Jaswant Singh: BJP’s Political “Pawn”?

Notwithstanding all the hype raised about Jaswant Singh’s expulsion from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), one is compelled to deliberate on what could be the party’s actual political strategy behind the entire drama. His expulsion has been justified by party leaders as in his book: “Jinnah- India, Partition, Independence,” Singh holds India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Home Minister Sardar Vallabhai Patel also responsible for the country’s partition. In Singh’s opinion, Mohammad Ali Jinnah has been unnecessarily blamed for being primarily responsible for the country’s partition. While revising and challenging interpretations regarding sensitive historical issues will remain an endless exercise, it certainly cannot play any crucial role in turning the clock back. Historical facts regarding the partition cannot be changed. So what could be the political plan responsible for Singh writing the book now and the BJP reacting against it?

The possibility of Singh being used as a political pawn by the party cannot be ignored. It is not simply the question of Singh being accused of writing more favorably about Jinnah than expected of any person associated with the saffron brigade. Of greater importance is the hard fact of his blaming Nehru for the country’s partition. The probability of the point being deliberately made to project a negative image about the Congress party cannot be sidelined. The BJP is perhaps desperate to try its hand at all possible cards to reduce prospects of Congress gaining political strength. The controversial points made by Singh in the book would certainly have gained some media coverage even if BJP had not decided to expel him from the party. But his expulsion has raised greater storm and incited strong debate in media and political circles.

Not surprisingly, while BJP-ruled Gujarat decided to immediately ban Singh’s book, the same stand was not taken by state governments in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. The hue and cry raised over the book will naturally prompt readers to deliberate on the role played by Nehru as well as Patel and Jinnah in the country’s partition. This is probably the primary motive behind this political strategy of BJP by using Singh as a pawn: paint a negative picture about Nehru and later add on it to hit out at the Congress. With his book selling speedily, because of it having raised a political storm, Singh may perhaps be last person to feel concerned about it having led to his expulsion from the BJP. Equally important is the fact that not all allies of BJP have favored the book’s ban.

The timing of the book’s release and Singh’s expulsion cannot be de-linked. The book has hit the stands after the national elections. Prospects of immediate and/or mid-term parliamentary polls are at present non-existent. The BJP can therefore afford to expel Singh now, as “news” about crisis within its own circles would not prove electorally expensive for the party. One may draw attention to senior BJP leader L.K. Advani having earlier faced criticism from saffron brigade for his remarks on Jinnah. What is to be noted is the “crisis” within the Sangh Parivar against Advani finally proved only to be a short-lived one.

Equally relevant is the fact that Singh’s expulsion has overshadowed the main issues the BJP held responsible, at its brainstorming session in Shimla, for its poor performance in parliamentary elections. The internal report, discussed at the session, is understood to hold speculations on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the party’s future prime ministerial candidate and controversy raised by Varun Gandhi’s remarks as responsible for BJP having failed to win the Lok Sabha elections. This also raises the question as to why has not the party spelt out any strong action against either Modi or Varun, the two it holds responsible for the poll debacle. The party leaders are apparently of the opinion that making noise against either Modi or Varun is not going to help BJP. Rather there prevails the risk of BJP losing ground in Gujarat by targeting Modi, which the party certainly cannot be expected to take. Besides, while BJP leaders have accepted that neither Modi nor Varun have any significant appeal outside their state and constituency, respectively, they are also aware that targeting the two leaders would only help the party’s rivals gain. The BJP, from its angle, cannot afford to take this risk.  

Expelling Singh over his book, however, is suggestive of a totally different card that the BJP is probably trying its hand at. It is apparently a political strategy, aimed at projecting a negative image about Nehru by using Singh as a pawn initially. At the time this piece was written, it was not clear whether Singh’s expulsion would also lead to his resignation from the Lok Sabha, to which he has been elected on the BJP ticket. Confused about how to improve their party’s image among the voters, the BJP has apparently resorted to tarnishing the rival party’s image, with Singh’s book blaming Nehru for the partition!