BJP Jana Sanghaised? -- by Praful Bidwai Back   Home  
The BJP is evolving backwards into the Jana Sangh, with one difference. It needs coalitions. It cannot come to power on its own. Coincidentally, this is happening around the Jana Sangh's 50th birth anniversary this year. Politically, the congruence is too stark to be missed. Even the most credulous admirers of Mr Vajpayee won't believe he will make an early visit to Pakistan now. After his vitriolic attack on Gen Musharraf at the BJP national executive, the Agra process itself seems to be in jeopardy.
Despite denials, Mr Vajpayee is under heavy pressure from within the BJP to abandon any re-engagement with Pakistan. He works only under pressure witness his "resignation" stunt, and U-turn on the Naga ceasefire.

Today's pressure comes mainly from Mr Vajpayee's sangh parivar colleagues and Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) hawks. The saffron lobby didn't have the guts to oppose Agra although it detested its rationale. It was greatly encouraged by its failure to produce a declaration. It has since become more vocal.

The saffron complaint is not that Gen Musharraf was inflexible on Kashmir a contention that can be rationally debated but that his is a jehadi mindset. It is futile to engage it. There should be no reduction in India-Pakistan hostility. RSS mouthpiece Panchajanya bears eloquent witness to this shift. It sponsored an essay competition with Pakistan's Jang. But it is back spewing venom at Gen Musharraf's "treachery". Pakistan has once again become a "bandit state."

Equally serious is the pressure from MEA hawks. Their 15-page report analysing the Summit implicitly blames Mr Vajpayee for foreclosing "our earlier option of not engaging Pakistan until it stops cross-border terrorism". It makes many negative recommendations. Most important, it says India should put bilateral diplomacy with Pakistan on the backburner.

The report recommends that Mr Vajpayee and Mr Jaswant Singh should delay their visits to Islamabad. Instead, "India should raise the costs of the proxy war to Pakistan" mainly by unleashing repression in Kashmir.

This is a totally retrograde document. It even sets back the domestic Kashmir agenda. It grossly misrepresents Agra. The talks' failure was less because of Pakistan's refusal of reference to "cross-border terrorism," and more because of the Indian hardliners' rejection stand.

The hardliners rejected a reasonable draft noting that a resolution of the Kashmir issue would lead to full normalisation of India-Pakistan relations. This came after Indian negotiators had more or less accepted it.

As the root of the Agra mess was New Delhi's inflexibility, and its peevishness at having been "outmanoeuvred" by Gen Musharraf's breakfast meeting with editors. This immature reaction brought no credit to Mr Vajpayee.

At the BJP national executive, Mr Vajpayee played to the gallery. He parodied Gen Musharraf for wearing "a long face". It was "clear" in Agra, he said, that [Musharraf] had come in "soldier (fauji) mode and was in no mood to pursue... friendship".

He called Gen Musharraf "clueless" on international diplomacy and Kashmir.

This totally negated Mr Vajpayee's earlier sober, dignified, stand. But it went down brilliantly with BJP hawks who praised his "mature and sagacious" handling of the Summit!

This Mr Vajpayee was not the BJP "liberal", nor Hindutva's first aspirant to statesmanship. He resembled the rabble-rousing Jana Sangh chauvinist-nationalist of the 1960s. He indulged in the same demagoguery: If they say Kashmir is the core issue, I'll say Pak-occupied Kashmir is the "core of the core issue".

Mr Vajpayee's betrayal of his own India-Pakistan reconciliation agenda is part of the re-Jana Sanghaisation of the BJP. The national executive's rejection of a "dialogue with Pakistan [under]... the jehadi mentality" faithfully repeats the Jana Sangh's language.

Both hold that Pakistan, an irresponsible, treacherous state, must not be allowed to "exploit" India's noble intentions as "a sign of weakness". India should speak the only language Pakistan understands: brute force.

The BJP-Jana Sangh parallel goes beyond linguistic congruence into ideological convergence on ultra-conservative agendas. The BJP has hardened its stand on a pro-US foreign policy, right-wing economics, and political authoritarianism.

This change is reflected in the forceful self-assertion of the BJP's organisational wing in laying down the governmental agenda on issues like the economy and the Northeast. Party president Krishnamurthy defended with uncharacteristic authority the BJP's right to criticise the government. This had Mr Advani's concurrence.

Equally noteworthy was the executive's vote against Mr Jaswant Singh's amendment to the Agra resolution, expressing hope that Pakistan would respond to reconciliation moves. This was its way of "disciplining" Mr Singh considered a Johnny-come-lately in the parivar. However, the foppish Mr Singh has of late been moving away from Mr Vajpayee, and building bridges with Mr Advani.

At one level, the self-assertion of the BJP's organisational wing reflects the Advani-Vajpayee power struggle, in which the Home Minister has a clear edge. At another, it is the result of broader factors. The government's policies have become greatly unpopular, especially in the economy.

The NDA here is guilty of macro-economic mismanagement, mindless trade liberalisation, foodstock mishandling, and rising unemployment. The BJP is being asked to carry the can for this. It is complaining, and demanding a "correction" although it doesn't know of what kind.

Secondly, the BJP soon faces assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. Things are going badly for it. And it is resorting to gimmicks e.g. Ram temple, quotas for the Most Backward Classes, and increases in schoolteachers' salaries. Any election mobilisation will increase its dependence on RSS cadres, hardening Hindutva.

The BJP is evolving backwards into the Jana Sangh, with one difference. It needs coalitions. It cannot come to power on its own. Coincidentally, this is happening around the Jana Sangh's 50th birth anniversary this year. Politically, the congruence is too stark to be missed.

Postscript: The BJP is having a hard time with coalition partners witness the Shiv Sena's ruthless pressure tactics and Samata's blackmail over the railway portfolio. The PMO remains vulnerable on UTI. Mr Sanjay Nirupam's allegations about phone calls involving PMO officials are largely correct. His motives are related to the Maharashtra power game. The resignation stunt has further eroded Mr Vajpayee's credibility. The NDA remains crisis-bound...
This article was published in DailyStar of Bangladesh. Author Praful Bidwai is an eminent Indian columnist.