Chaos in the BJP
and Prospects
for the Left

Political Observer

In the wake of its second successive defeat in Lok Sabha elections, the BJP finds itself in a deep and protracted crisis. The summary expulsion of Jaswant Singh following the publication of his book on Jinnah has only added fuel to the fire. Rebellion and desertion by prominent leaders, bitter factional infighting, and growing differences and debates over many past incidents and ‘settled’ issues and policies have become the order of the day in the party.
Till a few years ago Advani epitomized confidence and certainty in the BJP, today he embodies confusion and chaos. If one has to find a defining moment for this downhill journey of the BJP’s once most authentic and authoritative leader, it was when he made those fateful comments on Jinnah in Pakistan. Ironically, it is once again the evaluation of Jinnah – this time a heavy tome on him by another senior leader – that has pushed the BJP into a whirlpool of confusion. And Advani has once again rendered it more profound by now claiming that he did not support the idea of expulsion of Jaswant Singh over the Jinnah controversy.
What explains this sudden obsession of senior BJP leaders with Jinnah? It is certainly not prompted by a historian’s quest for truth. Do Advani or Jaswant Singh then really believe that the historical rehabilitation of Jinnah would redeem the BJP in the eyes of the Muslim or liberal intelligentsia in India? Or are they trying to find historical justification for the BJP’s contemporary agenda by revisiting the Partition debate and re-evaluating the respective roles of the key figures of that period? Whatever the motive or inspiration behind the BJP’s new-found obsession with Jinnah, we cannot but enjoy the spectacle of a party known for its mischievous manipulations of history and mythology now losing its plot in the morass of history.
Leaving history aside, let us return to the political causes and implications of the crisis in the BJP. Media commentators and BJP leaders mostly tend to attribute the BJP’s crisis to its poor electoral showing. But then, had not the decline of the BJP started well before the elections? In fact, the BJP’s poor showing in the election only mirrored and reinforced its decline and exposed the chaos in the party.
It is equally facile to describe the present crisis merely as a crisis of leadership marking the party’s transition to a post-Vajpayee, post-Advani era. The BJP lost the 2004 election when Vajpayee was still at the helm. And this time around, the BJP has failed once again despite projecting a leader as authentic as Advani as the party’s ‘prime ministerial candidate’. As for the question of transition to a new generation of leadership – ‘young’ leaders in their 50s and 60s, as mandated by RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat – such transition has also been underway for quite some time. After all, for the last three years, the BJP has been led by Rajnath Singh, by all means one of the ‘younger’ leaders of the party!
Clearly, the BJP’s crisis is much deeper than a mere dearth of leadership. It is nothing short of a crisis of identity and direction. As a ruling party at the Centre, the BJP had tried to establish itself as an aggressive champion of the interests of the ruling classes by brazenly pursuing the policies of liberalization, privatization, and globalization. On the foreign policy front, it followed an openly pro-US course, enlisting India as a strategic ally of the US in its post-9/11 global offensive. In the realm of domestic governance, it moved towards enforcing its doctrine of ‘hard state’ and brought in a draconian legislation like POTA.
This entire agenda has now been hijacked by the Congress. The BJP’s recent attempts to cash in on the issue of ‘terrorism’ as its ticket to power have failed quite miserably, first in the Assembly elections to Delhi and Rajasthan, and now more comprehensively in the Lok Sabha elections.
There are many political pundits who keep hoping for a reinvention of the BJP as a ‘secular’ nationalist rightwing party. But the problem is that the BJP’s whole edifice of ‘nationalism’ stands on the foundation of aggressive majority communalism or majoritarianism that is known in the party’s parlance as ‘Hindutva’ or cultural nationalism. Occasionally, some Sangh outfits do also invoke the doctrine of economic nationalism or ‘swadeshi’, but it has never been taken seriously by the BJP. Wedded to the neo-liberal paradigm of globalization, the BJP can hardly be expected to behave otherwise.
Secular nationalism in India today can only have some real meaning in the sense of anti-imperialist anti-communal unity and assertion of the Indian people, but historically the BJP and its predecessors have never had anything to do with such a trajectory of nationalism. On the contrary, they have done everything possible to undermine and sabotage the growth of anti-imperialist patriotism among the Indian people.
