A brief visit recently to the bustling Indian capital –New Delhi brought me face to face with some of the contradictions that flow from the attitudes of several right wing Indians, particularly the followers of the embattled Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its parent organization Rashtria Swamysevak Sangh and similar entities – the proponents of Hindutva.
Only a few days earlier Jaswant Singh’s voluminous book “Jinnah, India, Partition, Independence,” had appeared and probably few would have imagined that Singh’s praise for Jinnah and criticism of Nehru and Sardar Patel, the first home minister, in his book would kick up a storm that eventually swept him from the party. The whirlwind “Chintan Bhaitak” of the BJP at Simla turned out to be a summary military court for Singh. The meeting on August 18 decided to expel Jaswant Singh from the party for “writing against the ideology of the BJP.” He was given no chance for explanation and the conveyed the decision over phone.
It amounted to a summary dismissal of an ex foreign minister, who had for long stood along ex premier Vajpayee and Advani, who himself had endured a similar fate over four years ago; in 2005, the party veteran L.K.Advani endured all possible insults when he admired Mohammad Ali Jinnah – the Quaid-e-Azam – as a secular Muslim leader. His admiration of Jinnah kicked off a storm that eventually forced Advani to practically apologize for praising Jinnah.
Singh himself condemned his expulsion as an attack on the fundamental right of thought, that too by a party that has dominated the political scene within the world’s largest democracy.
Within two days of Singh’s ignominious ouster from the BJP – ostensibly under pressure by the extremist nationalist RSS – an erstwhile speech-writer of Advani, Sudheendra Kulkarni quit the party, saying wanted freedom of expression.
Though Kulkarni insisted that his decision had nothing to do with the ouster of Jaswant Singh, yet he made it quite clear that “I want to have the freedom to express my views and be sincere to my convictions. At the same time, I respect the discipline of the party and, therefore, I have stepped out.” “From now on I will be totally independent. I will work with like-minded members of other parties…” Kulkarni told one of the private TV news channels.
It was quite clearly a direct swipe at Sushma Swraj, one of the central BJP leaders, who had justified Singh’s expulsion as violation of the party ideology.
Kulkarni had been critical of the party’s election campaign strategy, and had invited the wrath of the RSS when he wrote about Sangh Parivar “interference” in BJP’s functioning. In a newspaper article on August 22, Kulkarni had been highly critical of the way Jaswant Singh was expelled from BJP at its Shimla conclave – under the RSS pressure.
And on Aug 24, the turmoil and discontent in the Bharatiya Janata Party deepened further as another senior leader and MP Arun Shourie made a televised all-out attack on party president Rajnath Singh, describing him as “Alice in Blunderland” and “Humpty Dumpty.”
Within five days after the expulsion of party veteran Jaswant Singh, the “shock” delivered by Mr. Shourie — who complained that no action had been taken by Mr. Rajnath Singh on a letter he had written to him confidentially — is expected to lead to yet another high-profile exit from the party. Some party leaders said Mr. Shourie’s expulsion was imminent.
While Mr. Jaswant Singh earlier described the RSS as a “shadowy organization” and said no political party could afford to be dictated to by such an outfit, Mr. Shourie said it was time for the RSS to “take over” the BJP and described its current president as a kati patang, a kite that has been cut and is up for grabs.
What does it mean for Pakistan?
What does it mean for Pakistan and those Pakistanis who keep hoping that the right wing nationalist Indians – the flag-bearers of the Hindutva – would gradually shun their direct or indirect rejection of Pakistan?
Singh’s hasty removal from the party essentially exposes the paradoxes that the right wing Indians live in; the entire affair flies in the face of the Indian claims to secularism, democracy, the endeavor for socio-economic justice, and above all the desire to view Pakistan favorably.
Based on what Jaswant Singh has been saying in the aftermath of his ignominious expulsion, the immediate reaction is as to how can a party riddled with contradictions hope to improve relations with a neighbor which the hard-liners within and outside the Indian establishment view as a constant pain. For instance, after ex US foreign secretary Madeline Albright’s characterization of Pakistan as an “international migraine” early this year, Arun Purie, the editor of India Today, for instance went a step forward in one of his editorials by calling Pakistan a “malignant cancer.” This way Puri had essentially echoed the Hindu nationalists.
Arun Puri’s “characterization of Pakistan notwithstanding, what strikes one during discussions in the capital that nationalists continue to dominate the debate on relations with Pakistan and also appear to be determining the course of policy toward a country they believe continues to be rogue and ruthless vis-à-vis Indian interests.
A number of friends tried to play down Singh’s expulsion as a result of BJP’s internal squabbling and absence of real leadership. They also tended to paint Singh “not as secular as he claims to be in his praise for Jinnah.” Many also play down the furor over his book by saying that “it was not Jinnah’s praise but criticism on Sardar Patel that brought Jaswant Singh so much opposition.”
Some also pointed out that Singh’s entire family was up in arms when his son married a Muslim girl and they all made sure that he divorces her. They could not swallow the marriage and that is why the poor girl from a known family received the verbal divorce on a bus stand in Darjeeling.
The Singh expulsion also raises questions about BJP’s commitment to protecting non-Hindu Indian citizens.
For instance, Jaswant Singh claimed in one of several TV programmes that the former home minister Advani had stopped Atal Bihari from taking action against Narendra Modi over the 2002 riots, stating such an action could trigger uproar in the party. Prime Minister Vajpayee was “disturbed” and wrote down his resignation letter in his Parliamentary office. “Parliament was in session,” Singh said.
“He (Vajpayee) pulled a piece of paper and he started writing his resignation by hand. I held his hand and he looked at me severely and I said what are you doing. Don’t do this. He said “chor do” and I somehow I persuaded him. We went to his house. We were able to defuse the situation,” Singh said.
This essentially underscores that the BJP top brass was afraid of the RSS and the likes of Shive Sena and thus chickened out when confronted with the choice of fixing people responsible for the 2002 pogroms that had left hundreds of Muslims dead in the Gujarat state.
For most of Indian policy analysts this “silence over crimes in Gujrat” doenst constitute any contradiction within BJP. It is mere internal politics. But the real issue at hand is; whether it is attacks on Indian Muslims, or anything that relates to Pakistan, it seems a non-starter for the BJP. The vicious reaction to Advani’s Pakistan visit in 2005 and the hate-campaign mounted on Jaswant Singh are just two glimpses of a mindset that refuses to see Pakistan in good light at all.
Most analysts still sound skeptical of the Pakistan army and the ISI. They also doubt the intentions behind the Malakand Operation. Neither is they willing to give any space to the Pakistani establishment for getting rid of the non-state actors such as Lashkar Taiba or Jamat-ud-Dawa. No doubt these two have been roaring against India and have been responsible for a lot of acts of violence including the Mumbai attacks. But the presumption in New Delhi –within the hardliners’ camp – is that it all happened with the blessings of the establishment, and that the Pakistani army continues to use these outfits for its strategic objectives. This frame of mind obviously obstructs any movement forward.
Besides, this also empowers the hardliners within Pakistan with arguments against normalization of relations with India. With the kind of noises the Indian rights has made over Advani (2005) and Jaswant Singh (Aug 2009), little hope remains for those Pakistani who have been advocating for improvement of relations with Delhi through a sustained dialogue – regardless of where and when militants strike in India or Pakistan.