Wednesday, Dec 01, 2021

The Kulkarni Paper

The text of the now controversial paper presented by Sudheendra Kulkarni, National Secretary, BJP and BJP president L K Advani's key aide and speech-writer, at the 'Thinkers Meet' in Bhopal on March 23-24.

The Kulkarni Paper
The Kulkarni Paper

A discussion paper has been circulated. It has offered some reflections on "the state of the Hindu movement" and, in that context, made some comments on the BJP. As a functionary of the BJP, I am provoked to offer my views on the subject. Needless to say, these are my personal views and I do not claim to speak for the party at this meet. I also take this opportunity to present some thoughts on the larger issues facing our country and the Hindu society.

Did ‘Hindu disquiet’ defeat the BJP in Elections 2004? No

The discussion paper talks of a "Hindu disquiet with the NDA, particularly the BJP", which it says was visible "in 2003 itself"...

This begs several questions. Which Hindu had this "disquiet"? The term "Hindu disquiet" sounds as if all or a majority of the Hindus were unhappy with the BJP as they felt "betrayed". The plain facts of Indian democracy defy this claim.

The BJP, even in its best days, has not commanded the support of more than one-fourth of the electorate, which more or less means not more than one-fourth of the Hindu voters. And not all the Hindus who supported the party did so because it was perceived to be pursuing what some people wish to call the "Hindu political agenda." Most of them did so because the BJP was seen as a party that stood for a strong "nationalist agenda", had honest and disciplined cadres, and possessed outstanding leaders who were wise, incorruptible and dedicated to the service of the nation. They also did so because they were unhappy with the then incumbent governments — a normal phenomenon in a multi-party democracy. We’d be making a grave and costly mistake by reducing the BJP’s "national agenda" to a "Hindu political agenda".

Anti-BJP (and anti-Jana Sangh, in previous decades) parties have always collectively had the support of more than half of the electorate — general as well as the Hindu electorate. Of these parties, the Congress alone, in most of the elections held so far, has had more Hindus voting for it than the BJP or the Jana Sangh.

What do these facts indicate? First, that there was no nationwide "Hindu disquiet" as such with the BJP. Yes, there was disquiet in a section of the Hindus and they, in their wisdom, felt that there was no point in actively striving for the BJP’s return to power. That section is so small that by itself it can neither vote the BJP to power, nor dislodge the BJP from power. Those who can do so are only a majority of the voters. And since Hindus constitute the majority in India’s population, how a large section of the Hindus votes generally decides who comes to power and who goes out of power.

Though this may sound axiomatic, it contains a sobering truth. A large section of the Hindus have never voted as "Hindus" for or against any party. And they are unlikely to do so in the near future — and will never do so if normal conditions prevail in the country.

Therefore, secondly, those who belong to the small section of the Hindu community that is unhappy with the BJP would be chasing a chimera if they thought that a "critical mass" of Hindus would some day bring a "Hindu political party" to power in India on a "Hindu political agenda". Apart from the impossibility of achieving this task, what should be noted is that this task is also undemocratic and not in the interests of the nation. For any pursuit of an agenda to create a critical mass of Hindu support — that is, social Hindus casting their vote for or against a party as religious Hindus — will entail creation of a "Hindu vote-bank". The pernicious effects of vote-bank politics on democracy and national life need no elaboration. All of us know the harm that Muslim vote-bank politics has done to our country.

Thirdly, all the "recriminations and charges of betrayal" were one-sided. The BJP was always at the receiving end of these. Not once has the BJP joined the debate with those who levelled the charges of "betrayal of the Hindu political agenda" against the party. There may have been much erosion of discipline in the BJP in recent years, but in this respect the party conducted itself with remarkable discipline and restraint.

Need for realism on the Ayodhya issue

The discussion paper mentions one of the points of betrayal specifically as "disinclination to press aspects of the Hindu political agenda, particularly over Ayodhya." It takes an extraordinary flight from reality to think that the BJP, which did not have a majority of its own, which was in government along with its allies in the NDA, and which depended crucially on the support of one major party that was not in the government, could have dealt with the Ayodhya issue in a manner substantially different from the way Atalji’s government did.

Of the three ways to move towards the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodya — legislative, judicial and mutual settlement through talks between representatives of the Hindu and Muslim communities — it was obvious to all but the most obdurate that the legislative option was a no-go from the very beginning. The judicial option became more difficult and remote after the needlessly confrontationist ‘Shila Puja’ campaign in 2002. When the judiciary will pronounce its final verdict on the Ayodhya case, and what that verdict will be, is hard to predict. That leaves the third option — mutual settlement through talks between representatives of the Hindu and Muslim communities. Today there is near unanimity in the BJP that this is the most desirable option before all those who support, with full justification, the cause of reconstruction of a grand Ram Temple at the Ram Janmasthan in Ayodhya. But for this option to gain any degree of seriousness, talks between representatives of Hindu and Muslim communities must first begin. And they can begin, and progress steadily, only in an atmosphere of mutual trust, goodwill and understanding.

