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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 37

Trust Vote, L.K. Advani, Hindutva and RSS

Wednesday 3 September 2008, by Amitava Mukherjee


It is now bonanza time for political ‘pundits’, time for them to editorialise and pontificate on the political shape our country is likely to witness in the aftermath of the UPA Government’s handsome win in the Lok Sabha over the issue of the nuclear agreement with the US. As expected, most of them are prepared to sail in the same boat with the Prime Minister with one ‘pundit’, who had left his position of Assistant Editor in a leading Kolkata-based English daily, joined another so-called leading daily in Delhi and ultimately retired from there, going gaga over the possibility of India veering away from the ideal of non-alignment and joining the American axis. Lots of interviews and signed articles are coming out expressing jubilation at the discomfiture of the Left and the ‘indispensability’ of nuclear power in the future growth of India. But nobody is mentioning that even after the controversial civil nuclear agreement, power derived from nuclear technology would meet only six per cent of India’s total energy output with the remaining 94 per cent coming from other conventional and non-conventional sources.

The man, who mentioned it in the Lok Sabha on the day the confidence motion was moved, was none other than L.K. Advani, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. In the eyes of many, journalists and/or politicians, Advani has now become a villain for mishandling the situation and ultimately squandering away the advantage his party enjoyed before the confidence vote. He is yet to get over the impact of the RSS controlled party organisation on his personality as was proved by his capitulation over the Mohammed Ali Jinnah controversy sometime back. This time also Advani displayed an element of indecision and a lack of control over the parliamentary wing of his party.

For an aspirant for the post of the Prime Minister, this is not at all an encouraging sign. It is now common knowledge that in December last Manmohan Singh had met Atal Behari Vajpayee, Brajesh Mishra and L.K. Advani to apprise them about the details of the civil nuclear agreement. It is also known that all the three were apparently satisfied with Manmohan Singh’s explanations. What prompted Advani to change his mind at a later phase, is not yet clear. Perhaps his trusted lieutenants had advised him that strident opposition to the proposed agreement will be helpful in election time.

It is clear that the BJP is now in a state of confusion as is evident from the party’s attempt to distance itself from Sushma Swaraj’s observation that blasts in Ahmedabad and continuous unearthing of bombs and explosives in Surat were in fact attempts to divert attention from the ‘cash-for-vote’ scandal in the Lok Sabha. Sushma Swaraj is an important leader of the party and it is inconceivable that she had made the comment without any consultation with the BJP top brass.

THE party, particularly its prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani, is groping to chart out a new course. But as yet there is no sign that it has been able to come out of the firm grip of the RSS whose favourite in the BJP is Rajnath Singh, not Advani. The party’s triumph in the last Karnataka Assembly election has opened up a new horizon for it. Although the Congress got more votes than the BJP, the importance of the latter’s victory lies not just in the Ministry-formation but its acceptance by the educated, sophisticated middle and upper middle class, quite distinct from the BJP’s traditional vote-bank of traders and people living neck deep in indigenous beliefs.

As this section enjoys a great amount of importance so far as building opinions is concerned, the Karnataka election offered the BJP a great opportunity to expand its social base. There were other heartening signals too for the party. For a change, it did not rake up religious issues but fought the election on the question of development. Even B.S. Yeddiyurappa, the Chief Minister, talked of developing a composite society.

But all these positive signals suddenly fell flat in the Lok Sabha when Advani, during his lacklustre speech, veered away from the points which affect people’s daily living and unnecessarily harped on sensitive religious issues. Perhaps Advani is trying to bridge the gulf between him and the RSS which nowadays certainly considers Rajnath Singh more reliable.

More interesting is the evolution of Narendra Modi, the Gujarat Chief Minister. For quite some time there have been signals that he is changing his public postures and the restraint he has shown after the latest serial blasts in Ahmedabad certainly conveys a message. It is not yet known whether the RSS has accepted the BJP’s projection of Advani as the party’s prime ministerial candidate. There are reasons to believe that it has not because in the recent past none of the BJP’s traditional demands was voiced by Advani. Rather, it was Rajnath Singh who went all out against the word ‘secular’ in the Indian Constitution or harped on the necessity to enact a common civil code.

The Lok Sabha vote over the confidence motion has resulted in allegations against almost all the principal players. It is true that no such allegation can be levelled at Advani. But the entire drama has exposed his political limitations. In the midst of the debate a bigwig of the Congress had contacted the BJP leaders and proposed that the motion be passed by voice vote. Obviously he was trying to save Advani from any likely embarrassment. It is curious why the Leader of the Opposition pressed for a division.

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