When the first BJP-led coalition was sworn-in last year, Congressmen proposed a funny though inane cliché – that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the ‘right man in the wrong party’. The fact that it sounded witty and no doubt riled the Sangh parivar must have lent it legitimacy in the eyes of ‘secular’ commentators and social scientists, for I have heard it repeated mindlessly over the past year.
In one sense, the cliché was convenient, because those ideologically opposed to the BJP could invoke it to explain their inability to find blemishes in Vajpayee’s public career. Today, this ruse is being adopted by intellectual fellow travelers who are privately aghast at the idea of an impressive BJP performance at the polls; they eulogize the Prime Minister and denigrate the RSS.
In a fundamental sense, however, the cliché obscures the reality. Mr Vajpayee is a genuine RSS product, espouses its worldview, and was handpicked by Deen Dayal Upadhyaya himself to be his political heir. His potential as a possible Prime Minister was recognized long ago, for which reason he was always cherished by the parivar, despite differences of perception on some issues. Most differences, it should be emphasized, have been of nuance rather than substance. For instance, Vajpayee’s horror at the forceful reclamation of the Ram Janmabhoomi by Ram bhakts cannot honestly be interpreted to mean that the devotees should relinquish claim to the site.
I mention this to draw attention to the fact that it is Mr. Vajpayee who, following the recent aggression in Kargil, subtly revived Akhand Bharat, the dream of the old Jana Sangh. Before critics demur, I may point out that this does not mean reversing the Partition (which no sensible Indian desires), but restoring the boundary of 15th August 1947. The BJP, it may be noted, has been consistent in this demand, and during the Narasimha Rao regime, was able to inspire Parliament to pass a unanimous resolution favouring restoration of Pak-occupied Kashmir to India.
Most people today may not even remember the term Akhand Bharat. But there is no denying the fact that it has gathered new potency as a deeply experienced nationalism grips the country, fueled by images of a bitter battle fought on lonely, snow-swept peaks. This is the reason why there were no takers for the view, floated tentatively by pro-Pak pacifists after the conflict formally ended, that the LoC be converted into a legal border. In fact, while Kargil created widespread admiration for the Prime Minister’s leadership, the decision to confine the conflict to the Indian side of the LoC also produced profound dissatisfaction. There was an unstated conviction that India had missed a golden opportunity to recover PoK and restore the country’s territorial integrity.
Mr Vajpayee may have sensed this frustration, but his decision not to hold talks with Pakistan until it stopped aiding and abetting the militants, only partially placated public opinion. It took the unexpected shooting down of the Atlantique (a purely local assessment and decision by the concerned air force station) to satisfy the nationalist Indian’s craving for a forceful and convincing display of power. Perceptible observers have noted a sharp quickening in pro-BJP sentiment since the incident, and a corresponding dissipation of the disappointment at not crossing the LoC.
I must add that this disappointment would not have adversely affected the government in the forthcoming elections because the Congress has utterly failed to read the pulse of the nation. Today Sonia Gandhi does not look like a foreigner only because of her Italian origin and heavy accent. She looks like the foreigner she is because she does not experience the powerful bonding that girdles the nation post-Kargil; nor has she shown the slightest sensitivity to public sentiment in this regard. When public memory is still burning with the visual impact of the war and the highly emotive return of the bodies of slain soldiers, her statement that Kargil is not a victory of the leadership that steered the nation through this difficult hour strikes a jarring note. The Left parties and intellectuals also made noises about the fanning of ‘jingoistic nationalism’ when the bodies came, but quickly fell into discrete silence after sensing the public mood.
Sonia Gandhi, however, in her much publicized first press conference, failed to appreciate that the conflict is still smouldering.Pakistan’s increased surveillance and intrusion that led to the shooting down of the Atlantique last fortnight underlines its determination to continue its offensive in some form or other. Certainly continued support to militants was anticipated, but the frontal assaults on security forces have given the situation an entirely new dimension. Nearly a dozen attacks have taken place since the end of the conflict, and it is clear that there is a concerted attempt to unnerve and demoralize those charged with the responsibility of guarding the country’s internal and external security, and create panic in society as a whole.
At the same time, the Pakistani opposition has denounced the Nawaz Sharif-Bill Clinton deal on cessation of hostilities and declared that a new government would not feel bound to honour it. The long term implications of this statement for Pakistan and Nawaz Sharif is something that that country will have to contend with; but we in India will have to be extremely vigilant against fresh adventurism. Sonia Gandhi, however, seems entirely oblivious of the dangerous new dynamic developing in the region. Her spin doctors have told her that because the Bofors gun performed credibly on the Himalayan ranges, she can extricate her family from the corruption charges that accompanied that deal. Hence, this is what she pitched for in her maiden press conference, heedless of the spectacle she made of herself and her party.
Political developments since Kargil have brought out a clear correspondence between the nation’s external and internal landscape. Those who do not understand the equivalence between well defended borders and hindutva’s soul-liberating agenda speak foolishly of the deferment of “contentious issues” by the BJP coalition. The truth is that, historically, the forces that battled for an honourable space for India’s civilizational ethos in the public realm have already carried the day, and there can be no turning back of the tide.
What remains is to set things right. We must end the sustained neglect of our security and police forces by five decades of non-national leadership. No other country in the world has an army strapped for spares or a police force not equipped with fast cars and mobile communication. Then, Congress should be brought to account for the hordes of non-Indian ‘votebanks’ that have turned first Assam, and now the entire north-east and West Bengal into virtual tinderboxes. The entire border with Nepal is lined with militants’ training camps.
Indians are peace-loving and do not espouse theories like the ‘clash of civilizations,’ but I would like to ask our secular friends what other cultures and ideologies seek to throttle in India if not the Hindu ethos? Those virulently opposed to the “communalism” of the BJP must explain why the ‘secular’ India of the Nehru-Gandhi’s and other like-minded secularists faced infiltration and assault (after all, BJP has been in power only in the last one year). These are difficult questions. But to evade the answer that India is under threat because she is Hindu is to once again invite the minimization that has debilitated us so grievously, so long.
The Pioneer, 17 August 1999