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Hindutva will remain the BJP's central focus - L. K. Advani - Frontline

Sukumar Muralidharan and Venkitesh Ramakrishnan ()
7 February 1997

Title : Hindutva will remain the BJP's central focus - L. K. Advani
Author : Sukumar Muralidharan and Venkitesh Ramakrishnan
Publication : Frontline
Date : February 7, 1997

L. K. Advani's articulation of the Hindutva position has gained a
greater degree of acceptability among sections of middle-class
India than that of many other proponents of the programme. He has
also acquired a reputation for a degree of candour in his political
observations, even when it concerns the problems his party faces.
His admission that he bore part of the responsibility for the
collapse of the BJP Government in Gujarat last year is a case in

The BJP owes much of its recent electoral successes to the
strategic perspectives developed by Advani and his close-associates
within the party. Critics insist that Advani's cultivated visage of
moderation is a well-crafted camouflage for a programme of communal
adventurism and social polarisation. His practised retort is that
nobody is obliged to apologise for the belief that Hinduism
constitutes the cultural substratum of Indian nationalism. But in
order to maintain the discourse of Hindutva at the rarefied level
that he prefers, he often has to feign ignorance about the more
inflammatory rhetoric used by his party in the heat of popular

Advani is now entering the last few months of his second term as
BJP president. Under the party constitution, he is not entitled to
a third successive term. The juncture is one of considerable
internal stress within the BJP. Many of these conflicts, his
confidants claim, originated in an earlier two-year interlude when
Advani relinquished the presidency in favour of the more dogmatic
and aggressive Murli Manohar Joshi. But the succession question is
still far from his mind. Immediate preoccupation's are the Punjab
Assembly elections and the crisis management operation in
Rajasthan. Advani faces a challenge in reconciling the rhetoric of
high nationalism that he has patented with the reality of his
alliance with the Akali Dal in Punjab. Rajasthan, which was
considered a secure bastion of the party, is showing symptoms of
the infection of dissidence.

Advani summed up his party's perceptions of political events in
1996 at a New Year's-eve press conference in Delhi. But the New
Year clearly has not given him much cause for cheer. L.K. Advani
shared his perceptions of the current political situation and the
tasks of the BJP in an interview with Sukumar Muralidharan and
Venkitesh Ramakrishnan in New Delhi on January 18. Excerpts:

You said in your New Year's-eve press conference that certain
negative trends had emerged within the BJP. What precisely were you
referring to?

When I referred to the negative trends, I specifically mentioned
that the Gujarat episode had damaged the image of the party. At the
root of this episode wan an explosion of individual ambitions, for
which I see two reasons. In the last 10 years, the party has grown
phenomenally - this is one reason. And the second reason is that
the Congress party's political culture, which has been the dominant
political culture of the country, has been a source of infection.
And therefore, I have described it as environmental pollution.

How exactly is that? It is because you are drawing membership and
cadre away from the Congress?

The party has grown not by drawing people from the Congress(I).
Some individuals may have come from the Congress(I). But the bulk
of the new membership has come on the basis of our distinct
approach on the questions of Indian nationalism and secularism. Our
approach is something which invites the hostility of not only the
other political parties but even of prominent journals like
Frontline. We have faced it. And in spite of it, we have grown. And
we have grown to such an extent that we are conscious of a great
responsibility to the nation to measure up to their expectations,
which are very high.

Is it not a fact that in States like Uttar Pradesh you have taken
away a large part of the Congress' traditional constituency, in the
sense that social classes which used to support that party have now
gravitated towards your party?

Constituency, yes, But not in terms of social classes. I would not
agree with this kind of simplistic analysis. I hold that the Indian
political system for nearly four decades was virtually a Congress
system. It was not the kind of multi-party system as we have in
Britain or other Western democracies, where we have two or more
clearly crystallised political parties. Here in India, the
ideologically crystallised parties have always been either the
Marxists and the Jan Sangh or BJP, or the Congress as an
aggregative, umbrella party. And the Congress as an umbrella party
has virtually been the system itself. It is only in the last 10
years that the Congress has started eroding. A process of
debilitation has started. And I have often said that though the
BJP's growth rate in the last 10 years has been amazing, it has not
been able to match the rate of decline of the Congress.

So the BJP strategy is essentially to step into the vacuum created
by the decline of the Congress?

It is not a strategy. It is a natural process.

But you have a very distinct ideological approach - quite different
form the Congress. How can you hope to play the role of an umbrella

Has any other party in the country been able to dislodge the
Congress from its position at the top?

But that is only in terms of seats, not in terms of share in the
popular vote....