However, hopes of such a purposive dialogue were considerably jolted by the communal violence in Gujarat in 2002. It is not out of place to mention that the communal violence in Gujarat hardened the Supreme Court’s attitude towards the Ayodhya issue when the Shila Puja campaign was undertaken. This closed even the small window of opportunity that Atalji’s government had for making any kind of executive move in the Ayodhya matter.

In spite of all these difficulties and complications, the NDA government, under Shri Advaniji’s initiative, made sincere efforts to untie the Ayodhya knot. These efforts, in which some progress was indeed achieved, were interrupted by the elections in April-May 2004.

All these facts are well known. Yet, critics continue to hold that the BJP showed "disinclination to press aspects of the Hindu political agenda, particularly over Ayodhya." Is it their understanding that the BJP should have brought this matter to a head, confronted its allies in the NDA by telling them "either be with us or be against us on the Ayodhya issue", dissolved Parliament, and sought a fresh mandate principally on the Ayodhya issue combined with the other issues in the so-called "Hindu political agenda"? Is it their belief that the BJP would have won the mandate? Further, is it their claim that, with such number of seats in the Lok Sabha as it might possibly have secured, a BJP government or a BJP-led government could have proceeded with the construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya disregarding all the judicial hurdles, Muslim resistance and Hindu disinclination for precipitate action?

Let it be recalled that no previous PM spoke — both in and outside Parliament — as categorically about the desirability of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya as Atalji did. As the head of a coalition government in which no partner, except one (what that partner has said about a solution to the Ayodhya dispute is another matter), wanted anything said or done about the issue, what Atalji did in the matter deserves appreciation, not baseless criticism.

Were BJP leaders ‘copycat secularists’?

The paper also alleges that the NDA/ BJP was unable to "create an intellectual and political climate conducive to a Hindu resurgence," and mentions the "temptation of leaders to be copycat secularists, particularly on issues centred on Pakistan." I shall express my thoughts on a Hindu resurgence later. But, first, the serious charge that the BJP leaders — who else if not Atalji and Advaniji — were showing a temptation to be "copycat secularists", cannot go uncontested.

  • Was Atalji’s bus yatra to Lahore "copycat secularism"?

  • Was the NDA government’s response to Pakistan’s betrayal in Kargil a manifestation of "copycat secularism"?

  • Was the decision to invite Pervez Musharraf to Agra (a decision in which Shri Advaniji played a crucial role) a manifestation of "copycat secularism"?

  • Was Atalji’s decision to let the Indian cricket team tour Pakistan in early 2004 a manifestation of "copycat secularism"?

  • Was the joint statement in Islamabad in January 2004 during Atalji’s visit to Pakistan for the SAARC summit, in which the Pakistan government was compelled, for the first time, to commit itself not to allow anti-India terrorist groups to operate from Pakistan and Pakistan-controlled territory, a manifestation of "copycat secularism"?

  • Was the NDA government’s decision not to mount a military strike on Pakistan after the terrorist attack on our Parliament a manifestation of "copycat secularism"?

If there is any other Pakistan-related issue in which our leaders tried to "copycat secularists", the meet should discuss it.

Are we for or against secularism? Are we sincere in practising what we claim is real secularism?

Frankly, it is high time all those who are committed to a Hindu renaissance and to India’s national resurgence settled two fundamental questions that are at the heart of all the challenges and opportunities before us. "Are we for or against secularism? And are we doing enough to practice even what we ourselves say is genuine secularism — namely sarva panth samabhav?"

The first question is important because, in response to the vicious propaganda of the votaries of pseudo-secularism and minorityism against us, we often tend to reject and frown on secularism itself.

The second question has both moral and political dimensions:

  • If sarva panth samabhav teaches us to respect other faiths, how much respect and goodwill do we in the "Hindu movement" show towards non-Hindu faiths, especially Islam?

  • How much genuine appreciation do we publicly express with regard to the positive aspects of the non-Hindu faiths — in their theology, culture, social practices, character building of individuals?

  • How much concern do we show the genuine socio-economic problems that adherents of non-Hindu faiths, especially Muslims (who are after all our fellow Indians) face?

  • If we are sincere about "justice for all but appeasement of none", isn’t there a need for a non-appeasement approach to the development of the poor among non-Hindus, especially Muslims?

