It is unfortunate that at the fag end of his life and career, LK Advani is being painted as the embodiment of all that is wrong with the party
Ajay Singh | June 4, 2013
Familiarity may breed just contempt. But the overpowering and extended presence of an elder in an organisation produces much more: a morbid sense of alienation within the organisation followed by outright rejection by their own. That is just the play of time and tide. We have seen this cardinal truth about human relationship manifest itself in the fag end of the political, social and professional life of many prominent Indians.
And that is what we are seeing with LK Advani now.
In wake of the Babri mosque demolition in 1992 Atal Bihari Vajpayee found this truth staring him in his face. A moderate to core with an abiding faith in Nehruvian model of politics, Vajpayee was always a bit of an oddity within the Sangh Parivar. He found the demolition repugnant to his beliefs and morals and gave vent to his feelings.
“There is no place for a moderate voice in the party,” he said after the demolition. This triggered a clamour within the Sangh Parivar for Vajpayee’s head. Most of the right wing intellectuals who now swear by Vajpayee’s name then demanded that Vajpayee must hang up his boots and leave the party to Advani, the chief architect of the Ayodhya movement.
But politics is rarely shaped by either intellectuals’ instincts or rhetoric.
Like his fellow-traveller Vajpayee, Advani has been facing the turn of the time these days. Every word he utters is put to a severe scrutiny to find out whether or not he is in sync with the popular mood. His actions are suspected to be a disguised expression of the creeping ambition of an old man whose hunger for power is not satiated. Since his controversial remarks on Jinnah in 2005, there is a consistent move to make Advani a symbol of everything that is wrong with the BJP.
Take, for instance, his Gwalior speech in which he profusely praised Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan for his success in turning around a backward state and retaining his humility like Vajpayee. Advani’s formulation – that while Modi improved a developed a state, Chauhan developed a backward state – is frowned upon and seen as a clever move by the patriarch to pit one against the other.
He is ridiculed for making too clever by half formulations that betray his own ambitions. A vocal section of the right wing intellectuals and a section of self-proclaimed Modi-loyalists claim that Advani is all set to destroy the BJP by creating confusion about Modi’s preeminence in the party.
In the din of this incrimination is lost the essence of the issue. Has Advani twisted the truth for his self-serving motives? His utterances conform to facts which are available on the ground. Madhya Pradesh indeed was an underdeveloped BIMARU state. And there is hardly any doubt that Shivraj Singh Chauhan did a creditable job in turning around the state which used to hit the headlines for malnourishment and famines.
These are statements of fact which cannot be challenged.
This is not the first time that Advani has made such a comparison. But what is seen as his ultimate sin is attributing Chauhan with Vajpayee-like humility, an essential trait of public life. Though Advani did not say it, the obvious interpretation of his words was that the MP chief minister has abundance of humility. This argument was meant to mean, whether Advani did or not, that Modi is arrogant. And Advani is facing the flak for pointing this out in a subtle manner within the BJP and the RSS.
Those clamouring for Modi as PM are certainly not oblivious to the fact that Modi’s acceptance within the Sangh Parivar and the BJP as an undisputed leader is still not decided. BJP president Rajnath Singh calls him the most popular leader but stops way short of declaring him as the PM candidate. Despite these facts, Advani is seen as a stumbling block to the smooth ascendance of Modi to the numero uno position in the BJP.
Quite clearly, whatever Advani speaks and does is taken as inimical to the BJP’s interests. For a man who is credited with building the BJP from its boot straps and positioning it as the principle political party, Advani finds himself in that all-too-familiar position of a leader who has stayed way beyond his welcome among who owe their political careers to him.
But Advani’s case is certainly not an exception – many stalwarts have gone through this phase of life in India’s political history. Mahatma Gandhi was summarily rejected by his disciples during negotiations with the British over handing of power before 1947. More recently, VP Singh emerged as an unacceptable leader among his own loyalists shortly after he implemented the Mandal commission – an agenda which found acceptance across the political spectrum subsequently.
Even in social and corporate life, two examples stand out. Russi Mody was sacked from TISCO (now Tata Steel) despite his illustrious track record of building the company. Similarly, Verghese Kurien who built the brand of Amul through his innovative National Dairy Development Board, was literally removed from the organisation he led for decades. The reason for this is not far to seek. In the twilight of his life, a career politician like Advani is bound to face this moment of truth. It is unfortunate that a generation of Indians might remember him for the manner in which he negotiates this complex labyrinth rather than a lifetime of work.
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