Sudheendra Kulkarni : Sun Apr 28 2013, 03:29 hrs
In the life journey of individuals and organisations, the past never imprisons the present and predetermines the future. We have the freedom to will a different future. And if circumstances shackle us from moving ahead in the desired direction, our actions, provided they are strongly willed and intelligently executed, can change the circumstances.
But what about a political party that is unwilling to challenge the circumstances for the fear that the shackles may be broken?
The Bharatiya Janata Party is at present facing its ‘JP moment’—JP here connoting, not by coincidence, both the Janata Party and its venerable creator Jayaprakash Narayan. The BJP is under two contradictory pressures. One looks to a future where it could well emerge as the unifier of many non-Congress parties for the creation of a stable, strong and superior alternative to the Congress. The other looks to an imagined past when the BJP was essentially a go-it-alone party. Votaries of this latter line believe that other parties would automatically accept the BJP’s leadership when it becomes sufficiently big in electoral terms by following its own restrictive (largely Hindus-only) ideology.
I have deliberately refrained here from identifying the BJP’s past with its predecessor, Bharatiya Jana Sangh (1951-77). This is because the BJS, under the guidance of Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya—a widely respected philosopher-politician—had even then showed a strong preference for transforming itself ideologically as an inclusive party and also for building alliances with other non-Congress parties, including the Communists. After Upadhyaya’s mysterious assassination in 1968, history placed a stark choice before the Jana Sangh in 1974: whether or not to accept JP’s invitation to join his broadbased anti-Congress movement. Jana Sangh, then led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and its president L K Advani, decided to follow JP. What Advani said at a crucial party conclave in Hyderabad, which approved this decision, is enormously relevant to the BJP in 2013-14. “We in the Jana Sangh have reached a point where further growth can be achieved and the dominance of the Congress ended only by joining hands with others who share this objective.”
In other words, both Vajpayee and Advani had come to the conclusion that the Jana Sangh’s growth had peaked and alliance-building had become an existential imperative. So strong was their realisation that, when JP invited them to join the Janata Party in January 1977, they took the bold decision of dissolving the BJS and merging it into the newly formed party. This decision was greatly influenced by the cataclysmic episode of the Emergency (1975-77), JP’s inspiring leadership of the struggle for defence of democracy, and BJS leaders’ own spirited participation in it.
Understanding of history is as indispensable for serious politicians as the rear-view mirror is for a car driver. Hence, if this flashback to the four-decade-old events shows us anything, it is simply this: the BJP today has reached its peak. Rather, it has slipped considerably from its own highest electoral watermark, achieved in the 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections (182 seats). Its future growth is possible only if BJP leaders re-learn the lessons of their ‘JP moment’.
Lesson one: JP’s Janata Party experiment was essentially about fighting corruption in the system, defending democracy, safeguarding its institutions from misuse, and providing better governance (whose need is being felt far more today). Two: since the Congress government embodied these ills, it was an attempt to end the ruling party’s dominance by forming a large non-Congress, non-Communist platform. Three: JP had sagaciously realised that a common organisational platform needed a strong and commonly acceptable ideological-political-programmatic foundation. Unfortunately, he died before he could translate his realisation into reality. Even though the Janata Party disintegrated soon thereafter, isn’t each of the above-mentioned lessons valid even today for the BJP?
Indeed, despite their humiliating experience in the Janata Party, Vajpayee, Advani and their colleagues from the erstwhile BJS wisely acknowledged the value of the ‘JP moment’ when they established their own separate party in 1980. Rejecting the suggestion to revive the Jana Sangh, they opted for historical continuity by naming the new formation Bharatiya Janata Party.
To its credit, the BJP has indeed learnt some of these lessons. Formation of the Vajpayee-led NDA government was a creative repeat of the JP experiment in a new format. However, it also incontrovertibly proved that the BJP cannot build, much less sustain, a broadbased alliance by following its Hindutva ideology. Yet, ever since its debacle in 2004, the party has allowed itself to be misled by forces in the Sangh Parivar to think that expansion of its Hindu vote bank will propel its future growth.
It’s high time the BJP realised it cannot have a jhanda (flag or identity) for its own growth that contradicts the agenda necessary for alliance expansion. It has to understand and accept India in all its diversity, which will require it to re-interpret its nationalist ideology and redefine its relationship with the RSS (an accidental necessity from the past; also one of the factors behind the Janata Party’s disintegration). It has to honestly follow the same strategy—based on social inclusion, good governance and integral national development—for both self-development and alliance-development. Specifically, it must make sincere and sustained efforts to end its alienation from the Muslim community. If it does all this, India might well see—especially when the Congress is no longer as dominant now as it was then—re-birth of the Janata Party as JP had envisioned it, with the BJP as its leader.