As it happens before all parliamentary elections in India with all major political parties, sideshows abound in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well. Sulking and pouting are the preferred means of protest for leaders who do no get their way—their way in this case would be a nomination from a constituency of their choice. One such sideshow is Jaswant Singh of the BJP.
First, it was the BJP patriarch Lal Krishna Advani who let his displeasure be known to the new brass-knuckle way of doing things under Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate. He sulked and looked sullen for a few days at reportedly being denied his wish to contest from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh rather than Gandhinagar in Gujarat but eventually yielded. He may yet be plotting something depending on the post-election dynamic.
Then there is Jaswant Singh, the nuancer*-in-chief in the BJP. (*Nuancer is not a word but coined here for the purpose). The 76-year-old Singh, with pronounced scholastic propensities, sees everything in nuances. In contrast, Modi, coming from a predominantly mercantile/industrial state, does not do nuance very well. I had in my December 20, 2012 post said this (Rather memorably, I thought) after Modi won the state assembly elections for the third consecutive term: “It is greatly amusing to see 24/7 English television broadcasters in New Delhi looking for nuance in the results of the Gujarat state assembly elections. As a native of that state I must urgently ask them to stop looking. Nuance is sold by the kilo across my home state. In Ahmedabad, its biggest city where I was born and raised, if you buy a kilo of nuance you get two kilos free. Sometimes driving past a fafda-jalebi shop you may see a sign that says, “Nuance is bad for your health.” My point is, as it has always been, the mercantile community anywhere does not go for nuance, especially the one in Gujarat where its cultural roots are mercantile.”
Modi instinctively views with suspicion and derision anyone who tries to nuance life. In an case, Singh has always come across as a bit of an interloper, with his detached liberalism and scholarly affectations, in a party that detests either. He was expelled in 2005 after he published his book "Jinnah: India – Partition – Independence", in which he demonstrated the temerity to be an impartial historian and not a party demagogue while dealing with a figure like Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan who remains toxic for the hardcore base of the BJP.
I had done a news analysis for the IANS wire after Singh’s expulsion. If memory serves, he had welled up even then like he did the other day talking about his continuing predicament related to his nomination from the Barmer constituency in Rajasthan now. This is what I wrote then: (I like the way I fish out references of my own with such smug efficiency): “It is tempting to describe Jaswant Singh’s unceremonious expulsion from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a glaring example of the culture of intolerance of independence of thought that runs through India’s political class. In reality, it is merely one political party’s inability to define itself.
During his news conference Singh repeatedly mentioned his 30-year-long association with the party. While Singh may have been with the party for all of those 30 years, it is hardly clear whether the party was with him in those decades. His rise in the party leadership as well as cabinet positions notwithstanding, Singh always came across as an outsider looking in and not an insider looking out. In a sense, he managed this dichotomy much less successfully than his more illustrious mentor Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He may have been removed from the party only now but he was never really fully in it.
The fact that he had no allegiance to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological forebear of the BJP, always created wariness among the more doctrinaire members of the party. As long as Vajpayee was the decisive figure Singh’s detached moderation was tolerated by the others. With Vajpayee retired it was only a matter of time before the hardliners struck against Singh.
What made the expulsion an easy fait accompli for the BJP’s parliamentary board was the publication of the book "Jinnah: India – Partition – Independence", in which Singh demonstrates the temerity to be an impartial historian and not a party demagogue. If there ever was a perfect excuse to remove someone from the BJP, it would be to fairly assess Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Lal Krishna Advani tempted fate by doing so once but escaped retribution because of his RSS roots. There was no way Singh could have survived in the aftermath of the book.”
Notwithstanding all that, Singh did come back to the party even though the party’s collective response could be summed up as “Meh.” Now that there is again some noise about him leaving it over the leadership’s decision to deny him nomination from Barmer, I must tell him that the party is just not that into you. At 76 and with his intellectually loaded harrumphs, Modi and his lackeys see no merit or consequence to Singh. The former foreign minister of India may choose to make a distinction between the “real BJP” and the “fake BJP” but the fact is that for now and perhaps for the foreseeable future there is only one BJP and that is Modi’s. I say all this not in endorsement but merely as a matter of fact. It is what it is. Singh should either have the gumption to take Modi head on and challenge him as he goes about upending the old order or leave and never return. I understand that it is painful be a spent force, firing empties. But we all come to such a sorry pass in life. The wisdom is in taking the correct turn.