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So asked Atal Behari Vajpayee. Or so says the man described as Advani's problem about the man they called BJP's mukhota, or mask. We are not sure whether Sri Rajnath Singh's description of it as "a geo-cultural concept" would have satisfied him.
As Prime Minister, Atalji rarely used the term Hindutva. The one time he did so on a public platform was to sharply rebuke its narrow, dogmatic and exclusivist projection. The occasion was the launch of a book, India First, authored by the late K.R. Malkani, at 7 Race Course Road in March 2002. Here is how PTI reported his speech on that day. “In a clear disapproval of the recent actions of the so-called practitioners of Hindutva, the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, tonight said it would be better to ‘keep a distance’ from the kind of Hindutva being practised by some now. Speaking at a book release function here, he said when Swami Vivekananda spoke of Hinduism, nobody called him communal. ‘But now, some people have defined Hindutva in such a manner that it is better to keep a distance from it.’ He said Hindutva should not be equated with religion as it was ‘a way of life’. We should keep away from such Hindutva which is stagnant.”
Interesting also that while many have commented on ABV's absence that proved expensive for the BJP this time around, another man, Pramod Mahajan, instrumental for their coming to power, had gone largely unremembered, until today, when Maneka Gandhi felt the need to compare his style of functioning with Arun Jaitley's.
It's still very much the open season as far as the BJP is concerned. Vir Sanghvi says the middleclass has grown up, the BJP has not. And as if to prove him right, after Arun Jaitley, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Brajesh Mishra, Anil Chawla and Jaswant Singh, it was now the turn of Mr Yashwant Sinha to go public with what he points out are the problems with the party. Mr Rajnath Singh's problems clearly are not over, despite the gag-order that seems to have been more than a bit belated.
Meanwhile, Swapan Dasgupta responds to Sudheendra Kulkarni's observations in Tehelka and says that while some of them are unexceptionable, the real problem with the BJP was that "Advani didn’t attend to the problems. Instead, he embarked on the suicidal course of trying to transform a parliamentary election into a presidential one.... Advani strategy lay in bypassing a problem-ridden party..." and, indeed, that "[t]here are many in the BJP who insist that the problem with Advani was Kulkarni".
Pratap Bhanu Mehta feels that this public spat is a good thing and what the BJP needs is not so much a chintan as much as a manthan, a churning, to root out the poison. His pithy prognosis: it is a party of little men:
It is a party that thrives on victimhood: whatever happens is always someone else's fault. No wonder "atma chintan" is looking a bit like an oxymoron. Other parties have abandoned nationalism for opportunism. BJP did something worse: it made nationalism opportunism. No wonder its leaders cannot face up to the fact that most of them have been playing a game of such petty interests.
And he raises the more fundamental question about the party's future: "Is there any leader amongst this lot who has the minimal credibility to take the party in any direction?" Only to conclude with what is clearly the crux of the matter: "More than the RSS, it is now clear that what made the party viable was Mr. Vajpayee".
Sudheendra Kulkarni, LK Advani’s key aide, who was closely associated with the BJP election campaign, specifically the campaign of LK Advani, writes in Tehelka that if the BJP wants to win, it needs to rethink its approach to Muslims, Hindutva, the poor, the RSS, and itself:
At a broader level, it is high time the BJP seriously debated and decided what it means by ‘Hindutva’, and also what formulations of ‘Hindutva’ are not acceptable to it. True, the BJP must remain an ideology-driven party. But without clarity on what the BJP’s ideology is, the party cannot win the support of more Hindus, let alone the support of Muslims and Christians...Read the full piece at Tehelka
...As far as taking the BJP closer to the minorities (Muslims and Christians) is concerned, both confusion and indifference within the party are of Himalayan magnitude. The mentality of a large section of the party is so dogmatic that any idea of promoting the welfare and development of Indian Muslims, or of addressing their legitimate concerns, is quickly brushed aside as “appeasement”. In five long years after 2004, the BJP did not come up with a single worthwhile initiative which Muslims could welcome. Take the example of the Sachar Committee report.
...the party’s collective mind is suffering from a prolonged confusion about how to deal with issues relating to Indian Muslims. Those leaders who want to think and act innovatively know that they are prone to be quickly accused of following a “Muslim- appeasement” policy. The BJP’s Minority Morcha is a non-operational body, whose voice is heard neither within the party nor within the Muslim community.
The entrenched thinking within the BJP is that “Muslims never vote for us and therefore there is no need to think or do anything for them.”
In the Newsweek, on the election results:
One can date precisely China's debut as a great power. It was the evening of Aug. 8, 2008—the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics... We might look back a few years from now and date India's coming-out party to May 18, 2009, the day its most recent election results were announced. They are also a fitting symbol—in this case of India's unique strengths, which are defined not by state power but people power, with all the messiness and chaos that implies. With 420 million people voting, the recent polls were the biggest exercise of democracy in history.
The date seems to be a typo (the results came out on May 16), but Zakaria is quite right about the broad point: "The Indian electorate is one of the world's poorest and least educated, and yet it voted with remarkable intelligence*".
*Mr Advani's close aide seems to agree, albeit for different reasons.