LK Advani’s unfulfilled tryst with ‘Power’

By Sushmita Dutta | Last Updated: Saturday, November 9, 2013 - 19:04
Sushmita Dutta
Sushi's Musings

In today’s scenario, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi may be the face of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its most popular leader, but one cannot overlook the contributions made by senior leader Lal Krishna Advani to the party - right from its inception to the meteoric rise of BJP as one of the most important parties of India.

Born on November 08, 1927, in Karachi (now in Pakistan) to Kishanchand D Advani and Gyani Devi - a Hindu Sindhi family - Lal Krishna Advani began his political career as a volunteer of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing Hindu nationalist organisation. In 1947, Advani was elected as the secretary of RSS’ Karachi wing. Soon after, he was sent to Alwar, to oversee Sangh’s affairs.

When in 1951 Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee founded the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS), the political wing of the RSS, Advani joined it. After proving his loyalty, he was crowned as the party president for the first time in 1973 at the Kanpur session of BJS. However, under the leadership of Jai Prakash Narayan, BJS was dissolved and Janata Party was formed. Four years later in 1977, the Congress was dethroned for the first time and Morarji Desai became the Prime Minister, while Advani took over as the Information and Broadcasting Minister and this was his first encounter with ‘power’.

But, a clash of opinion forced the Jan Sangh members to sever all ties with the Janata Party and under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani (in 1980) the Bharatiya Janata Party was formed. In the 1984 elections, BJP managed to garner only two seats.

From a mere two seats to being the only party other than the Congress to complete a five-year term, Advani with his meticulous approach took BJP to greater heights. He gave a new identity to the BJP when he propagated the concept of ‘hardline Hindutva’, following the ideologies of the RSS. He changed the contours of the Indian politics when he undertook the ‘Rath-yatra’.

Advani may have gauged that there was no one to challenge the Congress party and a place was empty on the country’s political platform. The people of India were, meanwhile, on the lookout for an alternative to the Congress. So, this was a perfect time for Advani to redefine the agenda of BJP and create a new power centre. Advani played the ‘Kamandal’ card in reply to the ‘Mandal’ card and intended to unite the Hindus under one umbrella. The astute leader was probably hoping that it would catapult BJP to power in Delhi.

Advani embarked on the ‘Rath-yatra’ from Somnath to Ayodhya in 1990, in order to create awareness about the need to build a temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, where the Babri Masjid was standing at that time.

He led a hugely successful yatra and received rousing welcome all over the nation, until the then Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav stopped it. The ‘rath-yatra’ set a new agenda and a new political force came to the forefront. The political forces were now for the first time divided into two new groups - pro-BJP and anti-BJP.

The 1991 elections showed that Advani’s move made an impact and he was spot on. The middle-class shifted its loyalty in large numbers mesmerised by Advani’s magic. From two seats, the tally had now gone up to 120. BJP emerged as the main opposition party and Advani as a formidable political leader.

In 1996, BJP finally tasted power with Atal Bihari Vajpayee becoming the Prime Minister of the NDA government. Advani had to forego his flight of fantasy of occupying the PM’s post because his hardline stand did not suit the image of a Prime Minister. It must have been heart-breaking for him since it was Advani who had crafted the entire election strategy. But the joy lasted only for 13 days.

Advani’s sacrifice proved to be quite useful as BJP came back to power again in 1998 and again in 1999. This time they completed a full term in office. But once again Advani had to put his cherished dream of becoming the PM on hold. He had to console himself with the posts of Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.

After the completion of Vajpayee government’s tenure, just when the BJP’s tallest leader decided to end his political career, Advani thought that the mantle of prime ministership of the next BJP government would fall automatically in his lap. However, the Congress spoiled his party. In 2004 and then again in 2009, Congress managed to put up a good show and gained power at the Centre. Even after the 2004 defeat, Advani continued to harbour the dream of becoming PM and started the ground work. He tried his best to change his pro-Hindu image. In this quest, he even went a little too far when he praised ‘Jinnah’ in 2005 calling him a secular leader. For this statement he received severe flak from his own party men and the RSS brotherhood. This one statement probably sealed Advani’s fate.

Due to lack of any other suitable candidate, BJP and RSS had no option but to project Advani as the PM candidate in 2009 General Elections. BJP president Rajnath Singh had then said, “After Atal ji there is only Advani. He is the natural choice. It is he who should be the PM”. Still, Advani could not become the PM as Congress came back to power. And this time he was even removed from the post of the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and was given the role of mentor.

Now, when the 2014 General Elections are just around the corner, Advani’s hopes have been dashed again. Friday the 13th proved to be unlucky for the party veteran. On September 13, 2013 BJP announced Narendra Modi as its PM candidate for 2014 polls. But this decision was long coming and was evident from what transpired at the Goa conclave.

It had become clear a few months ago that his own party men had outmanoeuvred him. Loyalties had shifted and the senior BJP leader was isolated. The top brass of BJP, however, has now successfully appeased him and he too has accepted the fact that his days are over. Probably this is why Advani has praised the BJP’s PM candidate publicly. What remains to be seen is whether Advani will be given a constitution post like the presidency as trophy if Modi-led-BJP/NDA comes to power in 2014.

It may be recalled that Modi was the person whom Advani had hand-picked and mentored to great heights. Advani had once even saved Modi, when in 2002 Vajpayee had decided to sack him as Gujarat CM following the Godhra riots. So, it will be interesting to know once elections are over, which way the political career of Advani will turn before he loses both vigour and health.

The flip side of the scenario is that Advani seems to have forgotten that change is the only constant. While Advani’s focus was always on the issue of Hindutva, Modi has come up with the issue of development which can influence the voters most in today’s times.

¬Advani, who is considered one of the architects of BJP, cannot remain its lifelong leader. The baton needs to be passed on and which has been done as well. Over the years Advani with his dictatorial leadership had miffed a lot of people who said that his time was up.

The ball is now in Modi’s court. Surely, he will make it BJP vs Congress fight and not Modi vs Congress. His emergence means that BJP is ready to embark on a new journey but at the same time the contribution of Vajpayee and Advani cannot be overlooked. Possibly, the party patriarch could now be given a role to bring in new allies. After all, new friends will add to the wining prospects of the party.

As they say, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

Advani, the oldest torchbearer of BJP, is still not ‘dead’; let him live, let him take re-birth and work for the party while going against the stream. It’s clear now that savouring that top job is not in his destiny, but still he is an experienced solider of the party.

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First Published: Friday, November 8, 2013 - 13:29

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