Yes, we are behind the Congress in terms of popular vote share, but
we are catching up. Even when we got 86 seats in the Lok Sabha in
1989, our vote percentage was around 11. And today it is 23.

And the Congress' is 33....

Yes, I agree. But you compare it with any other party. All the
non-Congress parties were well ahead of us. We were far behind. But
now we are catching up.

But there is also another phenomenon taking place - the growth of
regional parties. Increasingly, the alternative to the Congress is
being posed by regional parties which could come together as a
federal coalition at the Centre.

No, I do not agree. When did the Asom Gana Parishad come up? And
when did the Telugu Desam come up? Now this is certainly true that
politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If we are not present in
Andhra Pradesh or in Tamil Nadu, someone has to be there and
someone will come along. But regional parties have been around all
along. The DMK and the AIADMK have been around in Tamil Nadu for a
long time. And no political party has won a seat in the State
Assembly without the support of either of these parties. The first
time a party has done so has been this time, by my party.

There is another way of looking at it - that whether there is a
secular alternative to the Congress (which in you lexicon might be
a "pseudo-secular" party), then that party enjoys natural
preference over the BJP....

As I said, the debate which the BJP has successfully precipitated
in national politics is the debate on what is secularism. And in
this debate we are combating not only the political parties about
whom my opinion is that many of them think exactly as we do, and
privately say so. They tell us that what we are saying is correct,
but cannot say so because of their consideration of vote banks. For
most political parties opposed to us, secularism is only a
euphemism for vote-bank politics. We regard this attitude of their
as pseudo-secularism, although I do concede that there are people
who are influenced either by Marxism or by Nehru's thinking, who
honestly think what the BJP says is not secularism.

Coming back to you earlier statement on environmental
pollution...There is a feeling that the BJP itself is degenerating
in terms of its organisation and even in terms of its ideological
positions. For example, the conflicts that have arisen between the
forwards and backward castes in major States - these seem to
indicate that same sort of degeneration in you ideological position
has taken place...

I enjoy reading most of these reports. And I concede that this
makes for good copy - the continuing dichotomy between the BJP and
the RSS; the continuing dichotomy between those who favour
secularism, between the hard line and the soft line. It makes very
interesting the soft line, It makes very interesting reading. There
may be an element of truth in it, only to the extent that even
within the Marxist fold, you cannot have identity on all matters.
But there is no such dichotomy as it being projected. And so far as
degeneration is concerned, I can only say that as long as we live
in Delhi, the environment is bound to affect us to some extent. I
draw my strength from the same society - when you talk about
degeneration, that has nothing to do with ideology. It has more to
do with behaviour. Therefore, I said in my Jaipur speech that the
negative traits are either organisational or behavioural. They have
nothing to do with ideology as some among the media have said.

How would you explain the statement of somebody like former U.P.
Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, just before the Assembly elections in
the State, that prominence has to be given to backward caste
candidates in the BJP list? He even spoke in terms of

No, he did not speak in terms of percentages. But this has been a
conscious effort on the part of everybody in the BJP, that the
image of a brahminical party that has been given to us over a
period of time is corrected.

Was this image given to you or was it acquired by the through you
own activities and ideology?

No, it is not because of ideology. It is because of the sections in
which the party started - that gave us the image. Just as most of
the pracharaks in the RSS used to be form Nagpur, and quite a few
of them were Brahmins. But the RSS was not concerned with political
issues, it was concerned more with character - building and
inculcating discipline among the youth. They were not bothered
about who was a Brahmin and who was not. And it was this aspect of
the RSS' work which evoked admiration even from Gandhiji when he
visited an RSS camp in Wardha many years back.

I did not know that Kalyan Singh belonged to a backward caste when
he became president of the U.P. unit of the BJP. He became
president in the natural course when Madhav Prasad Tripathi passed
away. And in was some time later that we came to know that he is a
Lodh, that he is a backward. This certainly gave us an advantage in
the elections, no doubt about that.

Consider the ups and downs of year electoral performance, starting
with 1989 and 1991, when the Hindutva ideology was projected right
up front, and the recent elections when it enjoyed relatively less
salience.... What does it tell you about the popular acceptability
of the Hindutva plank?

So long as the adversaries like we have continue to exist, there is
no problem. Hindutva will continue to be the central focus of the
BJP. The mandir may not be there. What has changed is not Hindutva.
The change that has come about in U.P. is that after the
demolition, the mandir issue has not been as sharp as it used to

The campaign, that the BJP has conducted has given an impetus to
forces opposed to the BJP to consolidate themselves. We saw that in
1993 and again in the 1996 Assembly elections in U.P.

