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Crisis In India’s Hindu Nationalist Party
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
South Asia Editor
Lal Krishna Advani
The Indian media has been, in these past few days, full of stories on the crisis in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalist party, that ruled the country before present Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress coalition won the elections and power in New Delhi last year.

The problem arose after Lal Krishna Advani, BJP president, resigned over a furore caused by his recent remarks in Karachi (Pakistan) about Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Jinnah founded Pakistan in 1947. Invariably considered a key person behind the Indian subcontinent being divided into India and Pakistan, Jinnah was looked upon as an arch Muslim fundamentalist by hardcore elements in the
BJP.

Advani certainly belonged to this camp, and the BJP's last year electoral defeat was often attributed to the radical image the part came to acquire, despite Atal Behari Vajpayee's (India's former prime minister and BJP leader) moderating influence. In fact, Advani was regarded as an anathema, quite the opposite of Vajpayee.

Being a shrewd politician — and also realising that Vajpayee was now too old to lead the BJP in the next general elections (Vajpayee himself had given his blessings to the younger Advani) – Advani made a very tactical move to change his image, and change it with, what he thought will be, one single stroke. Advani wanted to be a statesman, like Vajpayee, and not just a mere politician, that too a hardliner one.

Advani put his plan of action during his recent trip to Pakistan on a goodwill mission along with his family. At Karachi, his own birth place, Advani made two significant statements. He described Jinnah as "secular." a man who wanted India and Pakistan to co-exist, and Hindus and Muslims to live together in harmony. Also, Advani said that the demolition of the Babri Mosque in northern India in early 1990s was the "saddest day of my life."

This provoked the rebels in the BJP's allies, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (both wield considerable clout over the BJP, and in fact some of the Sangh members, including Advani, are also members of the BJP). They went to the extent of telling Advani that he should either retract his statements or resign as party president.

Advani resigned from his post, though he continues to be leader of the Opposition in Parliament.

There are indications that Advani had thought out a well conceived move to alter his image. He is said to have written his resignation letter in Karachi itself.

The question that now perplexes just about everybody in India is the reason for Advani's sudden about turn. Many of his critics feel that he was always an opportunist. He had no "core beliefs." His political actions were guided by what was then in vogue.

Considered a key man responsible for the failure of the Agra summit between Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Vajpayee in 2001, Advani now perhaps thinks that India-Pakistan amity is today's fashion statement. So, he would rather go to Pakistan and make the right noises.

I would disagree with this view, at least in its entirety. It is true that Advani sees a growing prospect for himself with Vajpayee getting on in age.

But, Advani also understands that an important reason for the BJP's electoral defeat was Vajpayee's inability to carry the peace process with Pakistan to its logical destination, because he could not tone down the anti-Muslim hostility in his own party.

Advani appears to be countering this prejudice. He said at Karachi: "While the Partition cannot be undone, some of the follies of the Partition can be undone, and they must be undone. I dream of the day when divided families
(across the border) can be reunited…."

This is in total refutation of the RSS-VHP stand. They preach the theology of hate, a theology that the hardline faction in the BJP endorses.

Advani may be attempting a course correction. The reasons may be anything: selfish or selfless. But, unless he succeeds in getting at least some of his own party members to change their attitude and give up their prejudice, Advani's efforts to present a new BJP can fail.

However, this alone may not be enough: a brighter chance of Advani's success is foreseen if he is bold enough to delink the BJP from the hardened RSS and The VHP.



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Gautaman Bhaskaran is a veteran film critic and writer who has covered Cannes and other major international festivals, like Venice, Berlin, Montreal, Melbourne, and Fukuoka over the past two decades. He has been to Cannes alone for 15 years. He has worked in two of India’s leading English newspapers, The Hindu and The Statesman, and is now completing an authorized biography of India’s auteur-director, Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Penguin International will publish the book, whose research was funded by Ford Foundation.

 

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