It remains to be seen if the BJP’s poll slogan ‘India Shining’ with its emphasis on economic development will bring back the NDA to power at the center. Exit polls after four rounds of voting indicate that the BJP, far from winning around 325 seats on its own as it had been declaring it would six months ago, may now find it difficult to cross even the half-way mark of 272 seats with its allies. And this in spite of its high-powered wooing of the Muslims in the run-up to the elections and during its campaign, and in spite of giving up on all those issues and concerns which made it the delivery mechanism for Hindu aspirations. And if the exit polls are indicative of the final outcome, then the BJP’s failure, for failure it is, will be perceived to be because the BJP gave up its ideology and opted pragmatically to succumb to the compulsions of coalition politics.
Swapan Dasgupta, formerly Deputy Editor, India Today, speaking at a meeting organized by ‘Vigil’ on ‘Coalition politics and the death of ideology’ nearly five years ago remarked that when the Jan Sangh metamorphosed into the BJP it was perceived to be a ‘movement’ more than a political party. It was a twin-pronged movement aimed at bringing Hindu political ideas and aspirations to the fore and to neutralise the Muslim vote bank policies of the Congress and other national and regional parties in the guise of ‘secularism’. The movement was also intended to neutralise the Muslim veto. But having ascended to the throne of Delhi, the BJP now wants to shed its image of a Hindu movement and is instead acquiring for itself a new identity and a new image – that of an umbrella political party where everyone is invited to find a spot for himself to sunbathe. And it is Advani, more than any one else in the party who best embodies this change for the worse because it is he, in his capacity as Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister who has been at the center of issues formerly associated with the BJP’s political ideology – Ayodhya Indian Muslims, J&K, Islamic terrorism and Pakistan. And it is Advani who has compromised Hindu interests on each of these issues. Economic development is certainly an important issue for Hindus as it is for all Indians but Advani, and the BJP fawning at his feet, failed to concede that for the political Hindu there were other issues as important and even more important than economic development.
If truth be told, and no one within the BJP is going to tell Advani the unpleasant truth that his tenure as Home Minister has been colourless at best and downright anti-Hindu at the worst. Eager to be seen to be liberal and palpitating with breathlessness to prove that his governance in the Home ministry was shorn of ideology, Advani fell all over himself and trampled Hindu sentiments under his feet when he sealed the holy city of Ayodhya in March 2002. Getting increasingly restive over the government dragging its feet on bringing in a legislation on Ayodhya, and having lost faith in the judiciary, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad decided to bring things to a head and declared its intention to offer poojas at the temple in Ayodhya and perform a shilanyas for beginning the construction of the temple. The Muslims promptly rushed to the Supreme Court demanding that the Hindus be restrained from offering poojas at the ‘disputed site’ until the court disposed off the title suit. The Supreme Court, not content with ordering the Hindus not to perform the shilanyas or offer poojas at the disputed site, for its part, eager to be seen to be secular and the Ultimate Protector of Minorities, passed yet another interim order which obliged the Hindus not to offer poojas or perform the shilanyas even on the undisputed site. The Muslims had yet again exercised their veto to thwart Hindu religious sentiments.
To uphold this brazen anti-Hindu interim order of the Supreme Court, Advani sealed the town and issued orders for Hindus of the country to be stopped from entering Ayodhya. Train tickets were not issued, buses did not ply to Ayodhya and those who tried to enter on foot were stopped at the outskirts of the city. The holy city of Ayodhya was deserted, and resembled a fortress if not a graveyard. Worse, Advani offered the ultimate slight to the VHP and the religious Hindu when he ordered the arrest of Ashok Singhal, Togadiya and other senior leaders of the Sangh Parivar if they tried to offer poojas or perform the shilanyas anywhere in Ayodhya. One cannot help but wonder if Advani would have tried to conduct the affairs of his ministry similarly with the holy shrines of the Muslims or the Christians in this country. For fear of a hue and cry from the secular media and the international community, Advani, so far has given us no reason to believe that he would have behaved any differently from the Home Minister who dealt with the Hazratbal shrine a few years ago. Advani survived this monumental insult to Hindus because he banked on two things – first, the secular media and the international community would cheer him for insulting the Hindus on their own land, only they would pin a halo around his unholy act by calling it upholding the rule of law and protecting minority rights and second, Advani knew that as long as the RSS did not distance itself from the BJP or publicly disown Advani, the Hindus would continue to vote for the BJP in the blind faith that sometime, somewhere the RSS would regain control of its delinquent child.
