[Please read Part 1 of this post before reading this. It has the context for this post as well as links on the basis of which I have based my assessment of Jaswant Singh’s book.]
Two questions naturally arise from all this.
The first one: Why did Jaswant Singh write this book?
Was the controversial theme something he really does not believe in, merely a ruse to sell the book in the same way that Jaswant’s revelation of a “mole” in the top echelons of the government, a name he refused to divulge most possibly because there was none, in his last book was? I would say not. While Jaswant Singh and his publishers were possibly well aware of how the uproar would help the bottom line, I doubt whether the book was exclusively written for the sake of controversy-driven sales.
No. Jaswant Singh’s book comes from genuine deep-seated conviction. More precisely an immense distaste of the Congress. I am going out on a limb here but I speculate that this hatred might be a royalist’s reaction to the way the princely states were treated by the Congress with Sardar Patel intimidating and brow-beating the kingdoms to join the Union of India and with Jawaharlal Nehru, with his refusal to accept any kind of challenge to his authority, providing the consistent political pressure for the assimilation of the princely states.
To people with royal Rajput connections like Jaswant Singh, what the Congress achieved in the name of “national unification” was nothing but conquest by democracy, the will of the “majority” taking away from the raja-log what they perceived to be their birth right (yes as pointed out here, shades of Dukey Bana of “Gulaal”) with the last blow being dealt by Indira Gandhi who, in a populist measure, went back on the promises given to the kings during independence and cut off their privy purses. It may not be a coincidence that it was around about this time that Jaswant Singh joined politics.
In Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the bete noire of Congress’s greatest generation, Jaswant Singh finds someone with whom he shares a hatred of the Congress and for very similar reasons. Jinnah too was solidly against Congress majoritarianism, the power of the sweaty masses awakened by Gandhi’s taking politics to the people, creating a juggernaut that Jinnah saw as one that would obliterate the rights of minority Muslims. Also Jinnah regarded Nehru’s single-minded opposition to a denomination-based federal structure a sign of Hindu power-hungriness and an expression of his insensitivity towards the concerns of minorities.
If you read Jaswant Singh’s interviews (again I have not read the book), you will note that these are the exact two points on which he sides most strongly with Jinnah—-his supposedly justified fear of Congress majoritarianism (“it is the will of the majority and so it will be”) and his opposition to Nehru’s “Western European” ideal of strong centrally administered nation-state, one that Jinnah felt blinded the Congress to the possibility of the creation of “spaces” for minorities—–a “Pakistan inside India”. It is here that Jinnah’s animus towards the Congress melds into that of Jaswant Singh’s (albeit in different contexts) which explains why Jaswant Singh admires Jinnah, blames the Congress for Partition far more than they should be, and repeats the Pakistani-Marxist canard that Muslims are isolated, confused and abandoned in India, if only to try to show the failure of Nehru’s vision.
The second question. Why, if he possesses views that are so contrary to his party’s ideology, did Jaswant Singh stay on in the party for thirty years?
Now as to why Jaswant Singh stayed in the BJP for so long, the answer is not difficult. Over the years the BJP has come to define itself by its Ram Mandir electoral plank. However there is another ideological thread that runs through its lifespan—-trenchant anti-Congressism. In the 70s, when Jaswant Singh came into politics the Congress was the 800 pound gorilla in the electoral landscape and politics was driven by whether you were for or against the grand old party. Since Jaswant Singh was so obviously against the Congress perhaps because of the way it treated the princely states, the BJP was a home for him, even though its obvious he has no truck with some of the deeper Hindutva underpinnings of the party. Over the years as the Congress’s role in Indian politics steadily waned and the BJP sought to define itself on the notion of Hindu pride. Jaswant Singh still stayed in the party as it was, by far, the strongest anti-Congress formation in today’s India . And as long as he kept his personal opinions to himself, the BJP were also fine with his presence since he was one of their better administrators and also a part of their “moderate” face. But now finally their hand has been forced by this book which makes an ex Minister of External Affairs and Finance Minister of India a folk hero in Pakistan.
Which brings me to what people are interested in the most. The BJP reaction to Jaswant’s book, met with almost universal condemnation in the popular press. How justified is the shakedown? In order to do an unbiased assessment, one must look at the decision to expel Jaswant Singh from an ideological as well as pragmatic perspective.
