Sunday, May 24, 2009

Inside a BJP driven by prejudice: - by Rajinder Puri

Inside a BJP driven by prejudice: - by Rajinder Puri
After six years in office the BJP launched the costliest election campaign in India’s history and was badly trounced. The Congress, which itself had dwindled into irrelevance, succeeded in becoming the single largest party. The fractured election result did not signify a revival of the Congress. It signified the irrelevance of all existing parties. 

The BJP itself lacks ideology, procedure and principle. It has an attitude. It is anti-Muslim and anti-Christian. These prejudices are its driving force. My views are derived from personal interaction with the BJP and its erstwhile avatar, the Jan Sangh. I present, by your leave, a first person account of that interaction, for whatever it is worth.
I was working, in 1970, for The Statesman, and was among the country’s best-paid journalists. My cartoons had been very critical of the Congress and of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In those days of one-party rule all opposition parties stood up for me. Indeed, during those days when Indira was splitting the Congress, opposition party leaders from all the leading parties held a function in Vithalbhai Patel House to air support for me. On behalf of all the leaders present, Atal Behari Vajpayee even garlanded me!
The Jan Sangh (the BJP of those days) decided to start a daily newspaper, Motherland. I was invited to be the editor. Having my own ideas of how to run a newspaper, and believing that in a city largely sympathetic to the Jan Sangh I could effectively challenge Delhi’s premier newspaper, the Hindustan Times, I accepted the offer. I almost halved my own salary and set the same salary ceiling for the top five members of the editorial team. I created a salary structure in which junior staff would have salaries equivalent to the highest paying competitors, the Times of India and The Statesman. The Sangh leaders watched me uneasily but said nothing.
The resident editor of the Indian Express, DR Mankekar, had just retired. I approached him to become Editor of News. Mankekar was very much my senior in years. He appeared to respond favourably. On this matter I consulted KR Malkani, editor of the Jan Sangh’s journal, Organiser. The next thing I knew, I was told by Madhav Rao Mule, number two in the RSS, that Mankekar would be the managing editor. I was told that Hansraj Gupta had a hand in this decision.
Mule, Malkani and I held a meeting to discuss the issue. The only known managing editor till then had been Devdas Gandhi in HT. Devdas was the boss of the show. So I asked Mule, “What does a managing editor do?”
Mule looked uncomfortable. Malkani replied, “Rajinderji, here we function like a family, we work together.”
I bluntly told him: “I don’t think we can function like a family. If we want to become number one in the city we must function like an army. We must have a chain of command. If there is a difference of opinion, who prevails, Mankekar or I?”
Malkani mumbled, “Mankekar.”
“Have you discussed salary with him? How much will you pay him?”
“The same that he gets.” That was around Rs 3,500 per month. I had sacrificed a Rs 4,000 plus salary to voluntarily set for myself a salary of Rs 2,000 per month! I bid Motherland goodbye. I had a letter of appointment from the Motherland Board unambiguously appointing me as number one. “Don’t worry,” I told Malkani. “I won’t sue you for breach of trust.”
Later, Advani and Kedarnath Sahni approached me together and requested me to return. “I thought I was entering a mandir (temple),” I told them wryly. “But I found myself in a mandi (marketplace)!”
Sahni looked at me mournfully. “Puriji,” he said earnestly. “Believe me, we are not a marketplace!” That was the end of the Motherland chapter. The paper never took off. It was closed during the Emergency. After Emergency was lifted it did not revive. I think the Sangh leaders had learnt the hard way that they were out of their depth when it came to daily journalism.
After my brush with Motherland I had returned to The Statesman. Just before Emergency was imposed, I had stopped drawing cartoons for it because its editor, NJ Nanporia, didn’t publish my cartoons critical of Indira. Those days CR Irani had little say in editorial matters. Nevertheless, after Emergency was imposed, a warrant for my arrest was issued. I went underground. When arrest warrants against all journalists were withdrawn upon the advice of Chalapathi Rau, I surfaced to resume my unemployed existence.
After Emergency was lifted, having had close relations with all anti-Indira forces, I found myself in the Janata Party. I was the only non-party general secretary of the party. My appointment had to be approved by all the constituents of the original Janata Party, which did not include Jagjivan Ram at that stage. I was entrusted with looking after the campaign publicity.