  • Why don’t we feel as much anger and moral outrage when innocent Muslims are killed in communal violence as we rightly do when innocent Hindus are killed? (This point is important because, to this day, the communal carnage in Gujarat has continued to haunt us. And let there be no illusion — even ordinary Hindus and many well-meaning Hindu intellectuals have felt that our conduct in the Gujarat matter in its totality is not without blemish. Yes, the torching of Ram Sevaks at Godhra was a grave provocation. Yes, Pak-backed Muslim extremists were behind it, no doubt about it. Yes, the pseudo-secularists have used the Gujarat episode to mount a vicious and systematic vilification campaign against the BJP, the RSS and its affiliates, both within India and abroad. Yes, the Hindus have every reason to feel angry and alarmed at what the global network of Islamic extremism and terrorism has been doing in Jammu and Kashmir, in other parts of India, and, notably, to the Hindus in Bangladesh. All this is undeniable. But the question we should honestly ask ourselves is: Was enough done to control the violence that took place after Godhra? Is there unanimity in all sections of the ‘Hindu movement’ that it (as also the Godhra carnage) was indeed a ‘kalank’ on our nation and our civilisation? Quite apart from the vilification campaign carried out by our opponents, hasn’t Gujarat — and the irresponsible statements made by some self-styled Hindu leaders devoid of vani sanyam — sullied the image of the Hindu movement, both in India and abroad? Why were concerns expressed by responsible Hindu leaders and nationalist commentators that ‘Talibani’ tendencies were manifesting in the Hindu movement? A final point. In the life of a nation, tragedies do occur sometimes. But shouldn’t we collectively, in cooperation with other socio-religious-political constituents and governments of the day, deliberate on how to prevent repeats of such barbaric violence on this sacred soil of Bharat? We need serious and sincere introspection on all these questions.)

Must we copycat pseudo-secularists by looking at Muslims only as voters — not as equal citizens?

How we in the BJP — and all those in the larger Hindu movement — answer the above questions will determine whether the BJP’s place in national politics will expand or contract. By now, every objective elections analysis has established, without the thinnest shadow of doubt, that with zero or insignificant support of our Muslim brethren, no party in India can aspire to have a majority of its own in Parliament. And should a party like the BJP even come to power in alliance with other parties, we’d be living in a fool’s paradise if we thought that we can retain power from one election to another by ignoring Muslims altogether.

We may or may not like it, but here is the inescapable truth of Indian democracy — at best, the BJP will remain one of the important poles in Indian politics and, at worst, it will become a slightly larger version of the Hindu Mahasabha. But, with a narrow "Hindu-only" approach, never will it occupy the kind of dominant position in Indian politics that the Congress once enjoyed. It will also hamper our efforts to forge durable alliances in different States and also at the national level. In fact, this narrow approach is the surest way of allowing the Nehru-Indira-Rajiv-Sonia-Rajiv dynasty to remain alive, and as a dominant player, in Indian politics.

Let us be clear about one thing: without a robust nationalist party that is wedded to the ideals of democracy, secularism and egalitarianism; that has a strong and durable support base in all sections of our diverse society and in all regions of our vast country; that has mastered the art of good governance; that has a big vision and an ambitious transformational (as against a status-quoist) agenda; and that has the determination to govern India for a prolonged period of time, we’ll never be able to build an India of our dreams: strong, prosperous, free of poverty, culturally resurgent, and with an awaaz and shakti in the international arena capable of helping mankind to come out of its present troubles.

However, all too often we come across an opinion that is widespread in the articulate sections of the Hindu movement. The BJP should not strive to reach out to common Muslims because "Muslims will not vote for the BJP anyway". This thinking is fraught with two dangers.

One, the mindset that reckons that "since Muslims do not vote for us, we should not bother about them nor care for their problems and aspirations" is simply the flip side of what we in the BJP rightly accuse the pseudo-secular parties of. Both approaches treat Indian Muslims as mere voters and not as citizens deserving equal attention.

The second danger is even more obvious, and I have alluded to it earlier. The BJP’s apathy — not to speak of a perceived antipathy — towards Indian Muslims, who number at least 15 crore, means that we’ll be gifting almost all the Muslim votes on a platter to our opponents. This will enable our political opponents, especially the Congress, to have a considerable initial advantage over the BJP in vote-share terms. In at least 70-100 Lok Sabha seats, this assured initial advantage is enough to ensure the defeat of BJP candidates, and thereby prevent the BJP from becoming the dominant party in Parliament and the ruling party in the country. At a time when even some sections of the traditional Hindu voters of the BJP in UP, Bihar and other States are seen to be deserting our party, one can clearly see what is in store for the BJP in the coming years if we continue to smugly say: "We don’t care if pseudo-secular parties take all the Muslim votes, since Muslims will anyway never vote for us."

Our self-imposed obligation to make the BJP ‘Sarva Sparshi and Sarva Vyapi

During the six-years of the Vajpayee government, and especially after our defeat in the 2004 elections, some of our well-meaning critics have opined that we lost because the BJP and the government it led "tried to be all things to all people." The insinuation again is that we were trying to appease this or that section of the Indian society who are not our core voters.

The question that this criticism provokes in me is: Why are we in politics if we cannot be all things to all Indian people, if we cannot or do not want to look at every section of Indian society with sama drishti? Can we be all things to some people, and only some things to some people? I think this is neither Raj Neeti (when we are not in power) nor Raj Dharma (when we are in power). The BJP has decided for itself to be a party that aspires to become "Sarva Sparshi and Sarva Vyapi." We would be doing injustice to this aspiration if we did not continue to make concerted efforts, in spite of all the difficulties we face and all the setbacks we receive, to touch (sparsh) the hearts and minds of every section of Indian society that is today outside our influence. This is not only our self-evident political need, but it is also an ideological obligation we have placed on ourselves...


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