Advani’s Jinnah eulogy backfires

Anand K Sahay

In the backdrop of the controversies surrounding BJP leader L K Advani’s recent visit to Pakistan, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) - which, like the BJP, is an arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - has now demanded that Advani resign as BJP president, quit his parliament seat and retire from politics. Indeed, this has been done through a resolution of the VHP ‘Margdarshak Mandal’ or executive committee, which is clearly a step beyond the comment of Praveen Togadia, a rabble-rousing VHP notable, that Advani was a “traitor” for observing that Pakistan founder M A Jinnah was “secular”. By now it is more than evident that the “RSS system” has rejected the BJP chief. Just the other day, the RSS chief, K S Sudarshan, using bazaar language, had likened politicians to “prostitutes” who change appearance to suit the occasion. The Hindutva boss was clearly referring to Advani first tendering his resignation on his return from Pakistan, and later taking it back following a carefully crafted statement by the BJP top leadership that lauded his Pakistan ‘yatra’ for contributing to the process of India-Pakistan reconciliation but, significantly, attacked the substance of Advani’s Jinnah observation.

In effect, he had to preside over an act of self-repudiation. Now the BJP leader may well be asking himself if he did right by agreeing to stay on. He may well be placing his hopes on the Bihar assembly election in November. If the BJP does better than before, he may have a leg to stand on. In that event, there may well be set in motion the extraordinary event of the arting of ways between the BJP and the RSS, at least organisationally, for it is hard to see many in the BJP altogether severing themselves from the idea of ‘political Hinduism’. If the BJP sticks with its chief in the event of the party doing well in the Bihar election, it is not altogether unfeasible to visualise a scenario in which the RSS floats another political front in lieu of the BJP, as VHP’s Togadia has hinted already. The BJP could then concentrate on being a genuine right-wing mainline party, free of the taint of harbouring an exclusivist majoritarian-chauvinist outlook.

On the other hand, what if the BJP’s performance in Bihar is not as good as its followers may wish for? Would Advani still be able to hold on to his position as party leader? If the history of the Jan Sangh is anything to go by, a party leader out of sync with the RSS brass, ideologically or organisationally, is made to pay a heavy price. Chandramauli Sharma and Balraj Madhok were turned into non-persons. RSS is not an ordinary organisation. It runs networks within networks and operates in secret ways. It has never commanded the respect of the Indian electorate, and its hold over the Hindutva-minded may have further loosened with India’s changing socio-economic profile. But it certainly still possesses the capacity to turn Advani into a non-person. That itself is likely to change the course of an important all-India party. We may be right in the middle of a significant historical process.

Sahay, a journalist, writes for THT from New Delhi