While political pundits wax eloquence on Jaswant Singh's unorthodox expose of Mohammed Ali Jinnah applauding it for its scholastic content, and decry the Bharatiya Janata Party for its lack of intellectual laxity, they fail to comprehend political underpinnings of this episode that prompted Jaswant Singh's expulsion. It was not purely an action based on ideological aberrancy. Neither was it meant to be a slap in the face of intellectual discourse. It was an act of masterful political gamesmanship which with one stroke nullified the far reaching ramifications that such unbridled laudation of its bete noire by one of its own had the potential to unleash in the arena of Indian politics.
The previous BJP-Jinnah episode courtesy L K Advani has proven to be an edifying exercise for the BJP in this present dilemma. The ideological consternation that it had engendered among its rank and file and the consequent demoralising effect on its doctrinaire cadres had to be avoided in the future. With surgical precision that was quick and decisive, the canker in its midst was removed leaving no scope for prolonged self mutilating dialogue and its consequent deleterious effect on party unity. Hence the expulsion.
The second raison d'etre for this apparently hasty act was the protection of its electoral turf, its nationalistic plank. For the ideologically challenged Congress party, this recurring faux pas by BJP stalwarts was a gift on a platter they could not refuse. Congress party leaders went to town gleefully dubbing the BJP as the Bharatiya Jinnah Party satirically identifying the BJP with its nemesis, the patriarch of Pakistan. Apart from the humiliation of this affront, there was a distinct danger of the Congress usurping its nationalistic space and denting its hard earned epithet of being the quintessential patriotic party. Jaswant Singh's rustication was meant to neutralise this barb that threatened to demolish the very precepts of the BJP's existence.
Further down the list was the inhibitory effect of this punitive redress on dissidence in the party, a stern message to Vasundra Raje Scindia outlining her possible fate if she persisted with her recalcitrance despite her senior status.
Jaswant Singh's cardinal sin in this brouhaha was also the poor timing of his book release. The election defeat of 2009 had opened up a can of worms bringing to the fore a multitude of cantankerous issues that were tearing the party asunder; its core ideology was in question, its leadership was floundering for lack of a clear line of succession post- Advani and dissidence was raising its ugly head. For the head of its parliamentary board to add to its woes at this stage was just not acceptable. Not only did this show poor judgment but smacked of irresponsibility that was hard to pardon. The party's interest was relegated to second place in Jaswant Singh's single minded quest for personal aggrandisement. Jaswant Singh paid the price for his folly of resurrecting a divisive and politically irrelevant topic at an inappropriate moment.
Then there was the logistic issue of conforming to party norms. Senior leaders are expected to be set an example to the common soldiery by assiduously following party rules. The June 2005 resolution of the BJP stated: "Whatever may have been Jinnah's vision of Pakistan, the state he founded was theocratic and non-secular; the very idea of Hindus and Muslims being two separate nations is repugnant to the BJP. The BJP has always condemned the division of India along communal lines and continues to steadfastly reject the two-nation theory championed by Jinnah and endorsed by the British."
Jaswant Singh's action was in direct contravention of this resolution transgressing the line in the sand that had been drawn.
Sardar Patel was the perfect foil to Jawaharlal Nehru. His astute unyielding nature had a earthy realism that helped galvanise a motley lot of 700 and odd princely states into a credible modern nation state and contrasted sharply with the wishy-washy liberalism of Nehru that was a mere showpiece; it created more problems for the nation than it could solve. The BJP pictures itself in the mould of the 'iron man', blunt and direct, even hawkish at times, but above all zealously guarding the nation's interest and rivalling the abstract Nehruvism portrayed by the Congress. Jaswant Singh's scrutiny of its icon was akin to political hara-kiri, a self inflicted stab that questioned the authenticity of its overarching assertive demeanour.
Was the action against Jaswant Singh a negation of free speech? Certainly not. For, one has to bear in mind that a political party is a collection of individuals who subscribe to a common notion. Can a Communist party harbour a die-hard capitalist in its ranks and still expect to be credible? If Jaswant Singh felt a compelling urge to articulate his convictions about Jinnah which he knew fully well, were at odds with the party diktat, he could have resigned from the party prior to his book release saving himself and the BJP an ugly spat.
In summary the BJP cannot be faulted for acting in its own interest. Jaswant Singh's expulsion was an act, Machiavellian in its concept that combined political expediency with shrewd political insight; a move designed to shore up the sagging image and morale of a fractured entity that had lost its verve and was drifting aimlessly. For the outsider this was an attack on intellectualism but for the BJP it was a proud assertion of its core identity, provoking a rare unity that had been a desideratum in recent times. The decision to expel Jaswant Singh was unanimous. Hopefully this unity will persist transforming the BJP once again into a cohesive credible unit dutifully discharging its role in Indian politics. Who knows it maybe the BJP that has the last laugh and not the venom spitting band of its detractors?