BJP patriarch and former Deputy Prime Minister, Lal Krishna Advani’s blog on the eve of the party’s foundation day is clearly a no-holds barred criticism of the manner in which the organisation he founded along with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Murli Manohar Joshi, is functioning under the present dispensation. By underlining the basic tenets which contributed to the constitution of the party, Advani has raised pertinent questions regarding the BJP’s campaign, which is seeking to classify all those opposed to its ideology as both anti-national and undemocratic.
The BJP was raised to strengthen the forces of democracy—not to weaken them—and as a party it never treated its opponents as enemies, but political adversaries. In his blog, written after five years of stoic silence, he reminded the activists that the rights of citizens could not be taken away or suppressed by anyone. The party has been committed to freedom of choice for every citizen at both the personal as well as political level.
Unnerved by the admonishment, the BJP leadership sought to play down Advani’s observations, with the Prime Minister himself tweeting that the senior leader had perfectly summed up the true essence of the BJP, most notably the guiding mantra of, “Nation First, Party Next, Self Last”.
However, the timing of Advani’s blog appears to have caught the BJP’s high command on the wrong foot. The veteran leader is by no means a political novice, and consciously wrote so, knowing that his views would find resonance in many quarters, including those of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In fact, he has indirectly appealed to the conscience of the BJP workers, asking them not to be carried away by the passionate campaign slogans pasted all over, but adhere to the essential concepts of the party.
Speculation is rife that in the next few days, some other top leaders may publicly express their anguish. From a political standpoint, this is the only opportunity for those who do not concur with the beliefs and style of functioning of the current leadership to come out in the open. The upper caste traditional vote base of the party has been disillusioned over the repeated assertions by the Prime Minister of his being an OBC champion; whether this disgruntlement finds an expression in the saffron outfit would certainly be known before 11 April.
In political circles there are conjectures whether Advani’s thoughts were the pre-cursor of some impending developments. His reference to the Emergency and how it was opposed by the Sangh affiliates is not merely a coincidence. In 1977, when elections had been announced, after Indira Gandhi lifted the Emergency, the fear factor persisted. However, on 2 or 3 February, senior leader Babu Jagjivan Ram (his birth anniversary was on Friday, 5 April) stormed out of the party, along with Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna, Nandini Sathpathy, K.R. Ganesh and some others, to form the Congress for Democracy (CFD). In fact, it was the formation of the CFD, and the revolt within the Congress, that accounted for a fresh surge of resentment against Indira Gandhi.
Historians and political scientists may have their own interpretations of the events, but for many political observers like myself, the formation of the CFD was the single most important contributory factor for the defeat of the Congress. A few days later, a political rally addressed by Babu Jagjivan Ram at the Ramlila grounds in Delhi, put it beyond any shadow of doubt as to which way the wind was blowing. Since then such a massive gathering has never been witnessed in the capital and the attendance was many times more than the public meeting addressed at the same venue by Jai Parkash Narayan, nearly a week earlier.
The CFD had dismantled the Congress and driven away any kind of trepidation experienced by the citizens, who had by casting their votes in favour of the Janata Party, vanquished the mighty Indira Gandhi. The Congress was virtually wiped out from the northern states, where a handful of leaders who had managed to retain their seats included Dr Karan Singh, Nathu Ram Mirdha and Gargi Shankar Mishra.
Subsequently, all Opposition parties that came together merged their identities with the Janata Party, thus ending the existence of Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the Swatantra Party, the Congress (O) and the Socialist Party. Trouble soon erupted when an ambitious Charan Singh, prompted by Raj Narain, raised questions over the dual membership of the former Jana Sangh members, who despite being part of the Janata Party experiment continued to maintain allegiance with the RSS. Advani, who was a Union Minister in the Moraji Desai government, witnessed the political ostracisation of the Jana Sangh brigade, which was virtually treated as pariahs.
Therefore, when the BJP came into existence, Vajpayee and Advani always ensured that ideology never acted as a hurdle in realpolitik. The V.P. Singh government was formed on the crutches provided by the BJP and the Left parties, both ideological rivals. Vajpayee became the first non Congress Prime Minister since he and Advani were willing to accommodate ideological adversaries, while adhering to the coalition dharma. Having been an integral part of the growth of the BJP’s influence, the veteran leader does not want that what was achieved should be withered away.
Advani’s blog is a timely warning to the current BJP leadership that there can be no compromise on democracy, and rivals could not be dismissed as anti-nationals. Differences should be viewed in the proper perspective. Between us.