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An avoidable acrimony

August 23, 2009

The rift in the BJP has now turned acrimonious. The friction it seems is mainly between Jaswant Singh and L.K. Advani. For starters the media pointed out that when Advani had called Jinnah a secular leader on his trip to Pakistan, why was Jaswant Singh eased out of the party for the same view. Is this a matter of double standards? It is not just Advani and Jaswant Singh who have called Mohammad Ali Jinnah a secular leader, Sarojini Naidu who had written a biography of Jinnah also called him an epitome of Hindu-Muslim unity. I will again go back to the personality of the two leaders – Jinnah and Nehru. Jinnah had this habit of not accepting anything but the best; in day today life as well as in his career. He was a winner and he would not compromise for anything but the top post. There is this misconception among a section of the Muslim population that Hindus are weak by nature. Jinnah wanted the top post and if that meant taking the Hindus hostage to criminal assault – then so be it. The Direct Action resorted to by the Muslim League in Calcutta was an attempt by Jinnah to cow the Hindus down, take the Congress to either accept Jinnah’s terms or face riots. The reaction from the Sikhs and the Hindus in Punjab and North West Frontier Province to Muslim assault and murder in Bengal, quelled the riots that could have spread throughout the country. What both sides did not understand was that the British had made up their minds to divide the country and the creation of Pakistan was a foregone conclusion. Mountbatten was slowly but surely moving both the parties to come around to his point of view and that was to accept the inevitability of Pakistan. The riots in Calcutta in 1946, as a result of Jinnah’s call for Direct Action was also the British way of telling Congress that Pakistan was something that they will have to learn to live with. The Mountbatten’s were shrewd enough to get what they wanted, and still be hailed as heroes. They were greeted with ‘Mountbatten Zindabad !!’ as they were driving out on the buggy from the Viceroy’s Palace (Rashtrapati Bhavan of today) to board their plane back to Britain. It is amazing that a people who had divided the country so viciously and were the reason for bloody riots on both the eastern and the western borders could induce such a farewell from the Indian’s. This is not an attempt to absolve Jinnah and Nehru for the partition of the country but to try and understand as to what were the reasons that culminated into the division of the country. The fact is that both Advani and Jaswant Singh are correct when they come to the conclusion that Jinnah was not an orthodox Islamic fundamentalist that many would like us to believe. But, yes, both Jinnah and Nehru were hugely ambitious and nothing could come in the way of their ambition. Their personal ambitions made things easier for the Mountbatten’s to go about their job and ensure that the British withdrew without any collateral damage and yet get what they wanted – a division that greatly reduced the influence of the sub-continent that was India.

The Advani-Jaswant Singh acrimony does not end here. Jaswant Singh now claims that Advani knew that he was going to Kandahar to get back the hijacked flight IC 814. Advani has said that he was not aware that Jaswant Singh was going in the plane along with the three terrorists that were to be exchanged for the 166 passengers. The Congress had made this an issue in the last election saying that Jaswant Singh’s decision to escort the three terrorists to Kandahar gave a wrong signal to the world and was something that should not have been done. I guess that this argument lacks reason. Jaswant Singh was made to go by the Prime Minister Vajpayee and the Cabinet because the IB and RAW sleuths in Kandahar wanted someone to be there to take decision in case there was a stalemate again. I think, Congress’s criticism of Jaswant Singh on this score and Advani feigning lack of knowledge about Jaswant Singh going in the same plane with the terrorists smacks of crass opportunism. There was an intractable situation and the nation had to take a decision. The then government tried its best and did all they could in those difficult circumstances. I guess the nation should be thankful to Jaswant Singh for taking up the difficult task. One must remember that Kandahar was under Taliban control at that time and anything could have happened. One must try and put oneself in Jaswant Singh’s place before starting to criticize the man. How many of those in the government would have had the courage to go into a Taliban controlled city, exchange the terrorists, ensure that our people were taken care of by the doctors and flying them back to safety. The nation should be thankful to Jaswant Singh for taking up the tough call and getting our people back. The terrorists had to be released. Some people say that the terrorists could have been released on the Wagah border and they would have then released the plane in Kandahar. My question to such queries is – what if they had not and had started asking for more men? Remember they had started with a demand forthe release of 45 men. A man of Jaswant’s stature was needed there to resolve any last minute hitch and to ensure that they did not backtrack on the deal.  This is a needless controversy created by the Congress to bludgeon the BJP. Advani is doing himself and the party no favor by saying that he was not aware that Jaswant Singh was going to Kandahar at that time. I can understand Advani’s keenness to stay clear of any controversy so that he stays clean but one must not shy away from facts that will be established anyway at some point of time. Jaswant Singh tried to shield Advani at the time of the elections, but came out with the truth when he was expelled from the party. The Thakur from Jaisalmer is visibly hurt. He is very angry too, and one can understand his anger.