After the Janata Party won the election despite initial private pessimism among most of its leaders, especially George Fernandes, aspirants from all factions got together and conspired to throw me out from my post. Explaining to reporters my removal from the post, Advani and Surendra Mohan, who, along with me, were original general secretaries, said that my appointment had been “temporary”. That was not true. The conspiracy had been so complete that I learnt of my removal only from the newspapers the next day! But that is another story.
I grew closer to Charan Singh and Raj Narain because of my previous personal rapport with Ram Manohar Lohia. I wrote columns for Blitz Weekly and the Illustrated Weekly of India. In Blitz I broke the story of the RSS having given a sworn affidavit to the authorities stating it was a political organisation in order to evade a tax of Rs 1 crore. That laid the foundation of the dual membership controversy that provided the excuse for the party to split. Eventually, Raj Narain was unconstitutionally expelled from the national executive for what he allegedly said about Morarji Desai in Shimla. Years later, Shanta Kumar of Himachal Pradesh admitted in a book he wrote that he had falsely implicated Raj Narain at the behest of Nanaji Deshmukh. Anyway, Raj Narain and I formulated the strategy to topple the Desai government, which I had concluded was incorrigible. A fortnight before the Janata government fell, I wrote in my Blitz column precisely how and when it would fall.
In the 1979-80 election I contested against Vajpayee and CM Stephen from the New Delhi constituency. I was then, along with Madhu Limaye and Narendra Singh, general secretary of the Lok Dal. It was a foolhardy enterprise. Charan Singh had announced his intention to apply the Mandal formula in government service. All the central secretariat employees who were voters in my constituency were at my throat. Delhi’s urban voters passionately hated the Chaudhry. Being general secretary of the party and residing in New Delhi, I thought it a matter of honour that I contest from my own turf instead of contesting from Meerut where, with the Chaudhry’s blessings, I might have easily won. Raj Narain allowed me to keep for use in my own election the Rs 50,000 that I had collected for the party. I didn’t receive a single extra rupee from the party. During most of the campaign I had to seek small donations from friends.
I won few votes but they were crucial. In the extremely close contest my votes cut into the Congress tally to allow a victory for Vajpayee. After its defeat, the Janata Party split again into Janata Party and Bharatiya Janata Party. Meanwhile, because Charan Singh and Raj Narain also parted company, I quit the Lok Dal, not joining any faction. It was then that Vajpayee and Advani personally approached me to join the BJP. Advani said: “Let us forget the past. Let there be no reservations on either side.” Okay, I said, and joined the BJP. I asked for no post or status but joined as an ordinary member. It was a foolish decision. As John F Kennedy once said: “If someone deceives you once, it is his fault. If he deceives you twice, it is your fault.” The BJP leaders had already deceived me twice.
In the BJP I quickly became Vajpayee’s presidential speechwriter and unofficial think-tank. At the same time I got together likeminded Delhi leaders, Arif Baig, Mewa Ram Arya and others, to start the Jan Ekta Manch to work among jhuggi settlements where the BJP was particularly weak. We made quick progress. By that time Indira had launched the bank loans scheme for the poor. The party decided to stop the scheme’s misuse in enabling only Congress sympathisers to get bank loans. The Jan Ekta Manch had become strong enough to overshadow the party in organising demonstrations and getting hundreds, sometimes thousands, to court arrest. Vajpayee was delighted. The Delhi leaders were uneasy although the Jan Ekta Manch was located in the premises of the party office and no non-BJP member was made an office-bearer of the Manch.
While Delhi leaders became uneasy at one level, the national leaders became uneasy at another. To give substance to the BJP’s empty slogan of ushering in Gandhian Socialism, I tried giving it content by creating the Workers’ Sector concept. Inspired by Gandhi’s concept of trusteeship I prepared an approach paper outlining the Workers’ Sector concept in which workers would become owners, share in the profits and participate in the management of those companies where public financial institutions held a majority share. The body to propagate this concept was named Ekatrit Kamgar Tabdili Andolan, Ekta. I lobbied hard and created the Ekta committee with Vajpayee, Chandra Shekhar, George Fernandes, Karpoori Thakur, Madhu Dandavate, Devraj Urs, Advani and Bhai Mahavir as members while I was convener.
For the formal approval of the approach paper and its release to the Press, I got all the leaders to Vajpayee’s house. The next day the Indian Express carried a banner headline with a photograph of all the leaders flanking Vajpayee. This created shock waves among the BJP leaders, minus Vajpayee. 
It seemed that opposition unity was being recreated in a new guise. Advani quickly swung into action and derailed the specific significance of the move by summoning the same leaders for routine consideration of electoral reforms and other humdrum subjects. The Workers’ Sector concept died a quiet death.