In the process of changing its very identity, the BJP, in the last five years has tactically trashed the very issues which made it a Hindu movement – Ayodhya, Cow protection, Article 370, the Uniform Civil Code and its attitude to Muslims as vote bank. Pramod Mahajan, after the third phase of voting on May 5th, while speaking to media persons, said that he was hopeful that the Muslims would vote for the BJP led NDA coalition, ‘notwithstanding the unfortunate events in Gujarat’, as he put it. And he cited the forward movement in bringing back peace to J&K and efforts to normalise relations with Pakistan as being excellent reasons why the Muslims should vote for the NDA. Wooing the Muslims and asking them to now become a vote bank in the BJP’s favour has now substituted ideology as the BJP’s defining principle. And the BJP has acquired this liberal image (not very successfully one may add), at the expense of truth. The BJP’s ill-considered strategy to woo the Muslims as a compact vote-bank was done blurring the lines between truth and falsehood and worse, by negating the dangers and threat of islamic jihad. And so self-conscious is Advani about his new image as the Deliverer of Good Governance, he is as aggressive about his convictions as any neo-convert. The neo-convert, as predicted by Sayeed Naqvi is now proving his sincerity about making the BJP an umbrella party and himself the Protector of the Umbrella in the manner in which he is dealing with Ayodhya, J&K and Pakistan. Only, Naqvi, in one of his columns for The Indian Express, made these issues a litmus test personally for Vajpayee’s liberal character which set him apart from the rest of the Sangh Parivar.
And Advani, seizing the mantle from the Prime Minister, has repeatedly apologised and expressed shame for the Gujarat riots. And not even once in out of every five times that he has apologised for the Gujarat riots has he mentioned the burning alive of 59 Hindu women, children and men in Godhra. Vajpayee on the other hand while asserting that India must never witness another Gujarat yet again also had the wisdom to add that if Gujarat must not happen again, then Godhra too must not happen. But as for Advani, his self-conscious image will not let him speak about the killing of Hindus in Godhra with the same passion as he thinks he ought to speak about the Gujarat riots that followed.
It is a pity that no one within the party or the RSS has chastised him for his effrontery; nor have they asked him in what capacity he is apologising. It is not for him to apologise. He doesn’t represent the Hindus that died in Godhra or Amarnath nor the Hindus who survived them. But remarkably, as Home Minister he has not apologised to the Hindus of this country for failing to protect them at Godhra, for failing to protect them on their pilgrimage to Amarnath, for failing to protect the Akshardham temple, for converting Ayodhya into a fortress. Having declared that there is no ideology in governance, the man who doesn’t demur when some psycophant calls him The Iron Man, sees no reason to apologise for his repeated failures to protect Hindus and their places of worship, for failing totally in his duties as Home Minister to tackle terrorism within national boundaries.
The Deputy Prime Minister, The Iron Man, the inheritor of Sardar Patel’s mantle addressed a press conference after his second meeting with the Hurriyat Conference on March 27. The Deputy Prime Minister addressing a press conference in the wake of this meeting raised the status of the Hurriyat in exactly the same way as when Jaswant Singh raised the status of those Muslim terrorists who were released from Indian jails in exchange for the passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu, when he accompanied them personally to the Taliban stronghold in Kandahar in December 1999. The Hurriyat may be invited today to sit across the table with the Deputy Prime Minister of this country but let us not forget that these are our own home-grown Muslim jihadis who raped, murdered and hounded the Kashmiri Pandits from out of the Kashmir valley. They are our own home-grown jihadis who have destroyed, vandalised and razed to the ground scores of Hindu temples in the 1980s and 1990s. They terrorised the Kashmiri Hindus into fleeing their homes and homeland. The Deputy Prime Minister, when he sanctified the Hurriyat by addressing a press conference after his meeting with them may have forgotten this small detail but the political Hindu has not. He and the BJP will be punished for this slight.
