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WHOSE GOVERNMENT IS IT'

The sangh parivarís interventions in governance blur the distinction between the party and the state

There is a heavy price to be paid for agreeing to sup with the devil ó even with a long spoon. The prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, it would appear, is not averse to paying that price. He agreed in a meeting with the leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and allied outfits that from now on, the government would consult these organizations on all issues of public importance. This meeting, somewhat unprecedented, was the fallout of mounting criticism from the sangh parivar that Mr Vajpayee and his government were increasingly drifting away from the agenda of the sangh parivar. Criticism of this nature has gained ground because of the mid-life crisis which has paralysed the government of Mr Vajpayee. In the middle of his term, Mr Vajpayee seems to have lost his initiative and the zeal to rule. This has created a space for the sangh parivar to train their guns on him and thus wrest away the initiative. It is not clear if the consequent tension has been resolved. It is possible that Mr Vajpayee, through a truce, has bought time against forces he can neither control nor abandon. The RSS, it can also be said, has blown its cover of being only a cultural organization.

Mr Vajpayee, from the time he became prime minister, has steadfastly refused to countenance any pressure coming from the various constituents of the sangh parivar. He has sought to act on the principle that he should behave like the prime minister of India, and not of this or that sectarian interest group. He has also had to consider that he sits at the head of a coalition government, and not all his coalition partners are enamoured of the Hindutva agenda of the sangh parivar. Mr Vajpayee has thus steered clear of the policies that the RSS advocates. This has led to mounting criticism on two counts. First, that the Bharatiya Janata Party led by Mr Vajpayee is moving away from the parivar, and second, Mr Vajpayee by being pro-reform and non-Hindutva was making the BJP lose its distinguishing birth mark which, according to the RSS, is also a vote-catcher. The revival of the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation and the pogrom in Gujarat were clear signs that militants within the sangh parivar were flexing their muscles and attempting to push Mr Vajpayee into a corner. The meeting the prime minister had with leaders of the sangh parivar must be seen in this context.

There is an ominous tendency emerging from this development. The sangh parivarís attempt to intervene in the processes of government is another instance of the blurring of distinctions between the party and state, noticeable also in West Bengal. The matter is compounded by the credibility that is given to the political party in the Indian democracy. In a democracy, only those elected by the people can have a say in governance. Thus the only legitimate entity is the political party. There is scope for reform here as well as a wider discussion on the length of a governmentís term. Shorter terms might end inertia. These issues should not get drowned by the cacophony from Nagpur.

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