They come from a different planet
The election results were as bad as they could be. True, the vote percentage declined by just about 2.5 per cent, but the BJP won only two Lok Sabha seats. As I had warned Vajpayee, Scindia, with solid RSS support, defeated him. Despite the crushing defeat, nothing changed in the party’s functioning.
Advani had described the Anandpur Sahib Resolution of the Akalis as a “charter of national disintegration”. Despite that, Rajiv Gandhi described the BJP as an “anti-national party” because it had not distanced itself sufficiently from Prakash Singh Badal. The national executive of the party resolved to have no talks on Punjab with the PM unless he apologised for that remark. A few days after the resolution, Rajiv invited Advani, then secretary-general of the party, for a discussion on Punjab and Advani met him.
I issued a press statement criticising Advani for breaking party discipline by ignoring the national executive resolution. Vajpayee wrote to me saying I should not have gone to the press. I said I would not do that as long as Advani did not flout national executive resolutions.
A short while later Advani flouted another national executive resolution. Ram Jethmalani had argued all day persuading the party to have no truck with the Shiv Sena in Mumbai. But almost immediately after that the Mumbai unit of the BJP, blessed by Advani, teamed up with the Shiv Sena to contest the Mayor’s election.
I again went to the press and criticised the party for flouting discipline. Thereupon, Vajpayee wrote a letter asking me to resign from the national executive for breaching discipline. I replied by resigning from the primary membership of the party. Ironically, later Jethmalani had no compunction in seeking Shiv Sena support for becoming an MP! Vajpayee’s letter and my reply are reproduced without editing. The correspondence is self-explanatory:

Atal Behari Vajpayee
Bharatiya Janata Party
May 12, 1985

Dear Shri Puri Ji,

I am sorry to see in this morning’s Statesman a statement of yours criticising the Bombay BJP.
During the last two months this is the third time you have chosen the forum of the press to voice criticism of the party. On March 31, you wrote to me a letter taking exception to the meeting on Punjab, which I, along with Advani Ji, had with the Prime Minister. You certainly had a right to hold that opinion, but as I pointed out to you immediately thereafter, it was improper on part of a member of the National Executive to release such a letter to the press. You had assured me in your letter dated April 2 that you will in the future “take extra care’ about your utterances.
I am sorry to note that you have failed to act up to your utterances. Two days back you have publicly criticised Shri Advani for his meeting with the Prime Minister, And today there is this statement accusing the Bombay BJP of indiscipline.
Obviously, you are unable to abide by the discipline imposed by membership of the National Executive. I feel constrained, therefore, to ask you to resign from the Executive.
With kind regards,

Yours sincerely,
Atal Behari Vajpayee

I sent my reply to Vajpayee the next day:

