My apologies for not writing about the Jaswant Singh episode earlier--there were professional calls that I had to attend first.
I have spelt out my disquiet in an article published this morning in The Telegraph (Calcutta). Here I would like to reiterate a few points:
- I do not subscribe to everything Jaswant Singh has written in his book. However, it is a sad day for the country if participation in public life through mainstream political parties is regulated by intellectual regimentation. His book was an honest scholastic exercise. He should not be punished for it.
- Political parties must not become arbiters of historical interpretation. Their involvement can only shrink the boundaries of honest appraisal--just as it has done in the academic world where Marxists call the shots.
- Criticism of towering Indian leaders should not be equated with disrespect. There are many facets of Mahatma Gandhi's political life the BJP may be wary of--his endorsement of pan-Islamism in the Khilafat Movement. That does not count as disrespect. The Gujarat Government's decision to ban Jaswant Singh's book can open the floodgates of intellectual intolerance. This is a problem that both the BJP and Congress faces.
- The claim that Jaswant Singh assaulted a "core ideological belief" of the BJP, as claimed by Arun Jaitley in his press conference on Thursday afternoon, is untenable. If Advani hadn't assaulted that belief in June 2005, Jaswant's offence is far less. At least he has rubbished the two-nation theory. There is nothing "core" about beliefs that are introduced into the party four years ago.
- The BJP is in favour of creating a broad church--what it calls inclusive Hindutva. Can you be inclusive if you cannot be accommodative towards an attempt to write history? Far from being a broad church, the BJP gives the impression of being a sect. Its factional wars are resembling battles for the control of a mutt (seminary).
- There were very good reasons for displacing Jaswant Singh from a leadership role. He has embarrassed the party on numerous occasions. The BJP chose to ignore his real transgressions (the charge of a "mole" in the PMO, his resurrection of the Kandahar hijack controversy and his involvement in dissident activity in Rajasthan). They hanged him for thinking and writing. As a political move it was a public relations disaster. He has emerged as a martyr, enjoying full public sympathy.
- Jaswant Singh has no profound political base but the disquiet resulting from his graceless expulsion will hinder the party's attempt to recover its middle class base. The BJP was, unfortunately, always derided by the intellectual elite; that derision, unfortunately, looks like getting a new lease of life.
- The Jaswant episode may not have scarred the BJP so deeply if the chintan baithak had given some evidence of innovative thinking. As of now it would seem that it is more baithak and less chintan.
I had the occasion to read through the document the media is presenting as the Bal Apte report. Either Mr Apte did an extremely shoddy job and is unsuited to the task of inquiring into the 2009 election defeat or this document is a clear forgery. The document is a collection of homilies, supplemented with obvious statistics to make it look impressive. Even some tentwalla retainer could have written it based on press clippings.