What does one make of the Deputy Prime Minister who had to, simply had to woo the Muslims of the country by addressing the press conference himself. Not content with pinning the halo around the Hurriyat thus, Sardar Patel’s heir blew his mouth by stating that in response to the Hurriyat’s demand that India end human rights violations against the Muslims of the valley, he had instructed the Home Secretary to write immediately to the Chiefs of our armed forces to scrupulously respect human rights and to ‘pin a human face to security’. (http://www.hindu.com/2004/03/28/stories/2004032806670100.htm). Let us not forget that as Home Minister he had not yet accepted guilt or responsibility for Godhra, Akshardham, Amarnath, Badami Bagh, Chattissinghpura, Red Fort, Kaluchak, the attack on the Indian Parliament and those that died protecting it… the list is endless. The man who loves to be called Sardar Patel II has not yet told us how, when terrorism doesn’t wear a human face, he can demand of our armed forces that counter-terrorism or security measures must wear a human face. One of the Commando officers fighting the jihadis in Akshardahm is still in coma and his family is still keeping vigil by this brave man’s bedside. The Home Minister it would seem, in his eagerness to play to the international gallery after talking to the Hurriyat jihadis doesn’t seem to care about the insult he was offering to our armed forces publicly and in the full glare of the media.
The Iron Man who goes out of his way to let all the world and his wife know about the nature of his talks with the Hurriyat jihadis has not yet made any move to meet the Kashmiri Pandit community with the same fanfare, with the same seriousness of purpose. Patel’s heir has not taken the nation into confidence if his talks with the Hurriyat jihadis also include the condition that the jihadis and other Muslims of the valley must bring back the Pandits to the valley, return to them their homes and livelihood which they have appropriated and that the Muslims of the state must insist that the J&K state government pay the Kashmiri Hindus exemplary monetary damages as true signs of contrition and remorse. And secularism. After all, they all swear by secularism. And the BJP must be made to realise that as long as the Pandits continue to languish in refugee camps, the Hindus of the country will neither empathise nor support the ‘Loha purush’ in his much-publicised talks with Kashmiri Muslim jihadis.
Advani and Vajpayee must take the BJP into confidence about the precise nature of the talks with the Hurriyat internally and with Pakistan externally.Vajpayee and Advani are unquestionably the two senior most leaders in the BJP today, and in the highest positions of government. The US has motivated self-interest in labeling J&K the nuclear flash-point in South Asia and taking his cue smartly from the Americans the Butcher of Kargil has termed J&K the core issue between India and Pakistan. Against this backdrop, Colin Powell’s public statement that it is the US which is responsible for the dialogue of the Indian government both with the Hurriyat and Pakistan ought to have drawn a sharp response from Advani as Home Minister or from the Minister for External Affairs. It is a question of national dignity that an upstart nation-state not quite 500 years old has the audacity to declare that it is dictating terms to the oldest civilization in human history about holding a dialogue with a rogue state. Advani, who apologises at the drop of a hat for the Gujarat riots is mentally and physically paralysed when it comes to pulling the US nose notwithstanding repeated US impertinence with regard to India’s internal affairs and notwithstanding its stated policy to interfere actively in regional affairs.
And the BJP must take the nation into confidence, particularly the Hindus. Advani and the BJP cannot ask Hindus to forget 600 long years of Muslim rule, cannot ask us to forget partition, ask us to ignore what is happening in J&K, ask us to turn a blind eye to the tragedy of the Kashmiri Hindus. Advani can beg forgiveness for the Gujarat riots as many times as he desires but let Hindus remember that the Moplah massacre, the massacre of Kashmiri Hindus, the massacre of the Hindus at Marad are just as horrendous and as bloody as the Gujarat riots, only lasting for over 800 years and away from media glare. The media may choose to whitewash the Indian Muslim, may choose to forget the burning alive of Hindus during the Mumbai riots and that all the Muslim accused walked scotfree but the BJP will be punished by the Hindus of this country for treading the Congress path on these issues.
If the RSS does not step in immediately to re-take control of the BJP, if the RSS fails to publicly set the BJP on a course-correction path, the Hindus of the country will never believe the BJP again even if it owns up to its ideology tactically. Unless the BJP, Advani included, submits itself openly to RSS authority, the political Hindu may well turn his back on it decisively.
11th May, 2004.