Vajpayee And Advani: The Yin Yang Of Hindutva
Through his history of the Vajpayee-Advani partnership, Vinay Sitapati gives us an eminently readable and scholarly book.
Jugalbandi: The BJP Before Modi. Vinay Sitapati. 2020. Penguin Viking. Pages 424. Rs 640.
Almost no study has been done on how two very different personalities, L K Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, worked together for decades, almost half a century, transforming their differences into complementary features for the political movement for which they worked.
Usually, the establishment media and academic studies on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tend to portray the duo negatively, even when assuming a neutral language. The Western as well as Westernised Indian studies of the BJP and Hindutva come with a pre-concluded notion that they are inherently evil. The cost of the blinkers is a huge lacuna in the study of Hindutva as a multi-layered phenomenon — cultural, religious and political.
Jugalbandi (Viking, 2020) is a step in filling this near-intentional gap.
The book begins with a detailed visual description of Advani announcing Vajpayee as the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP in 1995. Then the book, divided into three main parts, 1924-1980, 1980-1998 and 1998-2004, presents the odyssey of the Hindutva movement through the dynamics of the relation between Vajpayee and Advani.
The role of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is always there, present in the background. Not as a string-pulling puppet master but as a silent observing guru, understanding and guiding, at times gentle and at times harsh, but never interfering to the point of crossing a self-defined line.
When Balraj Madhok goes and complains about the personal life of Vajpayee, the way Guruji Golwalkar responds is a case in point. Considered as the most religious of all the Sangh heads, Golwalkar displays tolerance. Madhok with his conspiracy theories and a very purist dogmatic approach gets sidelined.
The Hindutva movement chooses the middle path.
In 1971, Vajpayee wrote that the party could not grow if it remained tied to the ideology in a dry way. This created quite a stir. Sitapati writes:
Asked to elaborate, Vajpayee explained that Hindus were moderates,and would not agree to an ideological party. Many in the RSS opposed this. …Gurujispoke after lunch. ‘I agree with Atalji that an ideological party will find itdifficult to come to power and won’t come to power quickly. But I disagree thatit will never happen’.p.73
The book brings out Balraj Madhok as a dogmatically rigid person and hints at Narendra Modi being sympathetic to Madhok for the current prime minister paid his respects to Madhok on the former Jan Sangh chief’s demise. Let us, though, not forget another aspect.
Madhok through his concept of ‘Indianisation’ also helped in the inclusive expansion of Jan Sangh’s Hindutva, which would later become an important theme in the political discourse of Advani with the name ‘cultural nationalism’. So while the organisation rejected Madhok, the person, it absorbed his contribution in its growth.
The book discusses the Vajpayee-Mrs Rajkumari Kaul relation with the respect the subject deserves. In fact, the entire Indian media, despite whatever criticism one may have, as well as the Indian polity, treated this relation with matured respect.
Another aspect the book brings out is the anti-casteism inherent in the Sangh movement from the beginning. This is another aspect usually many English writers on the Sangh turn a blind eye to. Sitapati points out two important facts here.
· One is that Nathuram Godse, who later became bitterly opposed to the RSS, had participated in the anti-caste movement of the RSS (p.31). This means the RSS had an anti-caste approach as early as 1940s.
· A more significant point is that when the Janata Party was formed, not only did the Jan Sangh refrain itself from getting into the prime ministerial race, but its preferred candidate was Babu Jagjivan Ram. ‘Secular’ Charan Singh, with his middle caste derision for Jagjivan Ram, was strongly opposed to it (p. 97). Had the Jan Sangh’s proposal been accepted, India would have had its first prime minister from the scheduled community.
It is telling about the bias in the scholarship studying the Hindutva movement that it has taken all these years for a study to mention this and underline the Hindutva basis for this proposal.
The course of events is well narrated in a racy style.
The formation of the BJP, the 1981 Meenakshipuram conversion to Islam, and the shock waves it sent throughout the nation and the subsequent Ekatmata Yatra organised by the VIshwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the events leading up to the Sri Ramjanmabhoomi movement are covered in detail.
(After 1981, many communal riots happened in India, most of them Hindu-Muslim. But Sitapati also mentions Kanyakumari riots as part of Hindu-Muslim riots (p.123). The 1982 Kanyakumari riots were Hindu-Christian and the aggressive proselytisation and almost apartheid like situation against Hindus in the district precipitated the riots).
