Sunday, June 04, 2006

Admit follies, get redemption (June 4, 2006)

By Swapan Dasgupta

A thousand years ago, the Arab traveller Al-Biruni noted presciently that Hindus lacked a sense of history. He was, of course, referring to the Hindu disdain for chronology, documentation and antiquity. Yet, he could just as well have been referring to a common Hindu failure to separate history from either eulogy or demonology—a failure that is at the root of many contemporary controversies.

As a self-confessed upholder of the Hindu inheritance, the BJP is particularly prone to the national inability to cope with the past. Since that terrible tragedy in Mumbai, a distraught party leadership aided by a cynical media, went completely overboard in projecting the late Pramod Mahajan as a political Superman. By a resounding voice vote, the former general secretary was crowned the best king the BJP never had.

That Pramod was a dynamic functionary, adept at networking and improvisation was never in doubt. Every political party needs someone like him. Yet, it is a commentary on the intellectual bankruptcy that has afflicted the party that qualities of expediency, sometimes verging on skulduggery, were elevated into godly virtue. There were a lot of things about Mahajan and his political style that were morally and ethically suspect—and these were known to the party and RSS leadership. In deifying everything about the man, the party leadership wilfully put a seal of approval on everything Mahajan epitomised.

So blinded was the leadership that it even chose to inject dynastic inheritance into the party’s organisation. It is hardly a state secret that Rahul Mahajan would have been anointed a vice president of the party’s youth wing sometime in June as a reward for being his father’s son—a process that would also have legitimised the inevitable induction of some of his father’s more suspect associates into positions of influence. It is also whispered that the Rahul Mahajan precedent was to be cited to foist other sons and daughters into leadership positions.

The deification of Mahajan was not an act of innocent simple-mindedness. It was symptomatic of a larger rot that is destroying the BJP. The lifestyle deficiencies of Rahul that led to a former residence of Atal Bihari Vajpayee being turned into the venue of a very unwholesome gathering last Thursday night was not exactly unknown to those who mattered. Yet, these awkward issues were conveniently brushed under the carpet. Was it a simple case of honouring Mahajan by accommodating Rahul? Or were there other considerations?

Some of these questions cannot be answered conclusively but the public mind has been poisoned. The saturation TV coverage of the unnatural death of Bibek Moitra and alleged eyewitness accounts of how a Rs 500 note was used to snort some lethal white powder, the night before Mahajan’s ashes were to be ceremonially immersed in the Brahmaputra, don’t amount to an indictment of one spoilt brat. They amount to a vote of no-confidence in an entire body of individuals who had wilfully brushed uncomfortable questions aside for reasons that can best be described as collateral.

What we have witnessed in the BJP in recent times is the institutionalisation of duplicity. It is this distortion that has led to the party leadership refusing to read the lessons from the party’s debacle in the four Assembly elections, putting astrology before common sense and hoping that a natural process of anti-incumbency will see the BJP back in power in Delhi before too long. In his speech to the national executive, the party president stressed the importance of inner-party democracy. But how can you have a healthy democracy if every sceptical note is accompanied by charges of disloyalty and every hint of media criticism leads to the shooting of the messenger?

An organisation can only redeem itself if it acknowledges that it is in need of redemption. It has taken the sordid Rahul Mahajan controversy to bring out the extent of the rot. But surely things won’t get better if the BJP deludes itself into believing that coke is just the name of a soft drink.

(Published in Sunday Pioneer, June 4, 2006)

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