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Friday, August 21, 2009

Why BJP is Right and Jaswant Singh Wrong

On of the face it, it seems silly for BJP to throw anyone out of the party for writing a book, least of all Jaswant Singh who worked for the party for 30 years and was an effective and prominent minister, handling key portfolios, during NDA rule under Sri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. A case can be made that he was one of the most effective foreign minister (and probably an effective finance minister as well, with Vijay Kelkar on his side ) because of the way he maneuvered US when it was breathing down Bharat's neck to role back nuclear weaponization, join NPT, and sign up for CTBT. Lesser mortals could have succumbed. In fact, NDA government almost did.

The way to look at this is not from Jaswant Singh's side, but from BJP point of view. BJP is political entity. It is based on political ideology and, at least ideally, sticks to that ideology when competing for political power at state and central levels. And its ideology is apparently based on nationalism and on historic Bharatiya cultural continuity, the so called Hindutva ideology. The entire debate after the recent BJP election loss was trying to identify what Hindutva actual meant. BJP and its support organization, RSS, would like the definition of Hindutva to be cultural nationalism rather than nationalism based on Hindu religion .

Even before the debate about Hindutva is settled, Sri Singh writes Jinnah — India, Partition and Independence, that, at its core, absolves Muhammad Ali Jinnah as being the central force for break up the Bharatiya subcontinent and lays the blame for it centrally on Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. He goes even further to say that Indian Muslims may not be comfortable with current democratic setup, meaning they have a legitimate claim to grievance of the current majority-based democratic framework.

It's one thing to write a book that re-looks at the roles Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel played leading up to partition. It's entirely another thing to make Muhammad Jinnah as the focal point of his book and downplay his role in partition. Does Jaswant Singh really believe a three-tired structure with semi-independent provinces work for India? If he does, why oppose the current status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It's ironic, and besides the point for this current debate, that Nehru dismisses Jinnah's interest in semi-independent provices for a strong centre, a prerequisite for his Fabian socialist agenda, but agrees to the same structure for Jammu and Kashmir soon after. In fact, early on, Nehru was okay with even a very loose federal structure for Jammu and Kashmir which Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, the creator of Jan Sangh, BJP's prior political form, gave his life fighting against.

What Sri Singh did in his book on Jinnah and partition was to undermine the core ideology of his own party. As an individual and a historian, it is perfectly reasonable for Jaswant Singh to write this book. But he cannot write a book that attacks the central ideology of BJP, that too as a senior leader of the same party.

It would have been better for both Jaswant Singh and BJP had Sri Singh resigned from BJP to write this book. The book itself may prove to be an important book on partition. But BJP had every right to fire a person who was working against its own political ideology. We just would have hoped they could have explained the action a little better.

As for the state of Gujarat's ban on Jaswant's book, suffice it to say that Sardar Patel would have probably disapproved the action. We would go further to say that Sardar Patel cannot be brought down by one book. If not, Marxist historians would have done it a long time ago to keep their apparent secular icon Nehru on an even higher pedestal.