Thursday, October 28, 2004

India: Return of Advani


Advani became the deputy prime minister in the wake of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, when the party was seriously considering “repeating Gujarat” in other states as an election strategy. He has become the de jure BJP president for the third time after the second major electoral debacle in a year (in Maharaashtra). If the party returns to its “roots” after every such rebuff, it becomes doubly rabid in its reaction to a double defeat. Until then, Advani, the ‘ideologue’ and others of the parivar will make do with other issues. Like the ‘demographic invasion’ from Bangladesh, combined with the ‘conspiracy’ of India’s own minorities to breed so fast as to deprive the country and the BJP of a Hindu majority — within a few centuries.

Return of Advani
J Sri Raman

Advani became de facto president of the party soon after its debacle in the general election, just as Atal Bihari Vajpayee was before that. Officially, Venkaiah Naidu held the post from July 2002, but everyone knew all along he was a proxy. Naidu was only a façade for the party, as distinguished from its two faces over the past three decades

When Lal Krishna Advani became deputy prime minister on June 29, 2002, in the government that the people of India voted against six months ago, he said that the appointment only formalised a de facto position. He could have said the same thing about his becoming the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) once again last week.

Advani became de facto president of the party soon after its debacle in the general election, just as Atal Bihari Vajpayee was before that. Officially, Venkaiah Naidu held the post from July 2002, but everyone knew all along he was a proxy. Naidu was only a façade for the party, as distinguished from its two faces over the past three decades.

Advani has been the face of the party during periods of constituency-building, and Vajpayee the face or the ‘mask’ (as someone described him) in times of coalition-building. In proximity to power and in quest for allies, the party has put on the mask of Vajpayee ‘moderation’. When rebuffed by the electorate, it has repeatedly returned to its “roots” — of an Advani-articulated ideology and politics of revanchism.

Advani became the deputy prime minister in the wake of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, when the party was seriously considering “repeating Gujarat” in other states as an election strategy. He has become the de jure BJP president for the third time after the second major electoral debacle in a year (in Maharaashtra). If the party returns to its “roots” after every such rebuff, it becomes doubly rabid in its reaction to a double defeat.

The precise form the far-right reaction will take is not immediately predictable. The party and the parivar (the fascist ‘family’, of which the BJP is but the political front) have not made up their collective, communalist mind on this. The party’s agitprop programme may not include Ayodhya for some time, despite considerable pressure from the rest of the parivar, some members of which have even called for “an alternative to the BJP”.

The BJP may also put on its overused “back burner” (on which, while in power, it put its pet issues that put off allies) yet another theme of diminishing political returns. It may do so, especially if Advani heeds the counsel of his most ardently loyal constituency in the parivar. This constituency of English-speaking fascists has extreme contempt for their Hindi-speaking counterparts no less than for Lalu Prasads and their flock of the same linguistic handicap. This is the constituency, claiming some media luminaries among its members, which ridiculed the pseudo-religious chants that greeted Pokharan II but still went into raptures over the event.

This constituency is now counselling a soft-pedalling of the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin. Without doubt, this is wise, if belated, counsel. Credit for making the Congress president a vote-catcher goes to BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, who threatened to cut off her tresses if Gandhi became the prime minister, and to Maharashtra’s Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray who cast doubts on the gender of Congressmen for following a woman of foreign origin.

It is not as if the entire constituency advised abandonment of the issue forever. One of the advisers, a ‘rightwing ideologue’ as he likes to be labelled, has gone on record, asking the BJP to acquire the ‘virtue’ of patience and assuring it that the time to take on the “Italian interloper” will come in due course.

Until then, Advani, the ‘ideologue’ and others of the parivar will make do with other issues. Like the ‘demographic invasion’ from Bangladesh, combined with the ‘conspiracy’ of India’s own minorities to breed so fast as to deprive the country and the BJP of a Hindu majority — within a few centuries.

There will be no dearth of issues, in fact, as the party can derive any number of them from its ‘cultural nationalism’. The idea of protecting the nation’s ‘culture’ — from not only alien cultures but also from those of aliens within — conjures mouth-watering prospects of a myriad social conflicts that the BJP and the parivar can thrive on for all times. Provided, of course, that the communal proportions of the country’s population are preserved.

This does not warrant the unduly optimistic assumption that, with the BJP’s return to its ‘roots’ and Advani’s to his august party post, India is about to witness an ideological struggle. The two elections themselves witnessed no such struggle. The Congress, which won the elections without engaging in an ideological combat, hopes it can indefinitely avoid the arduous and unfamiliar task.

It is certainly not countering the BJP campaign of ‘cultural nationalism’ with its talk of bijli, sarak, aur pani (electricity, roads, and water). The answer to the campaign is to argue and convince the common people that the ‘nationalism’ of the parivar run counter to India’s culture of pluralism.

The writer is a journalist and peace activist based in Chennai, India

Daily Times 28/10/2004