November 7, 2000


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Arvind Lavakare

Hindutva vs the BJP: The Battle Ahead

Even a month after he delivered his address at Agra, K S Sudershan continues to get fiery flak in the English language press for his Indianisation call to the minorities. Unless the RSS chief has a Teflon brain, the message to him should be loud and clear: he should imbibe Dale Carnegie before he opens his mouth next.

However valid his thinking, it's really no use unless Sudershan can dress it all up sweetly, sensitively and sequentially so as to win friends and influence people. On the other hand, as long as he couches his beliefs in a bossy, bellicose and brazen manner, Hindutva will lose even the friends it has and increase its foes. It's really a matter of PR and the art of communications.

Sudershan may not know it, but even some of his Parivar has begun to view his brief but belligerent tenure at the RSS helm as the beginning of the Sangh's decline. One of its young journalists asked this rhetorical question the other day: "If 49 of the 50 mediapersons who come to your press conference are your adversaries by thought and if the 50th one is bound to twist and distort what you say, why say something that'll only add fuel to fire?" A corollary is why the RSS shouldn't try to win all-round public acclaim for its core competence of promptly rushing in to help people in great distress irrespective of their community? Why can't it produce a directory of its amazing bunch of qualified people of distinction who are doing noble work in the nation's far-flung areas?

Just how indifferent and ignorant the RSS has been all along about PR is evident from the fact that for well-nigh 75 years since inception it boasted that it did not care or crave for publicity for its undeniable yeoman work in times of national calamities or crises. And it was only a few months ago that it at last appointed an official spokesman for itself.

Alas, what a spokesman! As quaint and quixotic as Sudershan appears to be. He is M G Vaidya, a former editor of a Sangh Parivar Marathi language daily and now in his seventies. His writings show that he is steeped in RSS ideology and idiom. His dress is simple. But his tongue is acidic as it became clear at one private meeting this columnist recently attended as an observer.

One 30-odd-year-old man in the gathering asked him how the staunch resistance of The Times of India to publishing pro-Hindutva letters was to be overcome. Vaidya's answer went like this: "Raise your voice and tell the editor to publish your letter. You will see the difference." That's Carnegie in reverse. That's proof, besides, of Vaidya having no clue about ToI's security system for accessing its editorial department.

Another Vaidya gem that day was his reaction to the use of English. "If you receive a wedding invitation printed in English, don't go to the wedding" he advised. Yet, we learn, he has at least one son living abroad.

If there's none of Carnegie in the RSS --- witness how Sudershan's forehead is invariably furrowed and his mouth grimaced -- there's perhaps too much mollycoddling in the BJP lately. Especially since Bangaru Laxman became the party's president. He first laid out an unconditional red carpet for the Muslims and has just done it for the Dalits. Why, he's even prepared to cross swords with the RSS over the question of letting the minorities preserve their mindset, however fissiparous it might be.

Conspicuously, Laxman has not spoken at all of winning over the Hindus from "secular" parties or of retaining the existing Hindu votes of the BJP. What is at work clearly is Laxman's assumption of the TINA factor: for the committed Hindus there is no alternative but the BJP and that if the BJP can wean away even a portion of the 15 per cent of the country's minorities, it will romp home on its own when the next Lok Sabha poll comes along.

If the emerging discontent in the VHP against the BJP is anything to go by, Laxman's BJP could well be in for a nasty shock.

Dr Pravin Togadia, the surgeon who is general secretary of the VHP, has gone on record already that the BJP biting the dust in the recent Gujarat civic election was due to the absence of the VHP's support to BJP candidates. And a senior VHP functionary has defended him with some very angry arguments communicated to this writer.

It should be realised, he says, that the work of organisations like the VHP is to have Ram Rajya --- in the cultural context --- and not necessarily through the BJP. The VHP has sided with the BJP so far because the BJP had said it would work towards such a Ram Rajya, while other parties found it inconvenient to be concerned about the issues of the Hindu society. So, what we have to see, he says, is whether the BJP is endeavouring to achieve that goal. "Based on my personal experience in Gujarat and Maharashtra, I would categorically say that they have failed," he says.

He then proceeded with his angst list as follows:

The BJP has not provided a different direction to society, and instances of corruption are many. Its scale is really no different from what it was/is in Congress regimes. The infighting in the BJP is also on the same scale as in other political parties. It is obvious that those who were mouthing high sounding principles were no different when it came to using the strings of power.

Worse has been the fact that the Hindu sentiments have not been respected. For example, in Maharashtra, the BJP did very little to assist the VHP when it came to dealing with the Christian evangelists at the street level. In many cases it was found that the local leaders used to take the side of the evangelists because the evangelists now bribed the BJP leaders as they used to bribe the Congress leaders earlier.

When this was brought to the notice of the senior leaders, goes the accusation, nothing was done to correct the situation. For instance, when, in the context of the alleged attacks on Christians, the VHP booklet Religious Conversions: Frequently Asked Questions was presented to a BJP leader, his reaction was "Why does the VHP want to create problems for Christians?" He then went on to say that the result of VHP's programme would be to make a Christian (namely, Sonia) as the prime minister! This incident apparently happened in a public place.

Then there was the case when a BJP MLA proposed a private member's Bill in the Maharashtra Assembly to ensure that there would be no fraud, inducement or force in the matter of religious conversions. It was identical to the one that exists in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Arunachal Pradesh, and was sought to be introduced in the Centre in 1978 by O P Tyagi. The BJP leadership was, however, against such a move. Either it was a case of appeasing the Christians or internal politics that it did not want the credit to go to the MLA concerned or a little of both. Result: the Bill lapsed.

Another serious grouse has been that BJP's leaders have totally bypassed the party's core issues of uniform civil code, Ram temple, Article 370 and justice to all with appeasement of none. The anger is that the BJP alone has had to put its agenda on the backburner while its allies in government have made no such sacrifice. And the agony is that the BJP leaders have not made an iota of intellectual effort to convince its allies on these issues, the most palpable being the failure to do so even on the uniform civil code that is so crucial to the nation's women.

The VHP's sentiments at this juncture thus seem to be very defined. The votaries of Hindutva do not wish to see corrupt, incompetent people in power. In a democracy, they seem to be saying, one makes a choice at the time of the ballot. Sometimes, the choice is the least of all evils. If the BJP has no concern for its core vote base, it is idle to expect that this base should have any concern for the BJP.

For the votaries of Hindutva, the first step would be, in the present case, to vote the BJP out of power, and then start to work to creating an effective alternative than what the present BJP leadership has been able to provide. Their logic is that they did not put in so much hard work to see anti-Hindutvawadis enjoying the position that they are in at present with nary a thought for those on whose backs they rose to power.

Vajpayee, Laxman & Co have been forewarned. They urgently need Dale Carnegie now.

Arvind Lavakare

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