Mastering the art of hiding the obvious is an accomplishment. The bumbling Jim Hacker, the British prime minister of Yes, Prime Minister, relies on the advice of his cabinet secretary, Humphrey Appleby, to expel Soviet diplomats to divert attention from a glaring and inconvenient news story. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) brass used a similar device, but it had to invoke the ghosts of two men who died a long time ago.
When any major political party faces a defeat of the magnitude that the BJP did in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, introspection ought to be the order of the day. This is all the more important in the case of the BJP as it is the main opposition party. Nothing of that sort ever happened, in Delhi or in Shimla during the recent party conclave. Instead, demands for finding the causes of a haemorrhaging defeat have been swept aside. The leaders who demanded such an examination have been served an implicit warning.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Thus, the two uses of the expulsion of Jaswant Singh were to derail any attempts at fixing responsibility for the electoral debacle and, at the same time, warn leaders such as Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie to desist from making such efforts. The party leadership has failed in the first task: Most TV anchors and news reports on the subject mention Singh’s expulsion and the lack of discussion on the defeat either in the same breath or in close sequential order.
Whether the second objective has been met is questionable. The BJP had a certain fascination for India’s educated middle class in the 1990s. It was considered a party that had “thinking men” at its helm, instead of the yeasayer crowd in the Congress and other parties. Now, all the “thinking men” are either being expelled from the party or are deserting it at a rapid rate. Singh has been expelled and Sudheendra Kulkarni, an associate of both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, has quit the party. Other “thinking men” lead a precarious existence within its ranks.
Now, what is left is a rump of squabbling persons with a medieval vision of India. These persons, who mostly hail from the Hindi heartland, have little understanding of present-day India: a country that is urbanizing at a breakneck pace and faces problems that any emerging power does when it seeks a bigger role in the comity of nations. This is the time when the BJP most needed men of intellect and integrity. But it is busy kicking them out. Jim Hacker had a Humphrey Appleby to bail him out: We wonder if L.K. Advani and Rajnath Singh have anyone like him.
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