Ah, then, what help are honour and good name
That end in nothing? There is no help in them.
Oedipus in Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles (The Theban Plays)
It may be a bit presumptuous to liken L.K. Advani to King Oedipus and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the greatest Greek tragedy in literature. When on August 19, the partys brains trust collected in Shimla to introspect and find out why it failed in the 2009 elections, few expected the three-day meeting to throw up questions, much less answers and solutions. Most believed that the session, like the two other recent chintan baithaks, would repeat itself not as tragedy but as farce.
Farce it was not.
When Oedipus uncovered the hideous secret of his unwitting sins — the man whom he had slain in a fit of anger was his father, Laius, and the wife who had borne him two sons and two daughters was his mother, Jocasta — he destroyed his own eyes so that he would not see his self-inflicted evil.
The BJPs wise men and women wilfully blinded themselves to their flaws and shortcomings and cracked the whip on the softest target in their clasp. Prodded by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, former minister Jaswant Singh — who had just written a book that praised Jinnah and questioned Sardar Patel — was expelled. We had to make an example of someone to send a message that indiscipline will not be brooked, a general secretary says.
It made no impact — for the BJP has been wracked by indiscipline ever since. From Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje has been continuing to cock a snook at the party leadership. In Gujarat, Modi is seen as an autonomous entity. In Delhi, factions against and for party president Rajnath Singh have been working overtime. Former finance and external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha and others are calling Advani a liar. And Arun Shourie is ridiculing everybody but the putative paterfamilias, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
In this ruckus, the debate on whether the BJP needs the RSS or vice versa refuses to die. Whats clear is that the RSS, pushed into a corner as long as the BJP was strong and leading the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre, has started flexing its muscles again.
The RSS is typically unobtrusive, says a close aide of RSS chief Mohanrao Bhagwat. But we have identified the root cause of the turmoil. It is the existence of two power centres: Advani and Rajnath. As the president, Rajnath has the authority but he is not able to carry the party. Vasundharas defiance is an example. Rajnath has to go and we will ensure his successor is somebody who will take everyone along. When the party is in opposition, it is most important to have an effective president.
The RSS was peeved with Rajnath because, when he was appointed to head the BJP, he was asked to undercut Advanis clout in the post-Jinnah phase (in 2005 Advani had visited Pakistan and praised Jinnah, causing a loud uproar in the BJP and the RSS) and cleanse the party apparatus of his loyalists.
Not only did Rajnath fail, he brought the factional style of politics from Uttar Pradesh, an insider says. So while Advanis protégés such as Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Ananth Kumar and M. Venkaiah Naidu either moved from strength to strength or remained where they were, Rajnath tried to constitute his own power centres.
The RSS now has a plan of removing both Singh as president and Advani as the leader of the opposition — and replacing them with Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, respectively. Bhagwats aide — a senior RSS functionary — refuses to comment on Advani, but the groups views on the former deputy Prime Minister become clear when he doubles up with laughter while reading aloud passages from Arun Shouries articles that imply that Advani is a dead horse.
Clearly, the RSS — and many in the BJP — now believe that the party is incapable of resolving the troublesome issues, and that the RSS has to step in. Many opinion makers and industrialists have been calling us up to say that they are happy the RSS is in charge, says the aide.
But, clearly, the RSS is still a little diffident about acting against Advani, who is arguably the tallest leader in the BJP. He is the only one still with the ability to think through problems and dilemmas with some political clarity, says K.N. Govindacharya, who was Advanis spin-doctor-cum-ideologue before they fell out.
There were others who felt Advani and his faithfuls leveraged his after me, the deluge perception to stay put. If Rajnath has fostered one kind of factionalism, Advani and his people are no less.They know if he goes, they sink with him, a former Advani protégé stresses.
But there is a growing belief in the party that the leadership tussle and the ensuing indiscipline are not the main problems facing the party today. Changing the leaders, this section believes, will make a difference but not stop the rot. A change of regime is useful to the extent that it fixes culpability for the election defeats on specific leaders. But dumping individuals is just a part of the solution. Its like using Band Aid to arrest a haemorrhage. Will it? No, stresses a BJP general secretary.
The real issues, he says, are the polemics on ideology versus pragmatism and the RSS-BJP equation.
Ideology and idealism have been destroyed, holds Govindacharya. We saw signs of it in the 2004 elections when our workers in Allahabad raised a slogan, Ram Lalla, we have arrived, not to build your temple but to feast on pooris and halwa. What does the BJP stand for? Pro-US? Pro-rich? The Congress is all this, so why should people opt for the BJP?
In the same breath, he admits that Advani and Vajpayee had a point when they recognised the limitations of hardcore ideology for a political party pursuing power. In 1999, Advaniji told me dont tom-tom about being a party with a difference. Ideology is irrelevant in the task of governance. An ideological party can at best be a pressure group, says Govindacharya.
Fine tuning the RSS-BJP relationship is more problematic. A former Sangh pracharak (propagandist) with the BJP explains, The RSS is trying to increase its hold over the party, but there are elements that are remarkably naive and ignorant of the larger political dimensions. If it wants the BJP to embrace its exclusivist version of Hindutva, how will the party retain its allies, leave alone attracting new ones?
Though Gujarat chief minister Modi partially circumvented the problem of satisfying cadre demands by reaching directly to his voters over the heads of the activists, the supporters and detractors of the RSS within the BJP conceded that it is a tough call to conclude if the party can do without the Sangh.
Figures speak for themselves, says the ex-pracharak. Of the 116 party MPs, only 30 come from the RSS. But of the 150 national executive members, 100 come from the RSS and 85 per cent of our support base and party structure is with the RSS. Out of the 10 crore votes we polled, four crore came from the Sangh, he says.
For these reasons, many in the BJP thought it will not split. For arguments case, if Advani walks out, not more than four or five members will follow him. If the MPs and MLAs wish to be re-elected, they will need the services of the tireless swayamsevaks who seek votes from door to door, says a general secretary.
If the BJP doesnt mend its ways, what are the options for the RSS? Work for the Congress, if it doesnt overdo the minority plank or sit at home as we did in Rajasthan (in 2009 when the BJP was down to four out of 25 seats), says Bhagwats aide.
Will that be the end of the BJP? After all, the BJPs predecessor, the Jan Sangh, rose just like the BJP did — and collapsed in less than 30 years.
Behind the Jana Sangh were the RSS and Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. Both had withdrawn from the Hindu Mahasabha independently, at different times and under different circumstances. Together they created the Jana Sangh which, in a few months, became the fourth largest party in India.
Mookerjee showed it was possible to make use of RSS support while retaining freedom of manoeuvre and that adherence to Hindu traditions did not exclude parallel appeals to liberal principles. But the limitations that obstructed Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advanis attempts to strike a balance between the hard and soft lines caught up with Mookerjee, who died in 1953.
After the ban on the RSS during the Emergency, the Jana Sangh merged with the Janata Party. In the post-1977 experience, when the Jana Sangh was in power at the Centre for the first time, the RSS affiliates expanded rapidly. The RSS refused to consider the Jana Sanghs merger with the Janata Party when there were suspicions that the Sangh would use its organisational resources to strengthen the Jana Sangh within the umbrella coalition.
The Janata Party unravelled when the Jana Sangh members refused to sunder their links with the RSS. Following the collapse of Janata rule in 1979, the BJP was formed in April 1980.
Is the BJP now waiting for history to repeat itself?