New Delhi, April 16: Swadeshi ideologue Dattopant Thengadi’s alleged uncharitable remarks against him may have hurt Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but the BJP seemed reluctant to defend the Prime Minister — on or off record.
Rather, the overweening feeling in the party is that it was “getting difficult” to justify the Centre’s economic policies in the run-up to the elections and that, in a way, the views expressed by the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and Thengadi were in order.
“The swadeshi yatra (which Thengadi flagged off on Monday) is not expected to propagate the BJP or government policies in villages. Its focus will naturally be anti-establishment,” a senior BJP leader said.
He asserted that “certain points” that the Manch raised on the World Trade Organisation and divestment could not be ignored. “Ever since our government came to power, the only inputs available to our ministers came from the bureaucracy. Political inputs of the sort which should have come from the BJP are not available. The Manch is trying to form a link between the people and the party,” he added.
BJP sources admitted that at a high-level RSS-BJP meeting two weeks ago in Mumbai, none of their representatives could effectively counter the criticism that came from the other side in the form of “well-researched papers with facts and figures”.
This was despite the presence of BJP heavyweights like party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu, human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi and general secretaries Pramod Mahajan, Rajnath Singh and Sanjay Joshi.
The RSS was represented by sarsanghachalak K.S. Sudarshan, Madan Das Devi, Mohanrao Bhagwat and Swadeshi Jagran Manch convener S. Gurumurthy.
The BJP leaders were so “floored” by the Sangh’s presentation that they readily agreed to pass its recommendations to the relevant ministries.
Stressing that there was “room for course correction”, BJP sources conceded that both the party and the government had failed to “project divestment in the right light”. “The business of selling off family silver has not gone down well with people,” they said. It was time that the government and the BJP asked whether India needed a “growth-oriented economy based on FDI or one based on indigenous production”, they added.
But there were also voices that felt that the BJP’s unwillingness to put its best foot forward on Vajpayee was dictated entirely by political considerations. Thengadi, they said, was as much a part of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) as the Manch. The BMS is said to be the country’s largest trade union and its members form the Manch cadre.
“In a sense, these are also the BJP’s foot soldiers during an election. But the BMS’ survival as a trade union depends on an anti-divestment stand. So there’s no way the BJP can check its views,” the sources said.
If anything, this section was also sceptical about Thengadi, the sources added. Thengadi, a former Rajya Sabha MP of the Jan Sangh, quit politics when the party embraced Gandhian socialism because he reportedly believed that socialism went against the Jan Sangh’s advocacy of an economy with “internal liberalisation” and de-regulations. “Now his current politics is based on socialism. It’s hard to digest this,” the sources said.