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Published in the 1-15 Jan 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Conscience, ideologies and political compulsions

By Ram Puniyani

Smriti, Tulsi, Irani has been a major 'catch' for BJP for multiple reasons. Apart from being the central character in the popular Kyonki Saas bhi kabhi thi, she did symbolize the values of the character she played, the 'ideal' house wife totally devoted to the cause of the family, a militantly subordinate role, which clicked with the tides of the time. While this role of the female character sounds brave and autonomous, it does also totally accept the patriarchal boundaries of male primacy, of Hindutva in particular. Even the popularity of this serial has a lot to do with the cultural downturn which is the base on which the success of Hindutva ideology stands. It is a strong favorite of those fully endorsing the RSS ideology, and also amongst others.

Appearing in different TV debates she did project the same picture of the woman, advocating the militant subordination of the role, which this ideology stands for. Another symbol of this being the organizations like Durga Vahini, floated by this multi headed hydra called sangh parivar. It is for these reasons that Smriti became hot favorite with the BJP and she went up several ladders in a short time. She joined the party, rose to become the member of its national executive, appeared on the TV screens as a political person and was given the prestigious Chandni Chowk seat in the Delhi, which she contested unsuccessfully.

In her recent visit to Gujarat she came to suddenly 'realize' that the butcher of Gujarat ,Narendra Modi was the culprit behind BJP defeat in the Lok sabha elections, so she demanded his resignation failing which she will go on indefinite fast. Probably it was a sudden gush of 'conscience' which prompted her to take on the might of none other than Mr. Modi, who claims to be the representative of 5 Crore Guajratis and is the hot favorite of the current BJP President Mr. Lal Krishna Advani, the architect of Hindutva rise on Indian political scenario. It was a sort of pleasant surprise that at long last some BJP people are gathering courage to express their voice of conscience and call a spade a spade. But it was not to last too long. Within a few hours of her proclamation, she had to eat her words and declared since she has been asked to read a particular statement to the press, she is doing it, that she takes back her words and no more questions on this episode, full stop.

It leaves a lot of questions unanswered. How come she realized the dangers of Modi Methods and their being opposed to Vajpayee dicta at a particular point of time? Why was she not aware of what is Modi's role in elections and overall in Gujarat earlier, she being amongst the most visible women faces of BJP? Can one have a change of opinions so fast, turning 180 degrees in a period of few hours? The answer lies in the nature of opportunism prevailing in our political system. The answer lies in the erosion of political value system and also in the dilution of ideologies at the cost of grabbing power and pelf.

We have witnessed this so often in the BJP regime. Not that others are free from it, but BJP and more so Mr. Vajpayee made this flip flop into a sort of an art and played it to perfection. In his case it was difficult to tell which is the real person, the one articulating the occasional surge of conscience or the one talking the Hindutva again in a most sophisticated language. In the face of attacks on Christian missionaries he will talk of National debate on Conversions. When talking in Shah Alam camp in the aftermath of state sponsored genocide, he will talk of raj dharma and just a few days later he will talk of there being problems wherever there are Muslims so how can Gujarat be an exception. Abroad he will talk of Gujarat as a shame of the nation at home he will provide solid umbrella to the butcher in chief of Gujarat. No wonder he was called as the mask of Hindutva ideology by none other than Govindacharya the foremost Hindutva ideologue of current times.

The political arena has become full of those for whom it is more a means of rising up the ladder of power or to retain it. The criminals of various hues have made it secure abode of their existence. But at one level this aberration is equally matched by those who turn colors with the changing opportunities. BJP itself, the new edition of earlier Bhartaiya Jan Sangh

(BJS) has come a long way in this opportunistic politics. BJS began its journey as a right wing party, a political hybrid of RSS and Hindu Mahasabha, before merging into Janata Party on the plank of anti corruption. It was given the oath of National integration by Jaya Prakash Narayan, the architect of Janata party. In due course it broke the Janata party on the issue of dual membership and resurfaced as the party of Gandhian socialism. This failed to click with the electorate as people knew the Gandhian socialism is a mere ruse, they did recollect that it was a volunteer trained by RSS and Hindu Mahasabha who put three bullets in the chest of Mahatma, Father of the nation, since he was perceived as a big obstacle to Hindu rashtra. And as for socialism, electorate did recollect that it was BJS whose major principle was to oppose any 'socialist' or peoples welafarist measure by the state. Having bitten the dust on these issues it soon transformed itself into a party for Ram Temple, Hindutva, Hindu Nation and what have you. During this time Party with a difference was its logo. Party free from corruption etc. was the plank. After demolishing the Babri masjid as a means to acquire power it went on to become equally if not more corrupt than the other political outfits.

The fact that at ideological level many a political worthies have embraced communalism, goes without saying. It was Indira Gandhi who first made the temple visits a visible part of her political schedule. She also peddled the subtle communal line in the case of Meenakshipuram conversions of dalits, and also on the issue of Kashmir to some extent. Rajiv was much worse as far as the practice of ideology was concerned. It seems that for him ideology was more a matter of tactics rather than a matter of principles. He did go on to appease the Muslim and then Hindu fundamentalists in quick succession giving the ideal pretext for the rise of Hindutva, waiting in the wings. Somewhere here one also sees the opportunist role of the likes of George Fernandes. The person who seemed to have unshakable commitment to secularism came to become the best spokesman and defender of RSS politics. Lust for power taught him to tailor his language to suit his new masters, Vajpayee and the RSS combine. It was through him that the murder of Graham Stains was defended by the NDA Govt., again he was the person to cover up the rape of women in Gujarat, on the ground that there is nothing new in this to require extra condemnation.

The likes of Tulsi's who may have a real conscience will 'learn' the political ropes soon enough to speak out the party line and defend the acts which are immoral or against the grain of Indian Constitution. Her turn around is a symbol of times, power over the principles, more so in the outfits which abuse religion for their political goals and agendas.

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