May 13, 1995

Dear Shri Vajpayee Ji,

Thank you for your letter of May 12th.
I must say that I was surprised by your request that I resign from the National Executive for my “inability to abide by the discipline imposed by its membership”. You deem me undisciplined for informing the press that the General Secretary of the party. Shri Lal Krishna Advani, and the Bombay unit of the party, were undisciplined for brazenly violating the resolutions of the National Executive. You consider me undisciplined for exposing the indiscipline of others, but have no word of reprimand for those who oppose your own formal policy statements as well as resolutions of the National Executive. Discipline, let me remind you, enjoins a code of conduct on all members of the party, including its President and General Secretary.
If I was impelled to take matters to the press it was due to my repeated failure in obtaining redressal for the acts of indiscipline by the General Secretary pointed out by me to you privately. After my letter of April 2nd, you conceded that the General Secretary was wrong in not briefing the press after his meeting with the Prime Minister in order to allay misunderstanding about the party’s attitude on the Punjab issue. In my letter of April 2nd I had urged you to ensure that the party secretariat does not bungle in future and thereby project a false and distorted image of the party’s stand to the public. Orally, you had assured me that such a mistake would not be repeated. Subsequently, you made a formal policy statement in your own name declaring that the BJP would not participate in parleys with either the Government or the Akalis for achieving a solution in Punjab. Yet, twice after that, Shri Advani, in contemptuous disregard of your statement, conferred with the Prime Minister along with other opposition leaders in defiance of your declared policy.
Later, the Bombay unit of the party supported the Shiv Sena candidate for Mayor in total defiance of the central party. Privately you may deplore this fact, but what good is private anguish? The party’s image and credibility are totally tarnished by the wide divergence between its precept and practice, and by your pathetic inability to impose your will.
Upon receiving your letter my instinct was to refuse to resign and demand a full discussion on the matter in the National Executive. But on reflection I have decided otherwise. As per the party constitution all the members of the National Executive are nominated by you. You alone, as President, are elected by the National Council. The National Executive therefore is the reflection of the President’s will. As you know, we do not vote in the National Executive. We decide by consensus. But when even resolutions arrived at after consensus are violated and ignored at will by a handful of senior members of the party, it is clear that it is not even consensus which rules the party. The party is being ruled by a caucus, and you have become its creature. This is not a new development. May I remind you that I had resigned on December 10th 1984, when you had advised me that I was not trusted by the section of the party to which I refer as the caucus? I had of course decided not to make public the resignation in order not to embarrass the party during elections, even though the election results were a foregone conclusion to me. I withdrew the resignation upon receiving your solemn assurance that after the elections the party’s style of functioning would change.
Five months have passed since then, and nothing of the sort has happened. Instead, matters have become worse, with members of the caucus brazenly flouting policy resolutions of the party while you remain a helpless spectator. I can understand a stray violation, but not the kind of arbitrary conduct, involving no accountability, which has become the party’s style of functioning. I enclose my letter of December 10th to refresh your memory. For reasons contained in that letter, and for the added reasons of policy mentioned above, I am left with no choice but to resign from the primary membership of the party.
I resign with regret, and in spite of the warm personal relationship I have with you, Shri Advani, and others in the party. However political association should not be based only on personal relationship but also on fundamental factors like policy and style of functioning. It is my humble submission that you should adopt a similar approach while charting the BJP’s future. Given the political instincts of your most influential colleagues in the party, would it not be better for the BJP to dissolve its identity and merge with the Congress(I)? It would clear much confusion in the country. This is, of course, just a suggestion for your serious consideration.
With kind regards,

Yours sincerely,
Rajinder Puri

Enclosure: Letter of December 10th

It may be seen from the correspondence that the BJP is neither democratic nor disciplined. It seeks blind obedience in the name of discipline. Upon reflection, I am inclined to think the BJP leaders were never really against the goals I had set for the party to achieve. They were deeply disturbed only because I did not, at each step, take permission from some appropriate leader. With their RSS culture, BJP leaders are unused to individual initiative. Individual initiative frightens them. Inevitably, in these circumstances, the question arises: Does the party have a future? I don’t think so ~ unless it changes miraculously. If I am wrong and the party in its present shape and form does have a future, I would then be forced to conclude that India doesn’t.
I sent the correspondence I have reproduced to all members of the national executive. After my resignation party functionaries approached me to rejoin the party. “We will welcome you back with honour,” one of them said. I declined. I continue to have good personal relations with all of them. They are in most cases nice people. It is just that they belong to a different planet. 

The writer is a veteran commentator
and cartoonist

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