If we weaken, then this temptation will go. After all, how did
anti-Congressism was the result of the realisartion which was
highlighted by Dr. (Ram Manohar) Lohia particularly, that so long
as you people - and by this meant not just the Lok Dal, but also
the Jan Sangh and the Marxists - so long as you people remain
opposed to each other, the Congress will continue to dominate.
Merely the Lok Dal and the Socialist Party coming together will not
do. Therefore, all non-Congress parties must come together despite
their ideological difference. This was his theme. And
anti-Congressism arose because of the strength of the Congress
party. Similarly, the anti-BJPism that you see today is not because
of the difference of ideology, as much as it is because of the
growing strength of the BJP.

Why were we thrown out of the Janata Party? When the Janata Party
was as its weakest, the Jan Sangh group was the strongest. They
felt that we would come to dominate, and so they threw us out.

Isn't more accurate to say that you opted to leave the Janata

We did opt to leave because they said you must dissociate yourself
from the RSS. And we said nothing doing. Actually RSS was only an
excuse. The anti-BJPism that you are witnessing today was
manifested in a big way at that time within the Janata party.
Therefore, these days I have been telling my colleagues: let us
worry about these negative traits within the party. Let us not
worry at alt about the anti-BJP gang-up of the other parties. That
cannot in any way hurt us. That can only help us.

Are you saying that the consolidation of what you would call
"pseudo-secular" forces is entirely artificial?

Yes, all that is just a facade.

But there is a fairly credible argument that this is a genuine
social process of backward class consolidation - particularly in
U.P. and Bihar...

Backward class consolidation has little to do with this secularism.
And back wards are sizably with the BJP today.

Not very substantially, it would appear....

No, no. Had it not been substantial, we would not have got these

What accounts for the decline in your performance between the 1996
Lok Sabha elections and the Assembly elections in U.P. that
followed shortly afterwards?

Because Lok Sabha is totally different. That was a contest
principally that contest, the BSP and the Samajwadi Party are not
very relevant, and therefore they cannot perform as well in the Lok
Sabha elections as they can in these Assembly elections. There is
no decline. I would compare the situation with 1991 when the
Ayodhya issue was very sharp. If we have been able to achieve the
same results in 1996 without that issue, it is not a setback...

It could be called stagnation...

No, it is a consolidation of the strength that we acquired with
Ayodhya. It shows that even without Ayodhya we are able to
establish the same strength.

Coming to you efforts to remove the stigma of being projected as a
brahminical party and the care taken by the RSS in the past to keep
away from politics - the Virar conclave has given an impression
that the RSS top brass is going to take a more active role in the
affairs of the BJP...

We are in the limelight today. People do not know that the conclave
where Deen Dayal Upadhyaya first formulated his integral humanism
took place some time in the 1960s at a three - day session in
Gwalior. And a special invitee to the session was Balasaheb Deoras,
who was RSS general secretary then. He was not yet sarsanghchalak,
because Guruji (M.S. Golwalkar) was still there. It has continued
since then. Here too, when the press writers that the top brass of
the RSS was present, there was only one person present, and that
was the RSS general secretary. This has continued over the years.
But those years we were not in the limelight. We were a peripheral
and marginal party. Today we are central. And therefore, this kind
of a speculation has been going on.

The impression which seems to emerge from the recent conclaves
which the RSS has had at Ayodhya and Ghaziabad, is that the
pracharaks who has been deputed to oversee organisational matters -
their prominence is being downgraded, and the top leadership of the
RSS is going to take a direct role in matters of the party.

No, no, that is incorrect. There is no such move.

You mentioned in year New Year's-eve press conference that the
crisis facing the nation has three dimensions. Could you elaborate?

I mentioned three crises - of nationalism, consensus and
leadership. I said that, for example, in the field of the economy,
there is need for some kind of an arrangement, like Japan has for a
long time, where there is increasing interaction between those in
the political sphere, those in authority and those in business,
industry and even academics, Out problems are of a nature where you
must have a national consensus in area like poverty, prices, the
oil crisis, etc. Now everyone is viewing matters purely from a
political angle, and unfortunately we now have a situation where
for the Government, the largest party in Parliament is an
untouchable. How does it hope to solve any problems?

But the BJP could still contribute to the consensus...

I am not going contribute to the consensus. I would like this
Government to go as early as possible. Even according to many of
its own constituents - their vested interests in continuing in
government is a different matter - but very few of them are
satisfied with its performance. The only rationale that they have
is that if this Government foes the BJP will come in. Therefore,
let us tolerate this Government.

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