No Mask, Nothing Unmasked

The fantasy of the faithful to see Narendra Modi partnering Arun Jaitley as a nostalgic throwback to the Atal-Advani era is a pipedream which is bound to crash

Poornima Joshi Delhi 

The RSS’s quest for effecting a generational change ever since the BJP lost power in the 2004 election has finally ended at Narendra Modi’s doorstep. He is the Sangh’s replacement to Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani who nurtured the party since its inception in 1980 and the Jan Sangh before that. Some among the faithful even nourish hopes of seeing Modi partnering Arun Jaitley as a nostalgic throwback to the Atal-Advani era.

But partnerships and ‘collective leadership’ are soon to become a thing of the past in the BJP. With Modi at the helm of affairs, only the romantics can hope that the democratic nature of the BJP’s functioning will sustain for long. This is because Modi, an autocrat as opposed to the ‘democratic credentials’ of both Advani and Vajpayee, does not desire any company at the top. Nor does he believe in encouraging divergence of views and democratic dissent within or outside the party. Sanjay Joshi’s abject humiliation at his instance is a case in point. Modi made sure that Joshi was publicly humiliated and hounded out of Mumbai before condescending to attend the BJP’s national executive meeting.

This, however, cannot be said of Jaitley. He is moulded more in the tradition of his mentors, especially Advani, who even forgave Uma Bharati’s public outburst against him at a party meeting in Delhi. Uma had openly challenged Advani (in front of TV cameras) and heaped abuse on her colleagues before walking out of the meeting. While she was subsequently suspended, it was Advani who eventually persuaded others to welcome her back into the party.

Even Vajpayee had a different, more sophisticated, way of dealing with contradictions and dissent. He put up with Kalyan Singh till he went to the extent of abusing Vajpayee publicly. Only then did Vajpayee agree to his expulsion. Similarly, Govindacharya, hardcore RSS and in-house ideologue who masterminded the social engineering electoral strategy for the Sangh Parivar, was effectively sidelined only after he declared that a ‘moderate’ Vajpayee was nothing but a mukhota (mask).

Jaitley handles intra-party contradictions in the same manner. His known rivalry with Sushma Swaraj does not stop them from working together in the BJP’s parliamentary party. It is almost the same equation that was worked out by Advani and Vajpayee when the BJP was in power at the Centre. Both veterans were rarely on the same page, be it the Ayodhya movement that Vajpayee never participated in or Modi’s continuance in office that he opposed. But Vajpayee stepped back when he realised Advani had the support of the party, as was the case in the aftermath of the Gujarat carnage in 2002 when he, as prime minister, wanted Modi sacked. Vajpayee’s move was opposed by Advani, who was backed by Jaitley, Pramod Mahajan and others. Vajpayee caved in.

Despite the hardliners in the party and the RSS, Vajpayee was catalytic in mending fences with Pakistan and pushed a number of other issues. An interesting anecdote was narrated to a journalist by Left leaders from the time when the US was pushing India to join the war against terror by sending troops to Iraq. Advani had warmed to the idea and even communicated his willingness to the US. However, clearly, Vajpayee did not approve. For almost a month, he sat on the request. One morning, he invited the Left leaders, AB Bardhan of the CPI(M) and Harkishan Singh Surjeet of the CPM, who had been opposing the ‘occupation’ of Iraq by the US and its allies.

Aap ki kya rai hai (what is your view on sending troops to Iraq),” Vajpayee apparently asked the Left leaders. They promptly told him that they categorically opposeD the move. “But your opposition is not visible…Why don’t you make it louder?” he said, to their total surprise. Vajpayee subsequently used domestic political opposition to block the proposal.

Vajpayee had a different, more sophisticated, way of dealing with contradictions and dissent. He put up with Kalyan Singh till he went to the extent of abusing Vajpayee publicly

Advani, on his part, has commanded respect by his sheer dedication, relentless hard work and commitment to the BJP. While Vajpayee was the more popular and ‘acceptable’ leader, Advani was the strategist who worked in the trenches. Besides spearheading the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation and the demolition of the Babri Masjid (which led to nationwide riots), Advani’s campaign brought the BJP from the fringes into the mainstream of Indian politics. Advani built the second line of leadership in the party, be it Sushma Swaraj, Jaitley, (late) Pramod Mahajan or M Venkaiah Naidu. And, despite their rivalry, it was Advani who proposed Vajpayee’s name as the party’s prime ministerial candidate in 1996.

It is near impossible to imagine Modi, with his strenuous self-projection, muscle-flexing and megalomania, ever emulating Advani in what is remembered as a moment of great personal sacrifice. Advani was the tallest leader and the original builder of the BJP when he proposed Vajpayee’s name. This is because Advani felt Vajpayee’s candidature would benefit the BJP, in the prevailing circumstances during that phase, and in the long run.

One has to only consider the absolute destruction of the political careers of RSS and BJP leaders in Gujarat — Sanjay Joshi, Keshubhai Patel, Kanshiram Rana, Gordhan Zadaphia, Suresh Mehta and the slain Haren Pandya, all competitors and rivals of Modi in Gujarat — to predict that the days of collective leadership are over in the BJP with the projection of an arrogant and inflexible Modi as the top leader. So much so, Modi has even effectively decimated VHP leaders like Praveen Togadia in Gujarat, because it is a one-dimensional, totalitarian and unilateral empire which he wants to run. He will rule the BJP with the same iron fist that he used in Gujarat. 


This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JULY 2012