It was not very long ago. In February this year, senior BJP leader and party patriarch, LK Advani had written a blog. And in the blog he had said – “I embarked on a political journey fifty-five years ago, first as a worker of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and later of the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is a journey that has not yet ended. From the age of fourteen and a half years till now, only one duty has defined the purpose of my life, to serve my Motherland.”
It’s been six months or so since that blog and for all practical purposes Advani’s ‘political journey’ has ended. It ended when on August 26, newly appointed BJP president Amit Shah named his new team and Advani along with Murli Manohar Joshi (and Atal Bihari Vajpayee who is in poor health condition) found themselves being dropped from the BJP parliamentary board, the highest decision-making body of the party. Their name now figures, some would say in a kind of token gesture, in the new five-member 'margdarshak mandal' (guiding group).
The ‘generational shift’ in BJP is now truly and finally complete. Needless to say the new BJP has the stamp of Prime Minister Narendra Modi all over it. And also needless to say that what happened did not really come as a surprise to many. Veterans of the BJP were never a part of Modi’s scheme of things and for him it was about having ‘fresh energy and ideas’. However, with Vajpayee ailing for some time now and out of active politics, it was Advani and Joshi for whom the decision must have come as a personal blow.
When Modi became the PM, he had made it clear that those who were above a certain age would not be a part of his ministry and when Amit Shah was chosen the party president, it again became clear that the BJP under the new leadership was looking ahead and for them senior party leaders could only play the role of mentors or advisers and no more.
Having mentored Modi in the art of politics and known him from close quarters, Advani had in all probability foreseen this. Maybe he knew that once Modi gets a hold over the party, his influence over the BJP, which he had nurtured over the years, would diminish. Maybe this was the reason, apart from the fact that he wanted to make one last ditch attempt to be the PM of India, that he had vehemently opposed Modi’s anointment as the face of the BJP for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
His opposition to the former Gujarat chief minister’s candidature had embarrassed the party to a great extent with Advani not attending the BJP`s parliamentary board meeting in the national capital where the decision was taken to go with Modi’s name as BJP's face for the General Elections. He had also skipped, for the first time, party’s Goa conclave in September 2013, where Modi was made the head of the BJP’s campaign committee, and had resigned from all party posts in protest, only to take it back in jiffy, apparently after being ticked off by the RSS.
However, later Advani warmed up to Modi perhaps realising that he was the best bet for the party to come back to power at the Centre after a decade. Perhaps he had no other choice. The RSS had made it clear that they did not see the future of BJP in Advani and Modi was their man of the moment. Also, the party cadre was clamouring for Modi to take centre-stage and lead them in the run up to the polls.
After Bharatiya Janata Party achieved the spectacular victory in the 2014 General Elections, there had been speculations about what next for LK Advani. As he could not serve as a minister under Modi who was much too junior to him, some reports said that he would be made the speaker of the Lok Sabha. But that talk was laid to rest when Sumitra Mahajan was given the post.
Reports were also doing the rounds before the elections that the party was not keen to field Advani in the Lok Sabha polls and that he would be nominated to the Rajya Sabha. But at that time the party relented and fielded him from Gandhinagar after Advani put his foot down.
But not any more. The man, who was responsible for catapulting the BJP from two seats in Parliament to a force to be reckoned with at the national stage, finds himself at a dead end now. However, the downward slide for Advani has not been sudden. One can say that it started when the BJP lost the 2009 General Elections to the Congress with Advani as the party’s prime ministerial candidate; and since then it’s been a downward spiral with his sway diminishing in the party by the day.
In the evening of his life, there are some who would feel sad for the situation that Advani finds himself in. Ever since he proposed Vajpayee’s name for the prime minister’s post, Advani has been the eternal “PM-in-waiting”. And his one last shot at the top post of the country was appropriated by the man who he had saved from being sacked as chief minister by the then PM Vajpayee in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots. And now, one gets the feeling that Advani may be a lonely man today.
Questions will be asked whether the BJP and its new crop of leaders have not done justice to one of their tallest leaders. Whether he could not have been accommodated in the new regime, that is, if he wanted to remain in the public domain. Whether he is not fit enough to be politically relevant and contribute to the governance of the country. And whether his presence in the party is no longer important.
However, there will be many who would say that Advani brought it upon himself. Maybe he failed to read the writing on the wall and maybe he made a mistake by not bowing out of politics in a dignified manner. After all, old has to make way to the new one day and change is the only constant whether in life or in politics.
At times a political party sees dizzying heights and at other times it plummets to new lows. There are leaders who turn around a party and there are leaders who fail to make their mark. As far as Advani is concerned, even though he may have served his purpose in the BJP and even though his critiques will continue to dub him as someone who communalised politics in India, he will always be remembered in the annals of history to be 'the first' to take his party to the heights which not many had foretold.
It's another matter altogether that his protégé Narendra Modi has taken the BJP to even greater heights and made sure that the party secured absolute majority in Parliament for the first time in its history, decimating the Congress in the process and emerging as the undisputed king of modern day politics in India.