The colour saffron, like the colour red, is seldom, if ever, a fast one. It fades quickly when it comes into contact with power and office. Think of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal where yesterday’s revolutionaries are today’s reformers. Think also of Mr L.K. Advani, yesterday’s charioteer in the name of Rama, who denies today the feasibility of law on temple construction in Ayodhya. Mr Advani, the fire-eater who led the Ramjanmabhoomi campaign and who was physically present when the Babri Masjid was demolished, now speaks as a minister who cannot ignore the compulsions of maintaining a majority in Parliament. Coalition politics has tamed Frankenstein, if indeed Mr Advani can be seen as the creator of Ram mandir. Mr Advani’s statement comes at a very crucial moment in the relationship between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the other members of the sangh parivar. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has in recent times been flexing its muscles over the Ram temple in Ayodhya and had even threatened to withdraw support to the BJP in the next round of elections unless its conditions are met. Mr Advani’s declaration clearly shows that neither he nor the government of which he is the deputy prime minister is amenable to this kind of pressure. Mr Advani’s “no” to the demands of the VHP will surprise many who had pigeonholed him as a hawk in the BJP. Mr Advani is nothing if not a pragmatist who is not divorced from ground realities.
The pragmatism of Mr Advani grows out of the recognition of the prevailing situation. The BJP is in power but its covenant with power is not without significant small print. The BJP’s tenure in office is dependent on a coalition, and many of the coalition partners are not too enthusiastic about a political agenda whose driving force is Hindutva. This has forced the leadership of the BJP to put the more controversial aspects of its programme on the back-burner and to concentrate on issues that sustain the coalition. This has created a breach within the sangh parivar: the BJP is eager to get on with governance and to keep Hindutva away from the limelight; the VHP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh know of nothing else save Hindutva. The VHP, in fact, goes one step further, and does not see anything beyond the Ram mandir. Mr Advani’s statement only measures the distance that has grown between the BJP and its more militant ideological cousins.
Critics from within the saffron brigade may note that Mr Advani is shifting ideological ground and is adopting what he himself condemned as pseudo-secular colours. This is, of course, related to the analyst’s vantage point. Another view will argue that Mr Advani is trying desperately to retain some form of credibility in a multi-cultural and multi-religious polity. A strident majoritarianism might look good on a party programme but is self-defeating as government policy. Mr Advani as a shrewd politician has accepted this and hence the fading of saffron.