There are three stages of humiliation—injury, irony and inurement. (I just made those up). Jaswant Singh is swinging between the three after having been left with no choice by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but to go his own way. His decision to contest as an independent candidate from the Barmer parliamentary constituency in Rajasthan is a clear rebuff to the party leadership. In the civilized circles where I move around, I would describe Singh’s action as him telling his party “Up yours.”
Yesterday, I called the Singh problem a sideshow that is so common to all national elections in India and to all parties. I return to it today because sideshows have a way of illuminating the larger malaise of claiming political privileges in perpetuity.
It is as much the BJP’s right to nominate whomever it wants from wherever it wants just as it is equally Singh’s right to contest from anywhere as an independent candidate. Both have exercised their democratic choice. Those principles are not under question at all. What is under question is whether a time must come in a politician’s career when they must call it a day. At 76, that question should cross Singh’s mind but it wouldn’t because politicians are loath to retire. They would try to contest even if there was less than one percent chance of winning an election. Of course, in Singh’s case the prospects are much higher. I am not entirely convinced whether there should be a term limit for politicians because like wine – which I have never drunk in my life—they seem to get better with age. When I say better, I mean it from the standpoint of an outside observer like me in search of free amusement.
Watching parts of Singh’s news conference to signal his rebellion he came across as a striking character for a highly politically charged novel. He thinks his party has been overrun (my characterization) by all manners of people who had nothing to do with its core philosophy. I wonder whom he was pointing at because if he meant its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, he would be factually inaccurate. Modi is currently the embodiment of the party’s thinking and mood just as Singh’s mentor and former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was during his time. In many ways, what stood between Singh and the party was Vajpayee because he genuinely liked him and thought highly of him despite his moderation. I think Singh reminded Vajpayee of himself.
The BJP in its current avatar reminds me of the Republican Party in the United States in recent years when it has been taken over by the ultra right wing groups in a way that those Republicans who might have sounded radical sometime ago now sound reasonable in comparison to the new elements. When Singh speaks of the BJP losing its core personality he is referring to the rise of those with an unambiguously right wing agenda. I have never understood why he has chosen to keep alive his association with the party as long as he has since the party of his imagination has always been that—a party of his imagination.
The current hardship within the party for leaders such as L K Advani, Jaswant Singh and Sushma Swaraj (Under different circumstances the last name could have been its prime ministerial contender) is symptomatic of the ferment inside it. It is unquestionable that Modi is calling the shots using the party president, Rajnath Singh as his proxy. Unless the BJP under Modi manages to win even a simple majority, it will come face to face with the sobering realities of coalition politics. It will be forced to moderate its positions on every national issue. In any case, electoral politics in India can be ideological only in a very limited sense. There is the ideology and then there is the mammoth of sociocultural and economic realities. In that contest, the latter always wins. So even if Modi’s BJP wins every seat in parliament, it will still be up against that mammoth called demographic reality. There is just no escaping that.