The BJP has never looked so forlorn, so bereft of ideas, so short on personalities. The party seems to be weighed under bad ideas, such as the view from a section of the RSS that the BJP lost because "it deviated from the path of Hindutva". The presumption is, the BJP was rejected because it was not Hindu enough and the problem can be solved if it rediscovers "Hinduness". The party's traditional leadership is now so diminished that no one can really counter the absurdities that the members of the larger parivar are inclined to mouth.
Twelve years ago, when I started covering the BJP, just poised to come to power, it was charged with energy, bursting with leaders, full of contradictions, but very alive. Imagine the disdain with which an Atal Behari Vajpayee would have treated the opinions of RSS ideologue M.G. Vaidya, who has blamed the recent defeat on the abandonment of ideology! The former prime minister—the only BJP leader of that generation who will ever occupy that office—had little time for those in public life without the ability to win elections. He engaged with the RSS and the VHP only to "handle" them. In that sense, he was a great coalition-builder, the bridge between people, allies, the party and also the Sangh parivar.
There was also Pramod Mahajan, who broke all the rules, but was the great manager for the BJP and Vajpayee. He was also known for being brutally frank. I recall a late-night chat with Mahajan during the Gujarat riots. He calmly analysed that "after Muslims kill five and Hindus kill 5,000" people just live in hate, but the cycle of rioting stops because it was never an equal fight. Like Vajpayee, Mahajan never had much use for the RSS but was rumoured to dole out a monthly retainer to some members.
In those days, even the RSS volunteers in the BJP were men of calibre. K. Govindacharya's career came to an end when he described Vajpayee as a mukhauta (mask), but before that, he had pushed the Brahmin-Bania party towards social engineering to counter the forces of Mandal and was the rare individual from the Hindu right who had some intellectual credibility. One may have disagreed with Govindacharya, but it was always a pleasure to engage with him. Then there was Kushabhau Thakre, who created the Sangh structure in Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh. Narendra Modi, too, emerged from the RSS stable, the only pracharak to become a mass leader.
But subsequent whole-timers have been non-entities, just filling in the Sangh quota. For instance, general secretary (organisation) is a key post in the cadre-based party, formerly held by people like Govindacharya, Thakre and Modi. Today a gentleman named Ram Lal has the job. No one, not even reporters covering the BJP, think it worth their while to cultivate Ram Lal. Incidentally, before Ram Lal, it was Sanjay Joshi who held the post, but he was caught with his pants down having sex with a woman, perhaps not considered natural in the Sangh parivar brotherhood. One big change after the verdict in Elections '09 is that defeated BJP candidates are now talking about their problems being compounded by having to cater to the RSS. The catchment area for RSS recruits has shrunk in the last decade and their stature has diminished in a changing India. It's the RSS that now derives clout by riding on the BJP.
A decade ago, it was necessary to engage with the VHP-Bajrang Dal in order to understand the BJP. I remember my first meeting with the VHP's Giriraj Kishore. He heard my name and straightaway launched off about "Muslim men seducing innocent Hindu maidens". The Muslim male, he said, was more adept at seduction because of a surgical procedure (circumcision) that makes it possible for them to give greater pleasure to women! I did not know whether to laugh, weep or run. Uma Bharati, another bright spark now burnt out, butted in and ended the conversation. As I was leaving, Giriraj advised me to use cow urine soap manufactured by the VHP to keep my complexion "fair and lovely". This is the belief system that men like Giriraj call ideology. Thankfully, after this verdict, their relevance has shrunk further.
As the alternative pole of Indian politics, the BJP remains very relevant. But great expectations have given way to a deep depression. The party today is a shadow of its former self.
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