Sunday, August 23, 2009

BJP in need of moral integrity (August 24, 2009)

Swapan Dasgupta
There’s a lovely story which Diana Mosley (nee Mitford) once narrated in a book review. A famous writer, it seems, was terminally ill and dying. As a last resort, his doctor called a specialist for a second opinion. The specialist examined the patient from head to foot and pronounced him healthy. The next morning the writer, realising the end was imminent, called his regular doctor and, with a smile on his face, exclaimed, “I die knowing I am a healthy man.”

At the risk of somewhat overstating the case, the black humour of the writer can be compared to the affability of the BJP national president. Speaking to the media last Friday afternoon at the conclusion of the three-day chintan baithak, the gentleman in question revealed a secret that had hitherto not permeated the defences of The Peterhof in Shimla. Eyes gleaming and fingers frenetically emulating the deadly spin of a Muralitharan, he let out that all was well in the party and that LK Advani was feeling rather “jolly”.

In the coming weeks Advani will presumably elaborate on the reasons for his exhilaration. At the risk of being dubbed a party-pooper, it would be fair that as far as the ranks of the BJP are concerned, the party president should have looked up the Thesaurus to find the antonym of “jolly” to describe the mood. To say that the sentiment in the BJP is distinctly downbeat would be an understatement; the party is positively devastated.

The chintan baithak was accompanied by a number of bush fires that cumulatively threaten to bring down an edifice painstakingly built through hard work, sacrifice and wisdom over the past 29 years.

First there was the furore over the Parliamentary Board’s directive to sack Vasundhara Raje as Leader of Opposition in Rajasthan, despite her proving she has a clear majority support of MLAs.

Second, there was the graceless expulsion of Jaswant Singh for what appeared to be the
crime of having written a quasi-academic book challenging the nationalist consensus on Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the partition of India. True, the reasons for the party’s exasperation with the highly individualistic Jaswant were more complex and feelings against him had been mounting. To the untrained eye, however, the expulsion appeared as acts of spite and intolerance. Worse, it was also perceived as a case of double standards.

Finally, there was the media “leak” of what purported to be the Bal Apte committee report on the BJP’s defeat in the Lok Sabha poll. To gauge what really ails the BJP, it is worthwhile dwelling on the final embarrassment. It is an eye-opener.

At the risk of offending a media that had assumed proprietorial stakes in the report, the authorship of the document has to be clarified. It is understood that at the chintan, a senior leader asked Apte if he had read what was being circulated in his name. The veteran from Mumbai was compelled to shake his head shamefacedly in denial. The leadership was not, therefore, being disingenuous when it told a hungry and expectant media that there was no such report. Nor was it an untruth that discussion of such a report was not scheduled. Yet, it is a fact that the document in question was included in the bag given to all delegates. It was ostensibly meant as background reading but few of the delegates had even bothered to even look at it.

The mysterious inclusion of this document, which was neither authored nor approved by Apte, among the papers circulated at the chintan, prompts two conclusions. First, there was no one who had actually read the bumf that was being put inside the delegates’ briefcases. The make-believe was, presumably, given the same importance as glossy tourist brochures and booklets on the achievements of the host Government that the bureaucratic minders of politicians feel is obligatory to make a good impression.
The casual and surreptitious manner in which the non-report was smuggled into the delegation papers leads inevitably to an awkward conclusion: The slim document was put there in the certainty that its contents would be divulged to the media. It was written with that objective in mind. This may explain the careful finger-pointing and some inexplicable omissions.

The BJP has been conducting its own inquiry of how this document got into the kit for delegates, who wrote it, who divulged it to the media, etc. What this inquiry is likely to throw up is of no consequence to us. What is relevant, however, is the phenomenon of internal sabotage.

The BJP has many problems confronting it. Some of these relating to political positioning, ideological issues and the choice of future leaders are complex, require a great deal of honest soul-searching and unworthy of knee-jerk solutions. They will have to be addressed over time.

What don’t require prolonged deliberations are issues that centre on integrity. Over the past three years, the most significant change in the BJP has been a vitiated internal regime and a climate of distrust. This is worse than the ordinary faction fights which are part and parcel of politics. The no-holds-barred attempts to discredit particular leaders, create embarrassments and wilfully light bush fires have led to a moral debilitation that in turn has created political complications. The kerfuffle over the Apte non-report is as good an example as any to highlight the rot.
In the past, such problems were nipped in the bud by individuals who played the role of both counsellor and umpire. The system has broken down because of the perception that the umpires are no longer neutral.

The RSS chief has rightly spoken of the need for factional fights to end. His appeal will make sense if the root of the problem is unearthed. The BJP can live with ideological deviation; it will collapse if moral integrity isn’t restored.

Sunday Pioneer, August 23, 2009

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