Perhaps a BJP limiting itself to the agenda of the NDA will be the closest approximation of what these advocates of a reinvented or reformed BJP may have in mind. We have already seen the utter hypocrisy of such professions on the part of the BJP. While the BJP in Gujarat used state power to orchestrate a full-scale genocidal campaign against Muslims, in Delhi the NDA did nothing to stop the genocide or punish its perpetrators. Instead, the BJP and the NDA did everything possible to defend and even glorify the Modi regime.
A real political party is not an abstract philosophical or intellectual project. Every party has its ideological-political moorings and evolves through real-life social mobilization and political developments. In the case of the BJP, it is impossible to think of it without the defining ideological and organizational imprint of the RSS. It is true that in the course of the Ayodhya campaign and during its stint in power in different states and at the Centre, the BJP did attract and accommodate many non-RSS elements and forces, but that has in no way weakened the grip of the RSS.
It is the RSS which has always defined the ideological-political orbit of the BJP, and its predecessor, the Bhartiya Jan Sangh(BJS). The BJS and BJP have of course been marked by a high degree of tactical flexibility – the BJS went on to participate in a whole range of coalition governments in the late 1960s before eventually merging into the Janata Party in 1977. Likewise, having set its aggressive communal-fascist agenda through the Ayodhya campaign, the BJP showed the ‘flexibility’ to drop/defer some of its core issues to forge a broad alliance and share power at the Centre. Many BJP watchers often mistakenly tend to treat this ‘flexibility’ as a sign of the BJP outgrowing the shadow of the RSS or even defying the RSS.
In studying the RSS-BJP interface, it is patently wrong to see the RSS as the source of only ‘rigidity’ and the BJP as a champion of flexibility. While the RSS has been single-mindedly pursuing its long-term goal, it has always shown enough flexibility in terms of its mode or vehicle of operation. We must remember that there have been major junctures when the RSS has lent crucial support to the Congress, and the Congress too has been fairly open and accommodative in accepting such RSS support. In the wake of the assassination of Gandhi, the RSS was banned from February 4, 1948 to July 11, 1949, but even during this period Home Minister Patel was in constant touch with Golwalkar, advising the RSS “to adopt fresh lines of technique and policy… according to the rules of the Congress” and even asserting that “the RSS men can carry on their patriotic endeavour only by joining the Congress and not by keeping separate or opposing.”
During the India-China war of 1962, the RSS joined the Republic Day parade, during Bangladesh war Indira Gandhi became ‘mother goddess’ in the eyes of the RSS-BJS and in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the subsequent anti-Sikh pogrom, the sympathies of the RSS were clearly with the Congress, giving the latter its biggest electoral victory till date in the December 1984 general elections.
The Congress, in turn, has also reciprocated by its total inaction, if not complicity and tacit support, in the face of major RSS-backed mobilizations during the Ayodhya campaign and eventual demolition of the Babri masjid or the anti-Muslim genocide in Gujarat.
The future of the BJP or the RSS-BJP school of politics therefore depends not just on the ‘chintan’ or introspection going on within the BJP or the advice extended by political analysts and BJP watchers but also on the direction being currently pursued by the Indian state. The priorities of the current Congress-led government at the Centre – attempts to attain a US-sponsored big power status in Asia, antagonism with neighbours like China and Pakistan, unfettered freedom for Indian big business and increasingly militarized repressive governance in the name of strengthening India’s ‘internal security’ – are very much commensurate with the RSS vision. Till the political situation favours the RSS-BJP again with greater direct opportunities to advance its communal-fascist agenda, the saffron camp will carry on with its ‘responsible opposition’ role, exerting sustained pressure on the Congress to move faster in its current direction.
Any notion of the present churning in the BJP producing an RSS-free reformed BJP can only be treated as idle speculation and political naïveté. Dismissing every such illusion, communists must seize the present juncture to independently emerge as the main opposition current in national politics. A declining BJP poses a different kind of challenge to the ruling classes. It leaves the Congress with so much reduced scope of legitimising its misrule in the name of holding the BJP at bay, and basic issues can assert themselves more forcefully in the political arena. While keeping a close eye on the debates and developments within the saffron camp, the revolutionary Left must make the most of this present situation to intensify people’s struggles against the retrograde and repressive course of the ruling classes.