The first. Sardesai asks how BJP can claim to be different from Congress if this is the level of tolerance they show to alternate viewpoints within their own party. I think Sardesai misses the point here when he compares the BJP’s intolerance of Jaswant Singh to the Congress.’s Every party has certain stated ideological “non-negotiables” and Jaswant Singh very clearly stepped out of his organization’s laxman-rekha . Even more than his Jinnah worship and his blaming Indian leaders for partition, its his contention that minorities are forgotten and oppressed in independent India that is very obviously out of the song-book of BJP’s ideological adversaries, using language that BJP has always and without fail dubbed as “pseudo-secularism” and “minority appeasement” . Every organization (political party, corporate body, marital unit) has certain inviolable rules and the organization has the right to take sanctions if you are found to be breaking them—-like publicly declaring that your company’s product is bad or getting caught in bed with a “friend I met at the bar.”
In the last paragraph, I mention the word “stated”. The problem with the Congress is that their most important ideological foundation is not only not “stated” but actually steadfastly denied. Namely that someone from “a certain family” has to be the head of the party. Anyone who fails to “spontaneously” support this certain family is defenestrated. Once Congress makes it clear that anyone who joins the Congress, more than its stated ideals of secularism and socialism, has to agree to this “One Family to rule them all” rule and that there is nothing spontaneous about it, I would have no problem with Congress ejecting people who then violate it.
And now the second perspective. Pragmatism. The one that really counts. Since all of us cynics know that there is just one fundamental ideology uniting political parties—get and hold onto power. Everything else is negotiable.
By that token, BJP’s decision to remove Jaswant Singh, without giving him an opportunity to defend himself, is a total and utter disaster on the scale of “Roop Ki Raani Choron Ka Raja”. It was obvious that with his recent political battle over Raje’s supposed discrediting of Jaswant’s son Manavendra combined with BJP’s “dog eat dog” atmosphere of infighting, Jaswant may very well have been looking for a way out. And with BJP’s precipitate, knee-jerk reaction it has given Jaswant an opportunity to be a “martyr” at the altar of free speech (To see Jaswant Singh’s personal respect for freedom of expression, watch his reaction to the camera as a pressman asks him a question he does not like—link courtesy Sunny Jain) as well as given him invaluable positive press.
When a friend is dissing you out, the immature way to react is to shout and scream, grab him by the collar and weep “How could you? You are no longer my friend”. The more mature way is to gradually isolate him, move him to the restricted list on Facebook and then ultimately remove him from your list, invite other friends to our house for dinner but “forget” to call him and in the unlikely event he is dense enough to call, you politely talk for five minutes and then say you are getting a call on your other line and you will call him back. Which you do not.
Similarly BJP, as a party of supposedly “mature” individuals, needed to make a statement that they did not endorse Jaswant’s viewpoints regarding the apportion of blame for India’s partition and his statement about Indian Muslims. And left it at that, taking the “high moral ground” saying they are not like other parties. Then they should have gently turned the screws on him and his political dynasty. So that when a few months later he left it would not be in a blaze of glory but as an item on Page 5.
This disastrous response is also symptomatic of a larger malaise. After the reversals in the Lok Sabha elections, BJP has no idea as to how they should brand themselves. Should they go anti-Congress with a vengeance? Should they woo the minority vote aggressively? Should they present a more secular, development-oriented face that the urban educated middle-class would appreciate? Or should they fly the saffron flag, embrace the RSS base and hit the road? In the middle of the confusion, they try a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Different leaders pull the party in different directions. And the leadership keeps sending mixed messages. Like their most childish “I am making an example of you” hasty expulsion of Jaswant, in deference to their base—the RSS.
No two ways. In terms of pragmatics, it is a horrible horrible decision, one which has the potential to further sink a party caught already in a leadership and organizational quagmire.
And finally if there is a larger lesson from all of this, it is the realization of the power of history and its ability to spring out from the dry and dusty pages and shape our present and impact our future.
Our history teacher was a wise man.
[As before, be mindful of hateful comments. Moderation will be done. ]