Vajpayee, the parliamentarian, was not very comfortable with the Ayodhya movement and even Advani did not expect what happened eventually — the removal of the domes by karsevaks. It was the Chauri Chaura moment for Advani.
The Ayodhya movement was the time when Vajpayee felt marginalised. But he never let down the party by expressing his differences or even alienation, outside. When the domes were pulled down and subsequently the BJP became politically untouchable, Vajpayee not only stood by the party and the movement, but also strove in a coordinated way with Advani to make the party acceptable.
In a way, P V Narsimha Rao, who was bitter with Advani for the domes’ destruction, also helped in BJP regaining respectability by not only conferring upon Vajpayee the ‘Best Parliamentarian Award’ in 1994 but also by making Vajpayee the leader of a multi-party delegation to Geneva which successfully foiled Pakistan’s plans of tabling a resolution on Kashmir at the UN Commission on Human Rights (p.189).
How in 1999 Dr Subramanian Swamy coordinated the events around a no-confidence motion against Vajpayee’s government, along with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), leading to the government’s fall by one vote, is an interesting read.
Dr Swamy was a brilliant economist no doubt, definitely a genius. But the aversion Vajpayee had for him was more because he felt that Dr Swamy possessed a flawed character. Dr Swamy, with his political opportunism, perhaps vindicated Vajpayee’s judgement to keep him away from the cabinet.
For Ayodhya, Dr Swamy wanted the land to be given to the Muslims, if needed using the military. In his book on the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, he called the RSS a ‘black widow’ spider.
The 1998 Coimbatore bomb blasts, which were meant to target Advani, killed 70 people. A flight delay saved him. Dr Swamy alleged that those who had carried out the bombing were new Muslims and were originally RSS cadre. Such wild, speculative allegations coupled with political opportunism reduced Dr Swamy to be more an unreliable, narcissistic maverick than the brilliant economist who could have been a valuable asset to any government.
Another crucial point observed in the book in not-so-flattering terms is this:
The ease with which Hindu nationalists can spout opposing economics suggests they do not have a principled view on the subject.(p.71)
Given the non-homogenous nature of the Sangh Parivar, not getting tied down to one school of economics is both good politics and in the long term allows economists rather than party ideologues to decide on this vital aspect of public policy.
The dynamics between the Sangh and the BJP when the latter was in power is brought out well. Far from being a body of mechanistic apparatchiks, the usual caricature of the Lutyen’s media, the Sangh wields its stick in an organic manner.
For example, while bitterly opposed to globalisation, the Sangh supported two important projects of Vajpayee: the 5,800-kilometre ‘golden quadrilateral’ project and the 1999 National Telecom Policy (pp.252-3). In both the cases the RSS sees the projects as uniting Indians.
Similarly, the BJP leaders on the other hand have their own equations and views derived not from shakhas but from the electoral politics dealing with the masses.
Advani supported the opening of the economy even during the early phase of liberalisation, much to the discomfort of the RSS. Vajpayee, who was earlier inclined towards swadeshi later embraced globalisation more openly. Sangh was bitter. Vinay Sitapati writes:
The tussle between Vajpayee and Sudarshan reveals that the BJP does not always march to the RSS’s tunes. As importantly, it shows that the RSS can withstand the trappings of electoral power. No gift of government—no Rajya Sabha nomination, no state grants, no Ambassador car, no Lutyens bungalow—was able to bend Sudarshan’s view.(p.251)
This is another important aspect that has most probably been pointed out for the first time in an outsider’s study of the Sangh-BJP relation.
Advani, through the decades, moved from being ‘Watson to Sherlock Holmes’ (p.49), the charioteer who would lead Vajpayee to the throne through the electoral Kurukshetra.
When in power, their relations changed. In fact, they deteriorated according to the author.
The handling of IC-814 hijacking, subsequent freeing of the three terrorists and the Kashmir ceasefire against terrorists during Ramzan are instances presented as one where Vajpayee veered towards the Jaswant Singh-Brajesh Mishra cabal, almost keeping Advani, the home minister, in the dark or overriding him.
In the meeting where the decision was made to release the three terrorists, Advani was heard muttering to himself, ‘We are a soft state’. (p.234)
Still, the rhythm of their jugalbandi survived — at least till 2002.
Coming to the Modi era, there are some observations. Sitapati points out that Vajpayee-Advani were not as ruthless with respect to their political enemies as are Modi-Shah. But then Vajpayee-Advani did not face a completely transformed and ruthless Congress as Modi faced.
