How the BJP’s leadership differs from that of the Congress

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Address by Shri L.K. Advani at the India Today Conclave

Shri Aroon Purie, Shri Prabhu Chawla, distinguished participants in this year’s Conclave, ladies and gentlemen,

It’s always a pleasure for me to participate in these India Today Conclaves. Over the years, it has become an important and eagerly awaited event in the annual calendar of events in the national capital.

It is somewhat difficult for me to speak on the topic that has been mentioned in the programme — ‘How the BJP’s leadership differs from that of the Congress’. Insofar as the reference is to me, it is frankly for others to judge. Had I been asked to speak on ‘How the BJP differs from the Congress’, I would have forcefully explained how my party, which believes in being a party with a difference, is indeed different from the Congress.

Nevertheless, I do realize that leadership is an integral and a very important aspect of the character of a political party. Very often, in the eyes of the people, the party gets identified with its leadership. Hence, the role of the personality and personalities within a collectivity called ‘the party’ cannot be underestimated. Therefore, if a party has consciously chosen to be different from others on certain key criteria, then it has a responsibility to ensure that the difference is seen even at the level of leadership.

In this regard, no well-informed observer of India’s political scene can fail to see the wide divergence between the two principal political parties in the country in terms of the nature, evolution and conduct of their leadership.

Democratic party vs. Dynastic party

Friends, the first major difference between our two organizations is this: the BJP is a democratic party and the Congress is a dynastic party.

There is a reservation policy for the top slot in the Congress party: it is reserved in perpetuity for members of the Nehru family.

How brazenly an entire party has been appropriated and made into a family fiefdom, and how slavishly Congressmen have resigned themselves to this appropriation, is one of the sad developments in India’s political evolution.

I would say that the very ‘Basic Structure’ of the Congress party has been destroyed by making ‘dynasty’ a part of it.

Many of you will recall that there was a vigorous debate during the Emergency about the ‘Basic Structure’ of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court had held, in its judgment in the famous Keshavananda case, that Parliament has no right to amend the basic features of the Constitution. This was disregarded during the Emergency and the Constitution was so vandalized as to perpetuate the authoritarian rule of one person.

This debate about ‘Basic Structure’ of the Constitution came up again during the years of the NDA government, headed by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. When our government set up a broadbased and impartial commission to review the working of the Indian Constitution in the light of its performance in the five decades after Independence, the Congress and the Communists falsely alleged that the BJP was out to destroy the ‘Basic Structure’ of the Constitution. Nothing of the kind happened, as all of you know.

I have referred to the ‘Basic Structure’ debate only to highlight that the Congress is the only party that has the dubious distinction of having destroyed the ‘Basic Structure of the Indian Constitution. (Indeed, it was the Janata Party’s government, in which both Shri Vajpayee and I were ministers, that undid the damage.)

For those who had the arrogance to tamper with the nation’s Constitution for the sake of power, tampering with the tradition of leadership selection within one’s own party is a small matter, indeed.

Thus, the Nehru family has now inscribed ‘Dynasty’ into the unwritten ‘Basic Structure’ of the Congress party’s constitution.

Friends, how can any self-respecting Indian accept the principle of Dynastic domination in today’s age? How can India’s youth — and they constitute the overwhelming majority of our population — accept leadership that is based purely on birth, and not on merit and service to the nation?

Leadership culture in the BJP

Now, look at the contrast in the BJP. In my party, leadership is not the birthright of any individual or family.

Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who in 1951 founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (the party in which I started my political life) was an eminent freedom fighter. Before he joined politics, he was a distinguished educationist, one who became the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University at the age of 33 — indeed, the youngest ever vice chancellor in the history of the prestigious university.

Dr. Mookerjee was a minister in the first government established after Independence under Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s premiership. Indeed, it was Mahatma Gandhi who insisted that both Dr. Mookerjee and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who were not Congressmen, should be inducted into the ministry in order to lend a broad-based character.

Dr. Mookerjee resigned from Nehru’s Cabinet in protest against the Prime Minister’s unprincipled and uncaring attitude towards the Hindus in East Pakistan. He later became a martyr in Srinagar for the cause of the full integration of Jammu & Kashmir into the Indian Union.

The second great leader from my party that I would like to mention here was also a self-made personality. Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, who was the chief ideologue, organiser and guide of the Jana Sangh, was born in a very poor family. But he was a giant in intellect and idealism. Speaking for myself, he had the greatest influence on my thinking and personality after I became a political activist.

The third towering leader of my party — one who both led the Jana Sangh and later became the founder president of the BJP in 1980 — is Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He too became a leader on the strength of his karma and his purushartha.

Speaking for myself, I came to this part of undivided India as a migrant after Partition.

We have many other competent and experienced leaders in the BJP. Each one of them has reached leadership position by virtue of serving the party with devotion and enriching the party’s collective capability with their individual talents.

There is no concept of lifelong presidentship for any one person in the BJP.

Deliberate devaluation of the office of the Prime Minister

There is another crucial difference. India has so far had six Prime Ministers belonging to the Congress party. Of these, three have belonged the Nehru family. Of the remaining three, the tenure of Lal Bahadur Shastri was, tragically, short. However, both in the case of P.V. Narasimha Rao and Dr. Manmohan Singh, a conscious and sustained attempt has been made to emphasise that real power resides not at 7 Race Course Road but at 10 Janpath. This has become especially pronounced in the case of Dr. Singh.

The resultant devaluation of the office of Prime Minister is there for all to see.

