Thursday, 20 August 2009
Of Jinnah, Jaswant and Hanuman...
It is no secret that the BJP high-command has avoided any attempt at genuine reflection on the reasons for defeat in the 2009 General Elections. In fact, the emerging consensus within India’s miniscule right-wing intelligentsia is that the BJP never quite recovered from the defeat in 2004 and continued on with the 2009 campaign on autopilot. Admittedly, the media strategy in 2009 was excellent: The clever subversion of the Congress’ triumphalist ‘Jai Ho’ with the sober ‘Bhay Ho’ jingle and the inclusion of young, IT-savvy talent for LK Advani’s personal image boosting initiative are cases in point. All this however, could not hide the rot at the base of the party. This defeat was a political defeat. It was not about image management. It was not about re-packaging Hindutva in more modern prose. The electorate rejected India’s version of a conservative party wholeheartedly.
Rajnath Singh and his ilk realise this. They realise that if the party sat down and did some actual chintan at the Chintan Baithak, their variety of conservatism would be declared an electoral liability in newly aspirational India. The resulting restructuring of the BJP would inevitably cut short the political careers of certain sections of the party. Like any political animal, this group’s primary impulse is to survive in the face of looming obscurity. It is in this context that the shock expulsion of Jaswant Singh must be viewed.
While Jaswant Singh’s sacking may not be a case of calculated news management as Vinod Mehta of Outlook suggested on a current affairs programme, it definitely hints at a totalitarian impulse aimed at homogenising the party and smothering legitimate intellectual expression.
As it happens, the period of history that this political controversy has thrown up is equally fascinating. Jaswant Singh has propounded a contrarian reading of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s political philosophy. He is by no means the first to interpret Jinnah as a calm, secular politician. But, Mr Singh’s public role ensures that the book and the arguments contained therein receive an inordinate amount of media attention as compared to any other piece of scholarly work. The crux of his thesis, as I am given to understand is that history has been unfair to Jinnah. In a sense, Jinnah’s complicity in the Partition of India has been exaggerated and that of Nehru’s Congress has been underplayed - perhaps in order to make for a more comfortable nationalism for the Indian masses to subscribe to.
The pork-eating, cigar-smoking Jinnah clearly does not make for a very good poster boy for the Two Nation Theory and Pakistani nationalism. Jaswant Singh’s argument is that Jinnah’s mutation from secular nationalist to communal scaremonger was caused by his desire to carve out a space in Indian politics that he could call his own in the face of increasing Nehruvian hegemony. Jinnah then, crafted a constituency that evolved into Pakistan. He reserved his antipathy for Nehru and the Congress, not the Hindus. The idea of Pakistan, which germinated in the fecund brain of Cambridge student Choudhary Rahmat Ali in 1932 become a potent political weapon in the hands of Jinnah.
Perhaps it was a tad indiscreet for a practicing politician of national prominence to indulge in revisionist accounts of the founder of Pakistan whilst he remained a serving member of a political party. Winston Churchill for example, waited till his retirement from active public life before publishing his account of the Second World War. This abrupt expulsion however, smacks of an increasingly insecure leadership in the BJP that is keen to preserve the status quo and prolong its spell in power. The party is likely to lurch from one controversy to the other till the time a new generation of charismatic leadership is allowed to emerge. Jaswant Singh in the meantime has all the time in the world to write.