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End of an era | The Indian Express

If the army feels it requires continuation of the AFSPA to discharge its responsibilities, no other agency is qualified to credibly challenge that view. The present crisis within the BJP is multidimensional. It is firstly a succession crisis. For half a century,A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani presided over the destiny of the Jana Sangh and then the BJP. Their leadership relied on the (almost constant) RSS backing both of them were trained in the Sangh and some personal qualities: Vajpayee and Advani were mass leaders because of their organisational skills and a certain charisma. Vajpayee was a famous orator in Hindi and Advanis rath yatra made him a mass leader,rightly or wrongly. But these are probably not the reasons why they seem to be irreplaceable today. Their unique quality lay elsewhere,in the fact that they benefited from an unmatched historical legitimacy. In the 1950s,Vajpayee was a close aide to Syama Prasad Mookerjee,the founder of the Jana Sangh. In fact,he and Advani are today the only survivors of the first generation of RSS activists-turned-politicians. Vajpayee has already left the scene; Advani is about to do the same. It is a huge challenge for a party which lives more in history than most of the other Indian parties. The leadership crisis,therefore,reflects a generational transition that can turn out to be an identity crisis: what additional source of legitimacy will Advanis successor mobilise to put up with his inevitable deficiency his belonging to a post-Jana Sangh generation? Interestingly,this succession problem is not to be found in the RSS where half a dozen sarsanghchalaks have already become heads of the sangh through a very smooth process. That is because in the RSS,men do not count as much as the organisation in which they are supposed to merge,whereas in politics personality matters a great deal. The succession-cum-generational crisis that the BJP is going through is not the only one,though and possibly not the more important one. After all,nothing of that kind would have happened,had the party performed well during the last general elections. It is not that it has failed miserably it is back to its scores of 1991,not to that of 1984 when it got only 2 seats but it was a clear defeat anyway and in contrast to what happened in 2004,the BJP lagged behind the Congress among all sections of the electorate,except the upper castes,according to the CSDS exit poll. The urban middle class has also shifted from the BJP to the Congress. The main problem for the party,therefore,is to reinvent itself and not only find a leader,but a leader with the winning formula. This alchemy,in the 1990s,resulted from the combination of factors which are not likely to reappear any time soon. On the one hand,in the late 1980s-early 1990s,an increasing number of Hindus felt that their community needed to be protected against minorities (be they Sikhs fighting for Khalistan or Muslim fundamentalists) and the Congress which played vote-bank politics with them (like in the Shah Bano affair). Among them,those of the upper and intermediate castes resented the rise of the OBCs after Mandal and that of Dalits under the aegis of the BSP. For these people,the ramjanmabhoomi and the BJP were the right answers to the Congress and to low caste parties. Their hero was Advani,the Hindutva man par excellence whose rath yatra had been an effective device for uniting the Hindus beyond castes and against the minorities. On the other hand,there was Vajpayee,the moderate face that the party projected when it realised that it would not be able to win power on its own. Vajpayee was not only able to attract in the party non-Jana Sangh people like Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh on a purely rightist (slightly neo-liberal) agenda,but he was also acceptable to other anti-Congress parties which became part of the NDA,the first coalition to rule India for five years. Things have changed. The so-called anxiety about the minorities is not as wide spread as it used to be in spite of the Islamist attacks. The BJP could not cash in on the Mumbai episode in November last and in its election manifesto,it had to acknowledge that Indian Muslims were getting marginalised even if it rejected the remedies suggested by the Sachar Committee report. Hindus are now more assertive than ever before: they are building an emerging world power,they do not feel insecure any more. And the party behind this modernisation process is none other than the Congress which,on the face of it,appears to be in a better position than the BJP to defuse the Dalit phenomenon by co-opting Scheduled Caste leaders. In fact,the BJP lost the middle class to the Congress this time partly because the party of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh looked cleaner and more effective in economic terms two of the assets Vajpayee had capitalised on before when the BJP was a party with a difference. In this new context,the post Vajpayee/Advani BJP is back to its old dilemma: should it return to its core identity,based on Hindutva,by projecting a Modi as its leader and then take the risk of alienating NDA partners like the JD(U) and non-RSS members? It would make its life simpler since the BJP leaders with an RSS background know how to sort out their differences in camera interestingly most of the dissidents of yesterday and today,Jaswant Singh,Yashwant Sinha,Arun Shourie,Khanduri have no RSS background. Or should it select a leader acceptable to non-Hindu nationalist partners,at the cost of discipline? The RSS may be convinced that this is the only way to avoid further electoral decline,but may support a man close to its heart anyway. The BJPs succession crisis needs to be seen in an even larger perspective for two reasons. First,the party is well entrenched in several Indian states and to focus on the top leaders quarrels may make us miss this important reality at the grass-root level (from where Advanis successor may well emerge). Second,party politics is only the top of the sangh parivars iceberg and it would be a mistake to conclude from the BJPs tamasha that Hindutva politics is on its way out: the VHP,the BMS,the Bajrang Dal,the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram,the Saraswati Shishu Mandirs,Seva Bharti etc. are continuing their daily work in slums,villages and cities and there is no indication that their aggressive cultural policing or reconversions are on the wane. The writer is at CERI,Science Po,Paris and is Alliance visiting professor, Columbia University,New York.
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