Sudheendra Kulkarni, the right hand man of Advani has also decided to quit the BJP. If one looks at the BJP over the last few years, it is amazing how many people have either been thrown out of the party or have decided to withdraw from the party. Some of these people were very integral part of the BJP and it was difficult to fathom the party without them. Apart from Jaswant Singh, Uma Bharti and Govindacharya were also eased out of the party. The one thing that is common in the expulsion of all these three stalwarts was that all three had stood up to Advani. My guess is that Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha may also not be around for long in the BJP. One must remember that both Arun Shourie  and Yashwant Sinha were not invited to the Chintan Baithak in Shimla. The BJP needs to be more democratic and dissent must not mean expulsion. Even a public spat, though it should be avoided at all cost, must not mean a summary expulsion from the party. All these three individuals have another thing in common – one cannot question their honesty of thought and purpose. The top leadership must be more cautious and sensitive when dealing with such upright people. Such talents are hard to find and must be nurtured. While Uma Bharati’s public spat with Advani in front of the media was surely in bad taste, yet she could have been disciplined in other ways. She could have been suspended from the party for some months. People like Uma Bharati, Govindacharya and Jaswant Singh are hard to find. As for Jaswant Singh, he was way too senior to have been thrown out of the party. Jaswant Singh was there at the time of the formation of the party. Rajnath Singh and others are not qualified enough to sit on judgment for Jaswant Singh’s expulsion. The BJP is weakening itself as a party by excluding so many well intentioned people from its ranks. It is doing itself no favor and in fact helping Congress become strong. The only panacea for a party like the BJP is to become truly democratic within, from the block level onwards. It is a difficult task but one which if undertaken could mean an increase in ranks and stature for a party that has so much promise.

Update 24.08.2009: Arun Shourie has given an interview where he has called the BJP/Rajnath Singh (it is not quite clear as to who he was referring to) as Humpty Dumpty. He has gone all out in his criticism and at one point he exhorts the RSS to take over the BJP. He goes on to quote Mao and says that the BJP headquarters ‘should be bombed’, meaning that the top leadership should be changed and new faces must be brought in from the states by the RSS to revive the party. The answer is not to change everyone at the top but to make the party more democratic. And the BJP should do this on its own and not expect the RSS to clean the mess for them. The RSS has all the authority and no responsibility and that in itself is self defeating. A complete revamp of the party will take place the moment the party is built from the ground up. It may not take as much time as many people believe it will. Besides, the fruits of the labour of revamping the party from the grassroot level should start showing even before such an exercise is completed. There is no reason to doubt that the state leadership will welcome any such move as most of the state leaders have worked from ground up. It is the top leadership that is reluctant to understake any such exercise. I agree with Arun Shourie when he says that Vasundhara Raje and Khanduri (Khanduri has already been set aside) have support from their state leaders (meaning MLA’s) and therefore the top leadership should not insist on their resignation. But to expect the RSS to take initiative to clean the mess in the BJP is going about the whole exercise upside down. Lastly, it could well be the last interview that Arun Shourie has given as a BJP man.

Update 13.01.2010: Arun Shourie survived the axe, because he sided with the RSS and called up to the mother organization to take up cudgels to clean the party. Nitin Gadkari’s elevation to the top post has been a surprise. I feel the man has much promise. The news that Varun Gandhi may be made the chief of the Youth Wing of the party is also a welcome news. However, what bothers me is that these changes were made at the instance of the RSS which has way too much influence in the party. They claim to be the conscience keepers of the party. But they still have no responsibility and therefore no accountability. There is also a talk of bringing back people like Uma Bharati, Jaswant Singh, Kalyan Singh and Govindacharya back. But the old fox, Advani has not hung the boots and till he is around, Gadkari will find it difficult to bring back those who matter but were expelled. Another name that needs mention is Madan Lal Khurana, an old BJP/RSS stalwart who was booted out by the foxy Sindhi, and deserves a recall.

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