THE SAFFRON TIDE
The Rise of the BJP
247 pages; Rs 500
The senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leadership believes the 2014 Lok Sabha election results mark the end of the Nehruvian era in India, and the beginning of the final decline of an English-speaking elite that has kept alive some of Jawaharlal Nehru's "misplaced" values. In The Saffron Tide: the Rise of the BJP journalist Kingshuk Nag says India is currently in the midst of one of its most eventful periods, and concludes with that "the first Republic" Nehru had crafted in the 1950s "is making way for the second Republic that will be based on a completely different paradigm".
The book was published in the wake of the Lok Sabha election results and is an attempt at piecing together the 100-years of the Hindu right wing in Indian politics - from the fledgling Hindu Mahasabha that Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and Lala Lajpat Rai founded in Amritsar in 1914, the difficult initial years of the RSS in the 1920s and 1930s, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) period, and now to its biggest hurrah yet with Narendra Modi leading the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a historic 282 Lok Sabha seats in 2014.
Mr Nag was with The Times of India's Ahmedabad edition from 2000 to 2005, and had a ringside view of Mr Modi's rise and how Lal Krishna Advani saved him from being sacked in the aftermath of the 2002 riots. In mid-2013, Mr Nag authored a biography of Modi: The Namo Story: A Political Life.
Much of what Mr Nag has written has been in the public domain but little remembered. Some of the analysis, however, is provocative, particularly how the Congress party "remained in power so long as the Hindu vote was with them", or simplistic when he says "the Hindu vote is now commanded almost entirely by the BJP". The BJP received 31 per cent of the total votes cast in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and has lost many of the recent Assembly by-polls in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. "Ultimately, however, the story of Indian politics is the saga of who captures the Hindu vote and how," Mr Nag says.
Interesting is his description of the Congress being the original Hindu party of India and his retelling of the equation and influence that Congress leaders such as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Purshottam Das Tandon, K M Munshi and others such as Morarji Desai had on "Hindu issues". Mr Nag recounts in detail how Desai, as a young civil servant, was held guilty and demoted four places for not doing enough to control communal riots in Godhra in 1927. An inquiry accused Desai, then deputy collector, of siding with the Hindus although Desai contested this. Godhra was the site of the 2002 communal riots as well.
The author is on firmer footing dealing with some less-remembered facts, for example the RSS-BJP friction dating back to the initial years of the Jan Sangh, the intense rivalry for leadership between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mr Advani on one side and the Jan Sangh president in the mid-1960s, Balraj Madhok, on the other, or the party's flip-flop over the years on issues such as the use of Hindi and swadeshi.
Syama Prasad Mookerjee, a former Congressman, founded the BJS in 1951 to take up the cause of Bengali Hindus in erstwhile East Pakistan. Mookerjee died in 1953 and was succeeded by Mauli Chandra Sharma, who like Mookerjee, wasn't a swayamsevak. Trouble between the RSS and Sharma began when he refused to accept a draft list of office bearers drawn by the RSS. Mr Nag says that a young Deen Dayal Upadhyay was used to force Sharma out of the party. Sharma quit a year later but not before making public his resignation letter that cited the RSS' interference in the matters of the party. He claimed even Mookerjee was "seriously perturbed" by the RSS demands in matters such as appointment of officer bearers.
Personality clashes and equations between top leaders within the party and with the RSS chiefs have for long made or marred political careers. One such was between Madhok and Mr Vajpayee. In the late 1960s, Mr Madhok complained to the RSS chief M S "Guruji" Golwalkar of Mr Vajpayee having turned the party central office "into a den of immoral activities". In 1973, Mr Madhok was expelled from the party on the charge of leaking party documents to the media.
In all these years, the Jan Sangh and later the BJP remained a marginal player in electoral politics. In the first Lok Sabha elections in 1951, the Jan Sangh won a mere three seats, while Hindu Mahasabha won four. Another Hindu right-wing party, the Akhil Bharatiya Ram Rajya Parishad, also won three seats. The Parishad later merged with the Jan Sangh.
In 1957, the Jan Sangh improved its tally by a seat to four and secured five per cent of the total vote share. Among its successful candidates was Mr Vajpayee, who had contested from three seats and won from Uttar Pradesh's Balrampur. The Jan Sangh won 14 seats in 1962 and 35 seats in 1967, including six of Delhi's seven seats. One of its members of Parliament (MPs) was media baron Ramnath Goenka. The former Jan Sangh members were also the largest constituent of the Janata Party in 1977, contributing 94 MPs to that party's Lok Sabha strength.
Mr Nag has in some detail traced the antecedents of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement to a remote hamlet in Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. In 1981, nearly 1,000 Dalits converted to Islam, with Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), spurred by the RSS, leading the agitation against it. The next year, VHP organised a Dharma Sansad and soon took up the Ayodhya issue.