So who really believes in Hindutva?
The kinds of responses that my colleagues Pankaj Vohra, Vinod Sharma, Zia Haq and I get to our liberal-minded writings on our blogs have convinced me that cyberspace has very nearly been captured by a host of narrow-minded saffron bigots who brook no difference of opinion, who have no rational argument to contradict our eclectic approach to the issues we write about and who, therefore, use abuse and denigration in the mistaken hope and belief that that is the best form of intimidation.
Jaswant Singh’s expulsion from the BJP for writing a book on Mohammad Ali Jinnah has served to reinforce the opinion that these cyber-bigots are only reflective of the rot that has set into the BJP — for the manner in which a senior leader like Singh was treated by his party stalwarts has been entirely graceless, immensely cowardly (could no one look him in the eye and so they sacked him on the phone?) and, I believe, a complete miscarriage of justice.
I must admit, though, that when I first heard Singh had written a book glorifying Jinnah, I wondered how any Indian, particularly of Singh’s generation, could ever consider Jinnah was good for anything. But then L K Advani had also certified Jinnah as secular — though others like us who are indeed secular and do our best, in our little way, to forge unity among the various peoples are labelled ‘pseudo-secularists’ by him and his kind (incidentally, I am proud to wear that tag). Obviously, in the BJP, what’s sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander. But when I got to think of it I realised I should not have been surprised.
For, for years now I have been coming across instances which convince me that not too many people in the BJP believe in their stated and avowed ideology. And, like Jaswant Singh said after his expulsion, it is all just a play for power (which, in itself, is as it should be but, I believe, should be based on more honesty).
At the risk of giving away some confidences, I would like to share with readers two stories that disillusioned me about the BJP long before the rot had set into their party. Both are incidents from around the time the Babri Masjid was demolished and both made me wonder what, then, was the demolition all about!
The first concerns Gopinath Munde. I was at the BJP headquarters in Bombay, chatting him up, when an office secretary came in and set a poll schedule for the coming elections before him. As he scrolled down the list of speakers/leaders who would campaign in his then Assembly constituency of Renapur, he startled me by springing to his feet and rushing to the other room to argue with the campaign managers.
“I do not want Sadhvi Rithamabara anywhere near my constituency!” he roared. “Cut her out. Give me some other leaders.”
When BJP workers protested and said she was a great orator, he said, “Great orator, yes! But if she sets foot in my constituency, I might lose the election. I will lose whatever little Muslim support I have but there is no guarantee that too many Hindu voters care for her kind of speeches, either. So spare me!”
I noticed that the Sadhvi did not set foot in Maharashtra that election and since then she is completely out of the BJP’s political circuit as well (though their other Sadhvi – Uma Bharti – did gain glorious heights before being marginalised).
I could not help asking Munde then, “Don’t you believe in Hindutva?”
He did not reply directly but what he said was illuminating enough. “I am in the BJP entirely because of Pramod Mahajan. He was a friend and now he is my brother-in-law. I would blindly follow Mahajan wherever he goes but I will not stand for Sadhvi Rithambara!”
Munde spoke from the heart and over the years I realised he did not really believe in the anti-Muslim rhetoric of his party, though he was very much in Ayodhya during the demolition of the mosque.
But it is the second story that completely turned me against the BJP’s public posturing. This is one I got from communist leader Subhashini Ali during one of her meetings in Bombay and I may have paid it scant heed had history not repeated itself a short while later. So, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi might well have been used to extolling the secular virtues of Allahabad University, as Ali said he had to her when they were both members of the National Integration Council. “He had even been proud that the university had given to the country such great leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Gobind Ballabh Pant,” Ali had said, quite defying belief.
But then, shortly thereafter, during his first exposure to the Bombay media just before taking over as party president in the early Nineties, in an off-the-record chat with a handful of reporters largely sympathetic to the BJP, he repeated that exultation of Allahabad University. And there was more — stating that, as a doctor of nuclear physics from that university, he had broken down matter into the smallest atom, he added, “Once you have done that you realise nothing is greater or smaller than that atom! Everything begins and ends in that.”
He chanted a sloka from the Rig Veda which encapsulated this principle/phenomenon of nuclear physics — of course, the Sanskrit went quite over our heads. So he simplified that for us. “Perhaps a saying from the Bible you will understand better. It says the same thing as the sloka – from ashes we have come and to dust shall we return.”
In the uneasy silence that followed someone asked him, “If this is what you believe, what then are you doing by making these differences between Hindus and Muslims, Brahmins and backward classes etc and setting the whole nation on fire because of that?”
Startled, because he had probably not expected such an incisive question from a generally accommodating bunch of people, Joshi came out with as spontaneous a reply as he could under the circumstances, “This is what I believe. That is for public consumption!”
So blasé was that statement that to my mind it sounded like a final denouement.
Ever since, this is what I have thought of the BJP (and it can be best said only in Hindi): Haathi ke daant, khaane ke aur, aur dikhaane ke aur (the elephant has two sets of teeth – one to chew and the other to smile with).
This week, then, convinces me that Jaswant Singh is right – his party has been corrupted by power. But I would not have thought the lack of it would still go it’s head!