by Florine Roche
New Delhi, Mar 31: The writing was on the wall for quite some time now but BJP patriarch Lal Krishna Advani failed or refused to read it knowing full well its repercussions. Unlike many other senior BJP leaders who announced their exit or volunteered not to contest the forthcoming elections Advani chose to be adamant and the party had no other option but to show him the door considering his advanced age. At 91, Advani may not have the wherewithal to fight an electoral battle and he should have known it better. He had a better option by going in for a smoother departure from electoral politics he dominated for several decades. As the principal architect of the BJP’s current glory as the ruling party Advani had the best opportunity to bow down gracefully and continue to be a mentor to the younger leaders. But alas, he failed to do so compelling the BJP to pack him off.
Overnight the opposition parties have developed sudden love and sympathy for the Bhishmacharya of Indian politics, as Advani is known in political circles. They have criticized the BJP leadership for what they call as ‘sidelining the senior leader’ by the party, saying the BJP failed to give ‘due respect to the seniors’. This is expected in the present political scenario in the country and Advani’s stoic silence on the issue had added fuel to the fire. BJP leader Uma Bharati has said that Advani should clear the mist surrounding his exit after he was denied the ticket. Even then Advani has refused to comment on the controversy that forced him to stay out of the contest even when his trusted aide and BJP General Secretary Ram Lal met him to convey the party’s decision and elicit his views before the announcement of list of candidates. BJP President Amit Shah replaces Advani and is the party’s candidate from Gandhinagar in Gujarat.
Advani had missed many opportunities to exit through a smoother route in 2009 when he failed to steer his party to power when he was projected as the BJP’s PM candidate, in 2014 when BJP came to power under the leadership of Narendra Modi. Even in 2019 when Modi is still reigning supreme there is no way for Advani to make a grand comeback to assert his position. Therefore, it is a mystery why a tall leader like Advani chose the other way round and wanted the party leadership to make the first move and show him the door unceremoniously. There are many who are under the impression that he nursed a deep ambition to become the Prime Minister and hence was reluctant to relinquish his Lok Sabha seat. That he was hesitant to support his own protégé Narendra Modi’s candidature for Prime Minister’s post in 2014 lends some credence to this aspect. At this juncture one can recall former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s jibe in 2008 during the nuclear deal debate – ‘Advani was hanging on to his astrologer’s promise that he will be India’s Prime Minister one day’.
However, at 91, if he harbored such feelings of becoming the Prime Minister then it can be said that he is not in tune with the current political reality in the country. The general opinion is that Advani is nursing self inflicted wounds because whatever problems he faced at the fag-end of life are due to his own intransigence and inflated ego. For this reason, may be his forced ouster did not elicit a strong reaction from the BJP rank and file with only a few disgruntled party leaders wanting to take potshots at the party leadership at the expense of Advani.
At the same time there are many others who hold Advani in high respect saying he was unselfish and never hankered for power. They support this by giving the example of Advani resigning from the Lok Sabha seat when his name figured in the havala case and vowed not to contest elections till his name was cleared. Advani stayed true to his words by practicing what he preached and started contesting elections only after he was absolved and this unselfishness he is called as a Bhishmacharya of India politics. Advani who opposed dynastic politics all along has set another good example of not promoting the name of his son or daughter to replace him after he was denied the ticket.
Despite the avoidable controversy surrounding him at this stage of his life, Advani’s contributions in making BJP a pan Indian political party and his stature as a tall leader of the party remain unaffected. Credit goes to him for crafting BJP’s rise to a pre-eminent position and to its present glory. From winning merely 2 seats in 1984 to its emergence as the largest party in the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1996. It was under his leadership that the party was able to make deep inroads into the length and breadth of the country, the very foundation on which the BJP is reigning supreme today.
Born on November 8, 1927 in Karachi (now in Pakistan) Advani had joined the RSS as a teenager in 1941 when he was just 14. He became a full time pracharak and was responsible for opening several branches. After partition Advani was sent to Rajasthan as a Pracharak where he worked till 1952 in the communally affected districts of Rajasthan. In 1951 he became a member of Jana Sangha (today’s BJP) the party founded by Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and after serving in various positions he became its General Secretary and finally it’s President in 1973.
He made his political debut in 1970 when he entered the Rajya Sabha from Delhi and in the last 5 decades he stood out as an outstanding parliamentarian and erudite speaker. He got a second term in Rajya Sabha from Gujarat in 1976 for another term. During the infamous emergency Advani was jailed and was lodged in a Jail in Rohtak and then in Bengaluru for 19 months. During the 1977 general elections held after emergency Advani along with Vajpayee fought elections as members of the Janatha Party. Following the Janatha Party fiasco of 1979 the erstwhile members of Jana Sangha quit Janatha Party paving the way for the formation of Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980.
Advani had succeeded Vajpayee to become the second President of newly formed party he stamped his authority on the party by adopting a hard line Hindutva approach. As part of this approach he spearheaded the Ram Janmabhoomi movement demanding building Ram Temple in Ayodhya in 1990 when he was the party President galvanizing support from Hindu groups at grass root level.
In the course of the Rathyatra Advani completely succeeded in the BJP’s makeover from a party that catered to the upper class into a party of the masses cutting across social-economic segments. It was Ram Janmabhoomi movement headed by Advani that culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Unfortunately the demolition of the Masjid led by Advani is a black spot in his political career and during later part of his political he tried to project a moderate face but failed miserably incurring the wrath of the very people he tried to galvanize during his Rath yatra.
Of course, credit goes to the “Iron Man” of BJP for steering the party during the most challenging period of its existence when it faced a series of adversities and humiliations including the 1984 debacle following India Gandhi’s assassination where BJP had managed winning only 2 seats. It took 3 decades of painstaking efforts under the leadership of Advani to make BJP a formidable force that led to the party’s landslide victory in 2014. Though questions are raised about the ‘end justifying the means’ idiom, there is no denying the fact that the Rath Yatra – the brainchild of Advani, proved to be a turning point in the contemporary political history of the country.
It is rumoured that Advani’s problems in the party began when he failed to acknowledge the rise of Narendra Modi and accept the grand reality in 2014. He also incurred the wrath of the RSS when he came out with a statement declaring Jinnah as a great secularist and an ambassador of Hindu Muslim unity following his visit to Pakistan. Later when he described that the demolition of Babri Masjid was the saddest day of his life it cause a political uproar causing embarrassment to the RSS.
However, it must be remembered that his downfall began even before Modi’s emergence as a national leader when he was replaced by Sushma Swaraj as the leader of the Lok Sabha in 2009. The writing was there in bold letters when the Margdarshak mandal was created for aged leaders to be mentors, and even when 75 years was fixed as the unofficial age limit for BJP leader for retirement from electoral politics. Advani could have avoided the present imbroglio if he had shown the same political acumen that he exhibited when he was at the helm.