In fact, Congress culture has brought dynasticism even into the nomenclature of government schemes. I had an occasion to talk about this during the recent debate on Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address to Parliament at the start of the Budget session. I said that I was both bemused and disturbed when I went through the Address to see all the schemes and projects and institutions mentioned in it. Every single one of them has been named after persons from one single family. There is not a single scheme mentioned in the Address that bears the name of any other national leader.

Look at the list:

Indira Gandhi National Tribal University

Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme

Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship

Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology

Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission

Of course, the list would be endless if we add all the places and other government programmes that have been named after persons from the Nehru family — Jawaharlal Nehru Port, Indira Gandhi International Airport, Indira Aawas Yojana, Rajiv Gandhi Rural Electrification Scheme, Rajiv Gandhi Rural Drinking Water Scheme, and so on.

I said in Parliament: ‘Mr. Speaker Sir, I want to know: Hasn’t India produced any other great men and women? Shouldn’t there be schemes and programmes and institutions to perpetuate the memory of other towering national leaders? Such as —

• Sardar Patel

• Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan?

• Dr. Rammanohar Lohia?

• Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee

• Anna Durai?

• Biju Patnaik?

• Morarji Desai?

Turning to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, I asked, “Why haven’t you named any scheme after P.V. Narasimha Rao? After all, he too was a Congress Prime Minister. Indeed, the credit for unshering in economic reforms goes principally to him.”

Dr. Singh had no answer. The fact is, although he is the Prime Minister of India, he has the title but no authority.

Dr. Singh’s ‘contract’ not with people, but with one individual

When Chandrashekhar became the Prime Minister of India in 1990 with the outside support of the Congress party, which was then headed by Rajiv Gandhi, I had made a speech in Parliament, in which I said:

‘A mandate is a contractual obligation that every Member of Parliament and every government has with the electorate. Now, suddenly I find that the party which is in office today, instead of a contract with the people has a contract with the Congress party…’

I am sorry to say that Dr. Manmohan Singh’s majboori is even worse. Instead of a contract with the people of India, the Prime Minister has a contract with just one individual, who is described by many people as the ‘Super Prime Minister’.

Contrasting approaches to coalition management

Friends, I would like to draw your attention to another salient point of difference between the leadership of the BJP and the Congress. And this pertains to the way we relate to our allies in our respective alliances.

To the BJP and its leader, Shri Vajpayee, goes the credit of having provided the first stable, successful and purposive coalition government. It was not an easy task. At one point, we had as many as two dozen parties in the National Democratic Alliance. The BJP was the largest party in the alliance. Nevertheless, we scrupulously followed the ‘Coalition Dharma’. (Indeed, the very term ‘Coalition Dharma’ is the BJP’s proud contribution to the lexicon of Indian democracy.)

Even in respect of the party that supported our government from outside — namely, the Telugu Desam Party — we had an excellent relationship, marked by regular consultation on all important government-related matters.

Contrast this with the way the Congress party has been managing the United Progressive Alliance and its relations with the Left Front parties that provide critical support to the UPA government.

Here is a government that is singularly lacking in both cohesion and vision. This is because there is no mutual trust, nor any commitment to a larger national goal. The UPA is nothing but an opportunistic alliance to keep the BJP out of power by raising the bogey of ‘secularism’.

Congress leadership is compromising national security

For the sake of building the NDA coalition and making its functioning smooth, the BJP leadership deliberately kept out some of its core ideological commitments from the common minimum programme of the NDA. And we never deviated from our CMP.

Indeed, through a process of dialogue and persuasion, we succeeded in winning the support of our allies for at least one major issue, which the BJP alone had been advocating for several decades: making India a Nuclear Weapons Power. As a result, this point was included in the NDA’s National Agenda of Governance in 1998.

You will recall that none of our allies criticized the Vajpayee government’s decision to conduct nuclear tests at Pokharan in May 1998.

Again, contrast this with the way the Congress leadership has dealt with the issue of the Indo-US nuclear cooperation deal.

Firstly, the Indo-US nuclear deal does not even figure in the CMP of the UPA coalition. Nonetheless, it has become a point of highest priority for the Congress-led government, so much so that it has been blatantly disregarding the criticism expressed by its own supporting parties in the Left, and also the dissenting stand taken by the BJP-NDA and UNPA parties, which together constitute the majority opinion in Parliament.

The Indo-US nuclear deal highlights another crucial difference between the leaderships of the BJP and the Congress.

The Vajpayee government conducted Pokharan II in order to strengthen India’s national security.

In contrast, the government of Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh wants to sign the Indo-US nuclear deal, which, in the name of enhancing our energy security, will actually weaken India’s national security and undermine our strategic autonomy.

As I have often said in recent months, the Indo-US nuclear deal will ensure that no future Prime Minister will be able to conduct Pokharan III, even if our security considerations demand it.

The BJP, too, wants a strategic alliance with the United States and with other important countries in the world. But these alliances will have to be on the basis of equality. Unequal agreements are simply unacceptable to us.

With regard to threats to India’s internal security, the contrast between the leaderships of the BJP and the Congress is as sharp as can be. This is evident from the Congress party’s compromising stand on jihadi terrorism, influx of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in Assam and other parts of India, Left-wing extremism, etc. In each of these cases, the basic impulse that guides the Congress leadership’s thinking and decision-making is not ‘What is in the national interest?’ but ‘How can we preserve, consolidate and expand our vote-bank?’

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Friends, I hope I have been able to present a picture of the salient differences between the BJP and the Congress, insofar as they manifest in the nature and conduct of the leaderships of the two parties.

It is my firm belief that the BJP represents the future of India, whereas the Congress, which was once a common platform of great national leaders, represents much of what has gone wrong in India’s recent past.

Thank you.