Similarly, while correctly pointing out that the BJP has transformed and expanded its social base, the author also makes the following claim: If today’s BJP is less upper caste than the BJP of old, it is also more anti-Muslim (p.299).
The veracity of the second part of the statement is highly debatable if not completely wrong.
The BJP today is implementing the programme that has been envisioned since its inception. The wrongs done to the minority communities left in Pakistan and Bangladesh are still there and the minorities of East Pakistan underwent a genocide in 1971. Today endangered, they are undergoing a systematic persecution, and humiliatingly fading into extinction. India has a duty towards them, historical, humanistic and ethical.
The BJP is doing just that.
In reality, what has happened in the anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protests is that the voices of the Islamists who supported the 1971 genocide emerged as the mainstream voices of the community facilitated by leftists and Congress.
The book on the whole is a medium for quite a nostalgic time travel for those who lived through the events of the 1970s to 1990s as they unfolded. It stands apart not because it takes the reader on a racy, thrilling journey through the dynamics of the mainstream Hindutva movement but also for the refreshing insights it gives into the uniqueness of the Advani-Vajpayee jugalbandi and its source of strength:
There is no other partnership that switched hierarchies not once but twice without tearing itself apart. ... This unique relationship between Vajpayee and Advani was propelled not just by innate warmth and complementary skills. It was also driven by the creed they belonged to, one that worshipped teamwork.(pp.298-9)
Sitapati points out that the teamwork comes from Hindutva and its understanding of history — which values fraternity or to use Walter Anderson’s words, the ‘brotherhood under saffron’, over everything else.
The book contrasts the funeral of Vajpayee with that of Narasimha Rao. Congress denied entry to the mortal remains of Rao into the party headquarters, and a funeral in Delhi. Finally, the funeral pyre held at Hyderabad was exposed to stray dogs. As against this “Vajpayee’s funeral was a national event, with the prime minister accompanying the hearse to its final resting place on foot for six kilometers”. This despite the fact that ‘Vajpayee had done as much to hurt Modi as Rao had done to Sonia' (p.300).
The bonds of saffron brotherhood triumphed over personal egos and political ambitions.
Sitapati busts the myth that this bonding exists because the top leaders of the Hindutva movement are from the same social base. They are all from quite different communities. In fact, he quotes Golwalkar who emphasises the love for the nation above caste:
The person responsible for the defeat of Prithiviraj, the Hindu King at Delhi, by Mohammed Ghori was his own caste relation Jaichand. The person who hounded Rana Pratap from forest to forest was none other than his own caste-man Raja Mansingh. Shivaji too was opposed by men of his own caste. Even in the last-ditch battle between the Hindus and the British at Poona in 1818,it was a fellow caste-man of the Peshwas, Natu by name, who lowered the Hindu flag and hoisted the British flag.
The realisation of the danger of disunity in the face of an aggressive expansionist enemy is at the core of this feeling of brotherhood, he implies. The author could as well have quoted Dr B R Ambedkar:
In the invasion of Sindh by Mahommed-Bin-Kasim, the military commanders of King Dahar accepted bribes from the agents of Mahommed-Bin-Kasim and refused to fight on the side of their King. It was Jaichand who invited Mahommed Ghori to invade India and fight against Prithvi Raj and promised him the help of himself and the Solanki Kings. When Shivaji was fighting for the liberation of Hindus, the other Maratha noblemen and the Rajput Kings were fighting the battle on the side of Moghul Emperors. When the British were trying to destroy the Sikh Rulers, Gulab Singh, their principal commander sat silent and did not help to save the Sikh Kingdom. In 1857, when a large part of India had declared a war of independence against the British, the Sikhs stood and watched the event as silent spectators. Will history repeat itself? It is this thought which fills me with anxiety. This anxiety is deepened by the realisation of the fact that in addition to our old enemies in the form of castes and creeds we are going to have many political parties with diverse and opposing political creeds. Will Indians place the country above their creed or will they place creed above country?
As the book ends the reader realises that the Vajpayee and Advani narrative is no more about two personalities however towering, majestic and complicated they may be but they have become archetypes. They, like the Yin Yang, represented the Tao of not just their party but of Hindutva itself.
The book is a wonderful, must-read addition to a scholarly, objective study of the saffron phenomenon.
Aravindan Neelakandan is Contributing Editor, Swarajya.
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