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Posted Online on Friday 2, September 2005 11:20 IST

Saffron Camp's "Secular" Tinge 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy

The Milli Gazette (online edition)

What difference does another “chadar” offered at the tomb of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti on the eve of his annual urs in Ajmer spell for the place and for the people there? Practically nothing, for it is one of the countless others being offered from different parts of the world. Yet, undeniably, each “chadar” carries a significant meaning for the person who chooses to offer the same. Against this logic, one is compelled to consider the factor(s) that prompted BJP leaders, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and party President L.K. Advani to offer their “chadars” in Ajmer. While Vajpayee’s personal assistant Shivkumar Pareek offered “chadar” on his behalf, Member of Parliament and BJP in-charge of Rajasthan affairs Kalraj Mishra offered one on behalf of Advani. 

Though while in power, Advani indulged in the practice of displaying his “secular” credentials many a time during the month of Ramadan by even donning a cap and symbolically joining Muslims in prayers, this is the first time that a “chadar” has been offered on his behalf at Ajmer. The message is simple. Irrespective of whatever his personal inclinations, opinion or feelings be, as a politician, Advani is desperate to add some “secular” tinge to his image.
The irony of the situation is that Advani is doing so at a time when some hard associates of Sangh Parivar have raised questions about his Hindutva-card, he displayed recently by voicing his commitment to construct the Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya. Refraining from naming Advani, a senior VHP leader dismissed his move as a “vote catching device.” 

Undeniably, after facing strong criticism in his own party quarters on having described Mohd Ali Jinnah as a “secular” person, Advani has gone overboard in displaying his saffron affiliations. He viewed this as politically essential to retain his position as the BJP chief and leader of the opposition in the parliament. Guided by these logistics, tracing his association with the RSS to the age of 14, Advani recently credited the organization to developing his character and personality. Advani moved on to say that his association with RSS and interaction with “great men” such as Deen Dayal Upadhyaya and Jayprakash Narayan contributed to his becoming what he was. While Upadhyaya is known as a Sangh Parivar ideologue, JP is remembered as a Gandhian socialist. 

Advani made these comments while releasing a book authored by Madhya Pradesh-based RSS activist Anil Madhav Dave on rites from birth to death. 

That Advani chose to mention Upadhaya and JP in the same vein is perhaps a symbolic indicator of his facing a severe political dilemma. Not willing to abandon Sangh Parivar values at the personal level, he is faced with the bitter truth that these do not hold the needed credibility in the field of Indian politics. 

The apparently “secular” moves, along with “saffron” commitment, displayed by Advani are a strong indicator of the crisis that he and countless others associated with the BJP’s political camp are caught in. That is where should they draw the line between pursuing extremist principles propagated by Sangh Parivar hardliners and the “secular” values necessitated by India’s politico-constitutional status. 

Without doubt, others in the political field are well aware of this dilemma facing the BJP political-activists. The CPM views this as a reflection of BJP’s inability to reconcile its role as normal political party and also having to project itself as a front of the RSS. Describing it as an “ideological confusion and disarray” that has become evident to all, the CPM has noted that “BJP’s efforts to recover ground by picking up issues based on the Hindutva platform is not meeting with any meaningful response from the people.” The last point is supported by Sangh Parivar associates viewing Advani’s attempt to revive the Ayodhya-issue, along aggressive lines, as simply a “political exercise” in name.

Undeniably, BJP’s associates in the NDA-coalition are not blind to this political crisis, which has partly engulfed them too, making their “secular” image questionable. Trying to dispel such apprehensions, NDA convener George Fernandes recently commented that irrespective of BJP “slipping back” to Hindutva, “We are stuck to our ideologies. BJP has its own ideology. So we do not get painted by each other’s ideology.” 

Against the backdrop of Gujarat-carnage and communal crisis that engulfed various parts of the country following the demolition of Babari Masjid, the political confusion faced by BJP-activists has its own significance. It is a vivid indicator of the BJP leaders having accepted the hard reality, about the limited political credibility held by propagating and pursuing purely saffron moves. Were they confident of the political appeal held by their extremist, saffron cards, the question of their pursuing certain secular moves would have remained as good as non-existent. Herein lies the significance of the chadar offered particularly by Advani at Ajmer. Yes, this may be just a cosmetic exercise. However, this is at least equivalent to his yielding to secular dictates of Indian polity, even though symbolically. It is a better option than to pursuing rigid saffron/extremist dictates or even to so-called “secular” ideals displaying a saffron shade. «

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