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Do we need the BJP anymore?
December 23, 2005
As the Bharatiya Janata Party gathers to celebrate its 25th anniversary, some wonder whether the party will still be around in another quarter of a century.
A better question would be to ask if it deserves to live on in its current form.
Once, every mention of the party would be prefaced with the obligatory incantation 'right-wing, Hindu nationalist'; some in the foreign media still do so, but the practice has largely stopped among Indian journalists. The reason is that those adjectives simply do not fit any longer.
The BJP of today cannot be identified with any certainty with any particular ideological position. That loss of identity, going hand in hand with the loss of a moral compass, is what should worry the party.
But I wonder if discussions in Mumbai will go beyond the loss of power. If you ask me, the BJP is now at its nadir. That, I realise, is a fairly strong statement to make.
When it was born in 1980, the BJP was completely friendless; the party had in fact been created because erstwhile colleagues in the old Janata coalition refused to accept any link with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The founders of the BJP had then taken the principled position that they could not possibly sunder themselves from the parent organisation.
In 1984, the isolated party could manage to win just two seats in the Lok Sabha. But even the party's most strident foes freely admitted that the BJP could never be accused of lacking integrity.
Is that still true today?
Let us take one of the most debated issues of the day, the members of Parliament caught taking money. Some of the BJP leaders offer the weak defence that every party was caught with its pants down. They are missing the point completely.
The BJP boasts of being the 'party with a difference'. It has already sacrificed ideological clarity for the ideological mush presented by every other major political outfit. That makes the personal integrity of every BJP member paramount. Otherwise, if there is no difference in programmes and no difference in dishonesty, why would anyone vote for the lotus symbol?
The BJP could have set an example by expelling all the errant MPs forthwith. Has it done so? If not, voters are bound to wonder whether Uma Bharti's cattiness is a worse sin than bribery!
Now, to make a bad situation worse, I read that the party has taken a strictly legalistic stand on the issue. The Pawan Bansal Committee recommended the expulsion of the Lok Sabha MPs caught taking money. The lone dissenter was the BJP's representative, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, whose note reads: 'No member of the House can be expelled except for the breach of privilege of the House.'
Malhotra also pointed out that there was a difference of opinion in the judiciary, the Punjab and Haryana High Court having ruled that expulsion was not possible while the Madhya Pradesh High Court said otherwise.
I am sure the MP for South Delhi is perfectly correct from a strictly legal perspective. But isn't there supposed to be some kind of ethical dimension as well?
Expel the sinners immediately. They can avail their option of judicial remedy if they so choose, in which case I suspect it will end up in front of the Supreme Court. But that could happen even if the MPs are expelled only after the formalities of a Lok Sabha Privileges Committee hearing, as Malhotra suggests. So, why not cut to the chase and expel them straight off?
Can anyone offer a reasonable explanation why the BJP insists on the longer route?
The corruption of the MPs who were caught on camera is not the only instance of some BJP members going astray. It is no secret at all that Narendra Modi faced dissent in Gujarat because he refused to be, shall we say, 'flexible'.
In the recent local body polls, Modi was fighting not just the Congress but also his own party. The fact that he pulled off a string of amazing victories even in his detractors' strongholds is testimony to the Gujarati voter's faith in his chief minister.
There must, however, have been moments when Modi wondered whether he too would meet Manohar Parrikar's fate. The former Goa chief minister, the first Indian Institute of Technology engineer to reach so high a post, refused to wink at corruption. The downfall of his ministry was not long in coming.
It is true that the traitors who toppled Parrikar were not all from the BJP, but it does raise a question about the shortcuts and unnatural alliances which that party has made.
What does the BJP stand for today? Is it still a 'party with a difference' of unquestioned integrity? Does it adhere to a core philosophy which keeps it on the straight and narrow path? Or is it just another party among others?
Loss of power is actually a relatively minor matter. Given time, the mistakes of one's opponents and incumbency disadvantage may yet bring the BJP back to power. But only its own behaviour can decide whether it rides back with a positive mandate for change, or simply coasts in on negative votes.
T V R Shenoy