THE new BJP led by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah is in a hurry to cremate its party elders, even before they are dead. The announcement of its candidates for the forthcoming general elections is a vigorous proclamation that (in J.F. Kennedy’s words) “the torch has been passed to a new generation”. That torch will be used to ignite the funeral pyres of the old guard.
One relegated to the shamshan ghat is 91-year-old L. K. Advani, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh |(RSS) loyalist and co-founder of the BJP. Advani represented Gandhinagar (Gujarat) for five terms. He is better known as the eternal yatri who organised numerous yatras across India: against corruption, for better governance, and the most contentious of all — the 1990 Ram Rath Yatra that began in Somnath and ended at Ayodhya with the destruction of the Babri Masjid.
Mr Advani must rue the day when, on a yatra to his own birthplace Karachi in June 2005, he visited Quaid-i-Azam’s mausoleum. There, he recorded remarks complimentary to the Quaid. They were anathema to RSS hardliners. Even prime minister Vajpayee could not dam the deluge caused by Advani’s faint praise for Jinnah. Advani’s lifelong RSS yatra and ambitions to succeed Vajpayee as prime minister came to an abrupt halt. Advani found himself a victim of his own juggernaut, a parricide to his brainchild. His constituency and the position as Deputy Prime Minister de jure to Vajpayee has been handed to Amit Shah, hitherto the DPM de facto to Modi.
Such reprisals are not new to history. Two earlier ideologues also fell victim to the revolutions they parented. In 1940, Leon Trotsky — who seeded the Bolshevik revolution — was rewarded with an axe-blow to his skull, and in 1794, the guillotine severed the head of the French revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre from his body, as silently as Mr Advani has been detached from the corpus of the BJP.
Pakistan can take comfort; it is no longer India’s only enemy.
The Indian electoral process is the envy of nascent democracies for its logistical efficiency — an electorate of 900 million contesting 545 Lok Sabha seats, electronic voting conducted in seven phases, spread over a six-week period staggered from April 11 to May 19, with all the results declared on May 23.
Will Mr Modi and his BJP return on May 23 with an increased majority, with a weaker majority, or with a manacled majority? Electoral polls predict a weakening in the BJP-led government’s command. Earlier polls foresaw a majority of 63 (compared to 64 in the 2014 elections). Others have reduced it to only one. Some fear a hung parliament.
For Lok Sabha candidates, these elections are a matter of political survival or sudden death. For Indian Muslims, the result will be the difference between struggling in airless ghettos and the refreshing gasp of a reprieve, however temporary. For Pakistanis, the spectre of conflict continues. Indians have been so goaded into a state of war hysteria by Prime Minister Modi that, while a cowed minority may pardon him for not making peace with Pakistan, a bellicose majority will never forgive him for not declaring war on Pakistan.
Astute Indians may recognise the ominous inclusion of a new element in India’s electoral equation — the Indian armed forces. In 1970, a beleaguered Mrs Indira Gandhi summoned her army chief Gen Sam Manekshaw to her office. He asked her what the problem was. She replied bluntly that he was: “Everybody is saying you are taking over.” He replied reassuringly: “I don’t interfere in your politics as long as you don’t interfere in my army.”
Fifty years later, one hears discordant accents. A senior Samajwadi Party leader accuses Modi’s government of staging the Pulwama attack, terming it a conspiracy in which “callously Indian jawans were killed to increase votes”. He goes further: “The ruling government needs to stop pretending to be the Indian Army.” The Congress leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha attacks Modi for “trying to gain political capital out of the prevailing India-Pakistan tension. He is behaving as if this is his personal army”. The BJP spokesman retaliates by accusing the opposition of “speaking the language of Pakistanis”.
Will future Indian army chiefs follow Manekshaw’s example of obedient neutrality? How many will resist (and for how long) an inexorable suction into domestic political squabbles? Pakistan can take comfort; it is no longer India’s only enemy.
Ideologically, L.K. Advani was too rightist to be a Trotskyite. Yet, some of their credos coincided. “It is well to know the limitations of force;” Trotsky once advised, “to know when to blend force with manoeuvre, assault with conciliation.” Vajpayee’s Lahore Declaration in 1999 evidenced the old BJP’s policy of conciliation. Trotsky had further advice the new BJP could profitably heed: “The end justifies the means, so long as there is something that justifies the end.”
The writer is an author.
Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2019