last two decades, while LK Advani’s ‘rath yatra’ brought aggressive Hindutva to the fore mobilising its hardcore support base, the experience of the 13-day AB Vajpayee government in 1996 made them realise that such support alone was insufficient to capture power and that they needed allies. Thus was born the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the 1998-2004 Vajpayee government.
The need for allies, however, forced the BJP to put its Hindutva agenda on the backburner. This, in turn, made the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) uncomfortable and also alienated the party’s hardcore support base. When Advani attempted to broaden the BJP’s appeal by speaking favourably about Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s secular credentials, the RSS forced him to quit as the BJP president.
Advani’s presumption, expecting support from Indian Muslims on this count, was outrageous. In the 1951 census, the first after partition, India had 374 lakh Muslims while West Pakistan had 337 lakh Muslims. More Muslims stayed back in India because this was their place of birth and this is where they chose to live and die. It was preposterous to expect them to be enamoured by Jinnah’s two-nation theory that left in its trail 10 lakh dead and 150 lakh refugees.
If portraying Jinnah in favourable light led to the expulsion of Jaswant Singh because it went against “the core ideology” of the RSS-BJP on the grounds of the two-nation theory, then what does the BJP have to say about Veer Savarkar, who, three years before Jinnah’s Muslim League , advanced the two-nation theory at Lahore in 1940. In his 1937 presidential address to the Hindu Mahasabha, he said: “India cannot be assumed today to be a unitarian and homogeneous nation, but on the contrary, there are two nations, in the main, the Hindus and the Muslims”. Jinnah was only carrying forward the “cherished mission” of Savarkar, whose portrait was so ceremoniously put up in Parliament by the Vajpayee government.
Clearly, the ideological battle between the three visions, which emerged during the course of our freedom struggle in the decade of the 1920s, continues to impact the consolidation of the modern secular democratic Indian republic. The mainstream vision, represented by the Congress, envisioned independent India to be a secular democratic republic. Distinct yet not antagonistic was the Left vision that wanted to transform the political independence of the country into the economic independence of our people, i.e. establishment of socialism.
The right-wing vision, however, was always distinct, antagonistic and conflicting. It envisaged independent India to be a country whose character was defined by religion. This vision found twin expression in the RSS that advocated its fascistic ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and the Muslim League that pushed for a separate Islamic state.
The fact that Jinnah succeeded and the mainstream vision prevailed in India created conditions that culminated in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. In order to obfuscate the role of the RSS and its political arm, today they are attempting to appropriate Congress’ ‘man of steel’ Sardar Patel and also trying to forge a link with the freedom struggle where there was none.
In a government communique (February 4, 1948) Sardar Patel, who was then the Union Home Minister, announced the ban on the RSS by stating “the objectionable and harmful activities of the Sangh have, however, continued unabated and the cult of violence sponsored and inspired by the activities of the Sangh has claimed many victims. The latest and the most precious to fall was Gandhiji himself”.
Advani now says that this was done at the behest of Jawaharlal Nehru. Even if that was the case, their appropriation of Patel remains inexplicable. On November 14, 1948, Patel issued a ‘press note’ on the talks that were held with the then RSS chief, MS Golwalkar, who made many deceitful compromises. This informs that the “professions of RSS leaders are, however, quite inconsistent with the practice of its followers” and Patel refused to withdraw the ban. A further request by Golwalkar for a meeting was refused by Patel who ordered his return to Nagpur. It was only on July 11, 1949, that the ban was withdrawn when the RSS accepted the conditions set by the government including that it shall remain a “cultural organisation” “eschewing secrecy and abjuring violence”.
The current identity crisis in BJP is due to the irreconcilable contradiction that we spoke of at the beginning of the column. The BJP’s crisis and the increasing control of the RSS over it is a grave challenge for India’s secular democratic fabric.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP