Stop writing off Advani

By Ritesh K Srivastava | Last Updated: Monday, May 25, 2009 - 08:48
Ritesh K Srivastava
The Observer

At a time when the saffron brigade is in a soul-searching mode to determine the exact causes of its electoral debacle, and media houses are busy writing the political obituary of Mr LK Advani, I beg to differ with those who see this as an end of the veteran politician’s long innings.

What is more tragic, is to see how NDA allies are now keen to switch sides to the UPA for favourable gains and how the next generation leaders of the saffron brigade are taking pot shots at the seasoned politician.

There is no denying the fact that the Congress-led UPA’s stunning comeback in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections has compelled the saffron leadership to rethink whether they need to project a “moderate BJP” and devise effective strategies to strengthen the party’s support base at the grass-root level.

One would agree that mere head counts or factors like victory or defeat cannot underscore the influence of Mr LK Advani in the Indian politics scenario and the respect which he commands in all nooks and corner of the country.

It’s disheartening to see some politicians, half the age of Mr Advani, taking a dig at him and trying to write him off just because the NDA, under his leadership, failed to woo the masses and lost in the electoral fray.

I here refer to Congress leader Mr Abhishek Manu Singhvi tagging Advani as a “majboor neta” from being a “majboot neta” in a recent interview and several others who followed suit.

Though the blame for BJP’s humiliation in the General Election will fall on Advani’s shoulders since he was the PM candidate and the senior-most, it is however, beyond doubt that the veteran leader made relentless efforts this time to revive the fortunes of his party.

Be it the launching of a blistering attack on the UPA for its soft approach on terrorism and issues related to national security and price hike, or by initiating an extensive online media campaign, probably for the first time in India, to ensure that BJP got the people’s mandate, especially the youth.

If his round-the-clock canvassing and undertaking exhaustive election tours clicked in some states, it failed in some others due to changed political equations.

It’s altogether a different thing that the strategists of BJP failed to realise that a negative campaign highlighting the shortcomings of only the ruling alliance won’t work.

Mr Advani’s personal attack on Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, calling him the “weakest PM ever” boomeranged or proved counter-productive. Instead, his campaign saw a bunch of UPA politicians hitting back and blaming Advani for tearing the secular fabric of the country.

Advani and Manmohan Singh hitting out at each other is still acceptable, since the two fall in same the age group and carry tons of experience. And why not, in a democracy every one is free to say anything but its good if it’s blended with some humour and logic.

This is from where the real strength of democracy comes in.

However, Mr Advani was not wrong in his intentions when he launched the diatribe against the PM since he was just making his point that the government was not as stern as it was supposed to be while dealing with crucial issues.

After all, everything is fair in love and war… and politics too.

His past associations with the RSS, his hard-line approach towards terrorism, his rigidity to the Hindutva ideology were all attributed as major factors responsible for BJP’s debacle.

Those, who now criticise Advani’s brand of politics, seem to have forgotten that he was the same man who engineered BJP’s emergence as a national party - from nowhere to the under the spotlight.

It could only be a man of Advani’s stature, who can brave all odds and criticism with same ease and elan and emerge as an indispensable leader even after branding Mohammad Ali Jinnah as secular.

Though the party spokesperson Balbir Punj said in a press conference that the party takes the blame for its defeat collectively, insiders are of view that it’s now the end of the road for Mr Advani.

This was evident when shortly after the BJP’s defeat was confirmed, he announced taking retirement from active politics, probably assuming full responsibility for the poor show.

This is enough to understand the enormous pressure that might have been on BJP’s tallest leader ever since the election results were announced.

Despite claims made by top leaders that BJP will emerge as the single largest party after the results are declared, the party just managed to win 116 seats as compared to the 206 seats won by the Congress.

Ironically, BJP’s share of votes, which had remained static since 1998, also deteriorated by 3.5% to 18.8% on an all-India basis. On the contrary, Congress’ party’s all-India vote share has surged by 2% to 28.6%. The gap between the two main rivals have widened by almost 10%.

All this points to a need for a change.

As a journalist, I may not very often endorse the viewpoint held by Mr Advani on issues of national interest and support the provocative hate speeches made by Narendra Modi or the ideology of the BJP. It’s seriousness for uniting the country in a common thread of equality cannot be questioned. Big leaders and their parties have always come under scanner for what they did or did not. However, these things do not give us the right to discredit BJP or Advani for every thing that did not work well.

In the past five years, the voters have matured and the country has witnessed a significant shift in the people’s preference of the Indian polity. They have chosen peace, progress and development over the societal divisions on communal and caste basis.

What the party needs to do at this time is to bring a paradigm shift in its approach towards sensitive issues. It should focus on projecting BJP as a “moderate party fighting for real causes”. It should not be seen as a majority Hindu party, rather it should live up to its name in real sense by being the Bhartiya Janta Party.

Having followed BJP for quite some time, I have come to a conclusion that there is an undercurrent in the party for a positive change - a change that appeals to all sections of the society. The party leadership needs to learn from the vast experience of Advani and admit that an aggressive brand of Hindu nationalism will not work always.

The party now needs to groom a young leader who has the same appeal as Rahul Gandhi has on the youth of the nation. The party also needs to put an end to its continuous factional fights and lack of consolidation, which took a heavy toll in this election. As for Mr Advani, the country now looks forward to see him play the role of powerful opposition leader, giving directions to the ruling alliance and serving mother India till his last breath.

First Published: Monday, May 25, 2009 - 08:48

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