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Jaswant's expulsion is the BJP's gift to the RSS

Last updated on: August 20, 2009 16:55 IST
Sheela Bhatt assesses Jaswant Singh's expulsion from the Bharatiya Janata Party and its implications.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has been a laughing stock since the 2009 Lok Sabha election results, and more so in the manner the party expelled Jaswant Singh, one of the BJP's founding members who proudly believes he is a liberal democrat.

His expulsion is not just undemocratic, but shabby. The lack of decency showed by the BJP's highest decision making authority towards a senior leader has lost the purpose of its action.

Instead of gaining credibility by showing authority and minimum standards of party discipline, the BJP is looking like the jagir (property) of conspiratorial party leaders.

At the same time, there are very few in the BJP who sympathise with Jaswant Singh.

His belief that it was not Mohammad Ali Jinnah, but Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and other Congress leaders who triggered off the process of bloody Partition is a highly controversial theory.

Jaswant Singh is an intelligent man, an avid reader and considers himself a Rajput with a profound sense of history. He, obviously, has not written something in a political vacuum.

When he clearly knew that his views were completely at variance with the party's fundamental ideology, why did he not say it so all these years?

Why stick to a party whose sense of history is completely different from his own?

Why did he keep fighting election after election on the BJP symbol?

When he knew Muslims of India have remained 'aliens' after Partition, why did he not share his views publicly for 30 years or tell his party it needed to do some course correction?

Was Jaswant Singh trying to usher a new thinking within the party?

But then Jaswant Singh is not the political genius called Atal Bihari Vajpayee who had the ability to use a few words and change the course of debate or nullify nasty elements in the party.

Surely, Jaswant Singh knew he did not have enough political force to ask his party to reconsider its fundamental identity by revisiting history, that too at one of the worst times in its existence.

The Congress party has almost disowned Nehru's economic thinking and has injected Manmohan Singh's free trade ideas in economic management. The entire exercise has been a gigantic effort that could commence only because then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao put the Congress Working Committee on pause mode during his tenure in office by sucking out power from it.

Even today, that crucial process is on. On Wednesday, Defence Minister A K Antony opposed Prime Minister Singh's move to sign the Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN and forced the party to take up the issue for debate in a Group of Ministers.

"Jaswant Singh is making a mockery of the BJP's fundamental belief. The party stands on a certain understanding of history and our belief in it unites party cadres. Now, Jaswant Singh says the existence of the BJP is based on an erroneous interpretation of history. He says one should do introspection. What do you do? Close the party and go home?" asked a BJP leader and former MP from Mumbai.

"Jaswant Singh's book is not only contrary to what the BJP believes in, but it is also contrary to India's thinking," the BJP leader from Mumbai felt.

Jaswant Singh was a senior leader. He enjoyed the best opportunities that the BJP had to offer, but he was never a mass leader; he was never a popular figure with whom party cadres identified with. He was a political lightweight who enjoyed power because he was considered a 'thinking politician'.

With his education, aristocratic and army background, Jaswant Singh stood out inside the 'middle-class' party. The research of his book was made possible also because of the stature he enjoyed during five years as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. His unceremonious expulsion has helped him gain political weight as he is now being labelled the fall guy.

Jaswant Singh had to go for many reasons. One, as BJP leaders in Shimla explained, he hit at the party's fundamental ideology. The party is not ready and unfortunately does not have the capacity to reinvent itself.

A close friend claims he always knew that Jaswant Singh does not believe in the BJP's core ideals or its parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's ideology. It is well known he could have never joined the Ram temple movement or other such explosive political events. It was joked that during the Ayodhya movement he preferred to share a drink with Vajpayee in New Delhi. Many believe his anti-Congress upbringing brought him into the BJP.

While talking to the media, Jaswant Singh said there is ideological confusion in the RSS and in his party. 'Distillation of thought is needed,' he said. It was too ambitious for him to expect that the BJP would start changing its understanding of the Partition of India after reading his 669-page book.

To support his thinking, for academic purposes, it was an intelligent move that he thought of writing a book on Jinnah. "It was the sharpest way to attack the understanding of our Hindutva hawks about Partition. But you can't attack from inside. That is deemed treachery. He should have had the intellectual honesty to leave the party or at least distance from it in some manner before writing such a book," the former BJP MP pointed out.

"You demand a high post in Parliament; you become chairman of the Public Accounts Committee because of the party and enjoy the perks that come along with status. How then can you oppose the party ideology at its roots in the most ruthless manner?" asked the former MP who has worked with Jaswant Singh on many parliamentary committees.

