The law is categorical on who can adopt and be adopted.
"Advaniji, after Khruschev’s denunciation of Stalin, it became a fashion to decry the personality cult. But we have to recognise that in India personality cult clicks."
Mr Advani jumped at the idea and said he accepted it. After a few months, the BJP decided to split from the Janata Party. At the Bombay Conference, where the BJP was born , the party coined new slogans: Agla Pradhan Mantri Kaisa Ho, Atal Bihari Jaisa Ho (What should the next Prime Minister be like? Like Atal Bihari).Agali Bari, Atal Bihari (Next time, it will be Atal Bihari). Thus, a cadre-based party, an ideological party, got converted into worshipping a personality. The party programme became secondary.
In the last 19 years, there were many occasions when Mr Vajpayee did not assert, like during the Assam campaign in 1983, the Babri Masjid demolition and more recently during the formation of his cabinet last year. But when he did decide to assert, he had his way.
Actually, Mr Vajpayee decided to assert after the Babri Masjid’s demolition. Slowly, he managed to break the BJP’s isolation and broadened its base. In 1994, only the Samata Party was with the BJP. The Akalis were wavering. In the 1998 elections, he could win over J Jayalalitha and Mamata Bannerji. After the elections, he won over Chandrababu Naidu. And now, he carries with him a faction of the Janata Dal. During the confidence motion, he took the DMK along when the AIADMK walked out of the alliance.
Behind the broadening of this alliance, perhaps, lies his new understanding - acceptance of the plurality of this country. But this understanding goes against the very ideology of the Sangh Parivar. Mr Vajpayee wants to co-opt any regional force, provided it has a national outlook. He can tolerate minor irritants like the Shiv Sena. Perhaps, he would love to have Sharad Pawar’s National Congress Party as an ally in Maharashtra in place of the Shiv Sena. He has brought the BJP to a position where it does not have its own election manifesto.
When Mr Govindacharya said that the Ayodhya temple, common civil code and Article 370 were still in the BJP’s agenda, he was made to eat his words. Perhaps, the greatest shock to the Hindutva forces was when Mr Vajpayee went to pay homage to the spot where the Pakistan resolution was adopted in Lahore by the Muslim League in 1940. He rose in public esteem when he derided personal remarks made by his colleagues against Sonia Gandhi.
In comparison, leaders like L K Advani, Govindacharya and other hard-liners have been reduced to cipher. Even the VHP leaders willy-nilly are having to go along with Mr Vajpayee’s line of thinking. How did this transformation come about?
Slowly and surely a personality cult was built around Mr Vajpayee. Now he has grown too big for his party. It is something like Gandhi, Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Gandhi was called Bapu, and whole country started calling him Bapu. Once Acharya Kripalani told a communist leader K M Asharaf: "Asharaf you don’t know this country. We caught hold a man and called him Bapu. The whole country followed suit." But the communists did not learn the lesson. Once Ajoy Ghosh’s photo appeared thrice consecutively in New Age. It was disapproved by the CPI’s central committee as building of a personality cult. Gandhi became too big for the Congress. Nehru understood this. He once said: "Gandhiji is Congress and the Congress is Gandhiji." He, therefore, did not follow Subhas Bose when the latter walked out of Gandhi’s fold. Later, a personality cult was built around Nehru. He got the Congress to convert itself from a right-of-centre party to a left-of-centre party.
Many right-wingers in the Congress party willy-nilly submitted to Nehru. Later, Indira Gandhi gave a further left-of-centre shift to the Congress. Narasimha Rao made a feeble attempt to break the Congress from its anchor, but failed. The Congress remained committed, by and large, to the framework set by Indira Gandhi.
Now a personality cult is sought to be built around Sonia Gandhi. But so far she has not given any indication of using her position for any goal. Mr Vajpayee is using his position to change the anchor of the BJP. He wants it to accept the pluralism of this country. He is engaged in the historical task of transforming an ideology that has a fascist streak which excludes the Muslims and Christians from the Indian nation.
However, both Mr Vajpayee and Ms Gandhi are not stepping out of the broad Nehruvian framework with the addition of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi’s populism. In a democracy, there are limits to what one can do by stealth. Mr Rao tried to do it and failed. Mr Vajpayee is taking the forces of Hindutva head on. A similar approach is required on the economic front. For instance, the country has to be told repeatedly that the days of state-led growth strategy are over.
The public sector has to be privatised. Subsidies on food, fertilisers and power must end. But who will bell the cat? The key to bringing fiscal deficit to a reasonable level is in privatising, ending subsidies and bringing in a smaller government. In this, there is no difference between Mr Vajpayee and Ms Gandhi. The only difference is in regard to defence expenditure. It is difficult to appreciate Mr Vajpayee’s position of getting involved in a nuclear arms race with Pakistan. Under Ms Gandhi, there will, perhaps, be restraint on defence expenditure. But secularism, by and large, will be safe in both Mr Vajpayee’s and Ms Gandhi’s hands, except that under the former, here and there some forces of Hindutva may feel emboldened to raise their heads.