agendas which they have never condemned, namely, to alter Indian society
and politics by violent means to establish the primacy and domination of
Hindus as a permanent majority. Both subscribe devotedly to "cultural
nationalism" - just as the VHP and the Bajrang Dal do. So it is strange
that they should complain about the "excesses" of the Parivar's

In reality, those committing the "excesses" do not belong to the
"fringe" but to the mainstream of the Parivar - such as Govindacharya,
the BJP's ideologue and "social engineering" architect, or L.K. Advani
who proudly told the British Broadcasting Corporation that the BJP is a
"Hindu party". Vajpayee has often endorsed mainstream Hindutva thinking.
For instance, in response to the "Rashtriya Ekatmata Puraskar" (national
integration award) conferred on him in 1995, he declared that "national
integration is a matter of upbringing, not a subject of awards". This
upbringing is, for him, rooted in Hinduism: Hindutva is synonymous with
Hinduism, secularism and nationalism.

TRUTH to tell, it is the minority Vajpa-yee faction which is the
Parivar's fringe. The RSS has never left any doubt about this reality.
To accept its leadership, "guidance", hegemony - call it what you will -
is to endorse its core ideology and its basic political project. It also
means you buy into the myth that the RSS is only a "cultural", not a
political, organisation. But surely, no cultural body anywhere in the
world lays down a political party's agenda, its security agenda, the
economic agenda, the agenda for women, in the minutest detail. Surely,
it cannot decide, as the RSS did last year, that all top State party
posts are to be filled only by its full-time pracharaks. Surely, no
organisation devoted to culture, however defined, can issue diktats to a
government - whether on the issue of patents and insurance, or on
relations with neighbours, or on whom to include in the Cabinet.

The RSS claims that it is only a "cultural" organisation simply because
this claim allows it to evade all accountability, external or internal.
Not being a party, a trade union, or even a non-governmental
orga-nisation that must win votes or acceptance from the larger public,
it is not answerable, even indirectly or in the long run, to the public.
The RSS derives its hegemony from the brain-washed and unswerving
loyalty of the swayamsevak-turned-BJP leader: remember Khurana in khaki
shorts in 1997 or Kalyan Singh's entire Cabinet paying obeisance to the
saffron flag? The RSS' power and authority in the BJP comes prior to
such minor details as elections, or the political skills or merit of its
nominees. It does not rest on internal democracy. The RSS has the last
word in the BJP. It also has the first.

No one in the BJP can question the RSS, or ask why it has never held
internal elections, why all its nominations are made from the top and
why, almost three-quarters of a century after inception, it still
functions like a secret society or clandestine brotherhood although it
was unbanned by Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel on condition that
it democratise itself. Given its unquestioned hegemonic status, the RSS
is naturally laying down the agenda for the BJP. This is wholly
unsurprising. What else would it do when the party it dominates is in
power after decades of being at the margins of Indian politics, with
just five to seven per cent of the vote? Is it not only natural for the
RSS to tell the BJP that it has grown to the position and stature it
has, primarily because of the Ayodhya mobilisation, which was launched
by the RSS-led Parivar as a whole, not exclusively by the BJP?

VAJPAYEE does protest too much. Instead of criticising, and fighting
against, the BJP's abject dependence on the RSS, he has set out to
characterise Indian democracy itself as "hollow". He said: "The outer
shell of democracy is, no doubt, intact but it appears to be moth-eaten
from inside." Vajpayee is right when he says "politics is becoming
increasingly criminalised", but wrong when he stops short of admitting
that Hindutva has given that criminalisation a sharp, vicious edge, and
that the BJP, the Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena are India's most
criminalised parties. Vajpayee is, again, wrong when he projects the
BJP's special internal crisis on to the country's party system as a
whole by saying that it is "getting eroded".

What distinguishes Vajpayee from his brothers in the Sangh Parivar is
not "liberalism" or "secularism", but that being in power he understands
the importance of damage control, and has been practising it, albeit
ham-handedly. Ironically, this has in many ways had the opposite effect.
Take the Government's recent economic decisions. Its decision to raise
the issue prices of rice and wheat through the public distribution
system by as much as 30 to 64 per cent at one go and jack up cooking gas
cylinder prices by Rs.16 has hit the poor and the lower middle class
hard. The partial rollback of food prices has hardly mitigated the
effect of the hike. This callous move will cost the BJP many votes. It
has deeply antagonised its own allies. But evidently, the BJP, like the
Bourbons, has learnt nothing from the onion price disaster and its
impact on the Assembly elections last November.

Again, the Government's desperate effort to dress down and somehow
reduce the wayward fiscal deficit has only encouraged profligacy in
other ways: equity swaps and buyback of shares of public sector
companies to mop up Rs.7,500 crores, and misusing the $4.2 billion
(Rs.17,600 crores) mobilised through the Resurgent India Bonds - not to
build the infrastructure, as promised, but to finance its own deficit.
Ironically, this involves investing the money abroad at 5 to 7 per cent
interest, while paying out 12 per cent to bond-holders. Economically,
this is gross stupidity. Politically, it makes a mockery of the Budget.
If decisions on postal rates and food prices are made before the Budget,
there is little value left in a fiscal exercise so important to the
Westminster system.

Damage control at the international level has involved negotiating
security and nuclear matters with the United States, while shouting from
the rooftops that these are solely India's sovereign concerns, not
"negotiable", not open to explanation - "India," as External Affairs
Minister Jaswant Singh put it with manufactured bravado, "does not
explain." So what were the eight rounds of talks, and frantic missions
to France and Britain, all about? The truth is that the Government is
compromising with those whom it accused of practising "nuclear
apartheid", so that it is allowed to have its "nuclear deterrent" under
conditions which essentially perpetuate the existing global nuclear
order, not transform it.

The BJP's damage control on conversions has meant either pure tokenism -
a judicial inquiry into the barbaric killing of Graham Staines and his
two sons - or disinformation and outright denial, namely, the
preposterous claim that Dara Singh is not a Bajrang Dal member because
there is no Bajrang Dal unit in Keonjhar. But several newspapers have
quoted sources from the district confirming Dara Singh's links with the
Bajrang Dal. Official first information reports mention him as a "BJP
supporter". And who is going to be impressed by the Wadhwa Inquiry
Commission? What is needed is not inquiry, but punishment. Clearly, the
BJP is being disingenuous, in addition to being disgustingly communal,
in the anti-minorities campaign.

No amount of public relations effort at shoring up the BJP-led
Government's sinking image is going to change the reality: this is the
worst government India has had in 50 years. It is communal, crooked and
venal; it lacks in credibility and legitimacy and, worse, is destructive
and corrosive of institutions. The kind of damage control it is doing is
no better than the Shiv Sena's effort at refurbishing its image in
Maharashtra by replacing one non-performer with another. At best,
Narayan Rane might gain a little sympathy on account of his quasi-OBC
(Kunabi-Maratha) identity, in contrast to Manohar Joshi's Brahmin
background. But that will not alter the Sena-BJP's dismal fate. The same
seems true of the Central Government's future. Which is just as well.
The sooner it goes, the better.


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Last updated: January 16, 2001 .