Jaswant Singh also got the worst deal from the BJP also because he is a non-RSS leader in the party. An alumnus of the first batch at the National Defence Academy in Khadakvasla, he achieved the rank of major in the Indian Army, but took premature retirement in 1966 to help the maharaja of Jodhpur manage the royal household.

He was born in Jasol village in Rajasthan's Barmer district, formerly a part of the princely state of Jodhpur. He fought an election on the Swatantra Party ticket in 1967; the Congress candidate defeated him. He has a long history of disagreement with the Congress because he was a part of the Rajput clique in public life in north India which guarded the interests and estates of former princely states.

Then prime minister Indira Gandhi was this group's main target after she cut the royal families to size by terminating their privy purses and privileges in 1971.

According to a knowledgeable source in Rajasthan, Jaswant Singh and his connections gained due to Indira Gandhi's actions because the maharajas were compelled to share, allot or give away huge chunks of land and properties to trusted 'sardars' and relatives due to the limits on individual and family land holdings. Jaswant Singh's family owns hundreds of acre of land and many havelis.

His political antipathy for the Congress and particularly for Sardar Patel could have been due to this royal connection. In 1947, Patel used tact and pressure on the princely states to merge with India. Patel has always been seen negatively by the maharajas and their families.

Since his book is well researched and reads well, some BJP and RSS members want to know who funded the research and what Jaswant Singh's motive was in attempting to correct Jinnah's portrait in Indian public perception.

Bombay Dyeing Chairman Nusli Wadia, Jinnah's only grandson, is close to senior BJP leaders including L K Advani and Jaswant Singh. Political parties nurture many conspiracies, but before such wild allegations could come to light, the party has sacked him in an ugly manner. His closeness to Wadia -- who was engaged in bitter business rivalry with Dhirubhai Ambani during most of the 1980s -- was reportedly one of the lesser-known reasons that put pressure on the Cabinet formation of the Vajpayee government in 1999.

In the public domain the RSS was projected as the main and only opponent who scuttled Jaswant Singh's proposed appointment as Vajpayee's finance minister.

Jaswant Singh always distanced himself from the RSS and its thinking. He said he did not believe in the RSS's economic and social policies. While chiding the RSS, he once said, 'I believe that this country cannot be constructed through demolitions.'

RSS leaders were livid when as foreign minister Jaswant Singh took three dreaded terrorists to Kandahar, Afghanistan, to secure the release of passengers and crew on board the hijacked Indian Airlines flight, IC-814.

His intense and intimate talks on India-United States strategic relations with then deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott was also an embarrassment for some in his party.

Within a few hours of his expulsion, BJP spokesman Ravishankar Prasad told the media that Jaswant Singh's portrayal of Sardar Patel was one of the reasons his party was upset.

Not only did Jaswant paint Jinnah in glowing colours he also held Patel responsible along with Nehru for Partition; at a few places in the book he notes how Patel viewed the Muslim community.

The BJP has always tried to distinguish Patel's legacy from the legacy of other Congress leaders including Nehru. Gujarat-based BJP leaders believe Jaswant Singh's book would have damaged the party's politics in the state if it remained unchallenged. Patel is a pan-Gujarat icon and not pereceived merely as a Congressman.

In his book, Jaswant Singh writes that Patel along with Nehru accepted 'this fallacious notion that Muslims are a separate nation', and permitted 'our nation to be vivisected'.

Party leaders seriously believe Jaswant Singh was capable of Congress-style 'minority appeasement'. "His views about the status of Muslims are similar to what the Sachar Committee suggests," says a friend and author, speaking on condition that he would not be identified by name for this feature.

Some believe Jaswant Singh would have sprung a surprise had the party won the 2009 general election. He could have played the moderate, secular, card to stake a claim for the leadership. After the BJP's defeat, his options within the party shrunk fast.

Jaswant Singh's expulsion is, in these troubled times for the party, the BJP's gift to the RSS.

A decade ago when he was asked if he was disappointed that the RSS had his name knocked off Vajpayee's original list of Cabinet ministers in March 1999. Jaswant Singh replied, 'I am not. My parents gave my name to me. It doesn't get knocked off. Let me only say that the graveyards of the world are full of those who thought they were indispensable to the nation. I am not indispensable.'

The RSS alumni on the BJP parliamentary party board knocked off Jaswant Singh's name on a sunny morning in Shimla.

Buy Jaswant Singh's book on Jinnah at the Rediff Bookshop