May 30, 2020
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Masque, A Sequel

The PM's statement on Ayodhya was a psychological necessity; an effort to come out of his political loneliness.

Masque, A Sequel
PRIME Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has finally thrown away the mask he was wearing for the past three years. It must have been truly suffocating to go places with that mask. Moreover, the mask had served its purpose. The purpose was to fool the gullible middle class which was living in an ideological vacuum for over a decade.

IN the Eighties, the Bharatiya Janata Party swore by the name of Gandhian Socialism. That mask split almost instantly. Neither the middle class nor the masses could identify the Sangh parivar with Gandhi or with socialism. The bjp was reduced to just two seats in the Lok Sabha. So the paRTY threw the Gandhian mask as well as Vajpayee.

THAt is how Lal Krishna Advani camE Centrestage with his rath yatra. The idea of militant Hindutva caught the imagination of the urban-upper caste-upper class. On THat wave, the bjp rode and increased its stock from just two seats in 1984 to 160 in 1996. The Babri demolition had provided lustre to the cause of Hindutva. Yet the Nagpur politburo of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh realised the bjp would not go much beyond. The rss assessment was proved correct. It is against this backdrop that a new strategy evolved.

VAJpayee was to be Dr Jekyll of the bjp. Dr Jekyll was to create an impression in the mediA, in the intelligentsia, among the sceptical foreign diplomats, in the academia, among the borderline leftists, the self-styled liberals, professionals, intellectuals—that Vajpayee is not Advani. An elaborate camouflage was created to convey that he transcends the ideological parameters of the Sangh, was closer to Pandit Nehru than to Guru Golwalkar, that he was always averse to the idea of rath yatra and construction of a mandir on the "same site", that he is a personification of tolerance, that he is waging a guerrilla war with the hardliner establishment of the rss and that he is committed to economic and social issues and not the ones raised by the vhp and Bajrang Dal.

The metropolitan elite and the celebrity world bought the mask as if it was Halloween mood in town. It's this class that is primarily responsible for making the mask respectable and giving it the status of a Face. But as the mask began to stick ON To the Face, the hardliners began to fear. Would the mask run away with the Face, leaving the mask manufacturers in a lurch? Would he becoME a soRT of political approver and trap the Babri criminals? So they began to mount pressure on Vajpayee. But Vajpayee himself had begun to feel acutely uncomfortable with the mask. He did not like the idea that after serving the Sangh as loyal swayamsevak for over 60 years, the credit for entrenching Hindutva ideology should go to Advani or the Nagpur cabal.

HIS so-called secular and liberal friends like George Fernandes and Ram Vilas Paswan, Chandrababu and Karunanidhi, had burnt their boats. They had no face to go to the so-called Third Front and had no mask either. They were now dependent on the bjp, moreso on Vajpayee. After all, they had gone to town telling the electorate that Vajpayee was the face of the reformed and restructured bjp.

Not only the legendary socialist-revolutionary George but the strongman of Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar, too had spread the word that Vajpayee was the Indian version of Mikhail Gorbachev who was implementing glasnost and perestroika in the Sangh parivar. Soon he'll dump the hardliners, so they said. Did they believe what they said or were they consciously deceiving themselves? Little did they realise that Vajpayee was brought up on the staple political diet of Nazism that the SanGH openly advocated in the late '30s and '40s.That loyalty was much older and deeper than friendship with nda members.Vajpayee wanted to reassure the Sangh that he belonged to the saffron cadre and at the same time warn secular friends that they were dependent on him now and not vice versa.

The gamble has paid off so far. Vajpayee has now stolen from Advani the Hidden Agenda. Thus he has trapped his enemies within and detractors without. The Face itself has become a Mask now. Gorbachev failed because his glasnost was not a mask. Vajpayee will fail because the Face can’t be like a lifeless Mask.

But one may still ask why it was necessary for him to throw away the mask. Could it not have been better for his image to be in the company of liberals than in the company of the Babri Demolition Task Force and alleged Staines killers?

Rationally speaking, yes. But rationality does not determine the behaviour of those who have lived their life in an ideological-organisational cage. They feel lonely at the top. That is why, all of a sudden, throwing propriety and rationality to the wind, he addressed sants, mahants and sadhus in America to declare that he was a swayamsevak first and prime minister later. With that statement he had crossed the rubicon. Now he could not return to the virtual reality of the nda. The statement on Ayodhya and thereby ripping apart the mask was perhaps a psychological necessity. It was an effort to come out of the political loneliness. At the beginning of the year, he was a hero, a victor of the phony war in Kargil, a unifier of the unstable 24-party front and an icon of sorts. As the year came to a close, he looked like a Halloween mask.

Kumar Ketkar

Editor, Maharashtra Times

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