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Free Expression

Jaswant Singh may have suspected all along that the release of his latest book “Jinnah – India, Partition, Independence” would create a stir in India’s political circles. These are known to harbour a reputation of rarely thinking beyond the paradigm. However, he could never have had the slightest inkling that the response of his own party could be as extreme, so as to terminate an association that was build over decades of personal commitment. He must now wonder with bewilderment as to the levels to which the BJP has fallen on moral grounds by the rejection of free expression.

The expulsion of Mr Singh from primary membership of the BJP is indicative of a larger malaise that the party seems to have acquired following its defeat in India’s parliamentary elections. Instead of focusing on a structural reorganisation which involves replacing older individuals from leadership positions, with a new generation of younger smarter people, the BJP disappointingly remains shackled in internal conflict. Officially, Mr Singh has been punished for publishing a book that questions certain leaders of India’s independence movement and praises Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. But the fact remains that the BJP’s central leadership may have been miffed by his open dissent on the party’s functioning and his arguments about a need for debate on reorganisation. His expulsion could have had as much to do with internal politics as it did with the morality of opinions expressed in his book.

The BJP’s core constituency, the party believes, lies amongst the Hindi heartlands of India that are swayed by religious sentiment. But over the years, the BJP did acquire the support of urban middle classes who were looking for change towards a political belief driven by a sense of integrity. What they lacked in experience they would make up in honesty of purpose. Admittedly, they lost of some of these sympathies (and urban votes) in the 2004 national elections. Their leaders had become arrogant, complacent and, in a few instances, corrupt. They paid the price with five years in opposition. The more recent election defeat (of 2009), which brought back the Congress with over 200 seats, was actually to do with poor management and a futile leadership struggling to survive beyond its level of effectiveness. This further alienates the BJP’s already diminishing middle class constituency which has progressively reconciled to the perception that the party now appears as a spent force, simply incapable of winning elections. The Jaswant Singh incident reinforces the view that the BJP remains intolerant of dissent, of acknowledging free expression and even less of accepting a new paradigm.

Mr Singh may have finally played out his political innings. A former cavalry officer commissioned in the Central India Horse, he entered public life three decades ago and served, in both Houses of Parliament, with distinction and the highest standards of personal integrity in. As India’s Foreign Minister he reformed foreign policy, recognising the changing paradigm in global affairs. He took India on a path of friendship with the United States, after what he described were “fifty wasted years”. The foundations of foreign policy that led to a nuclear agreement and a strategic relationship with America, were put in place during his stint in South Block. As he now embarks on speaking tours, he can reflect with satisfaction that his thoughts and expressions truly made a difference to a country that he served, both in the armed forces and in public life, with love and honour.

For the BJP, however, the muddle with continue. Some believe that in the fullness of time it will draw the right lessons from its unfortunate circumstances, remerge and play its rightful role in Indian politics. Despite the injustices, Mr Singh is probably one of them.

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