Set to be cornered in BJP, Advani sticks to his guns

Despite the Sangh’s berating, Advani has been consistent in his view that a polarising figure cannot lead a diverse country like India: in 1995, Advani projected Vajpayee to fit this description; in 2013 he sees Modi as totally misfit to qualify those standards

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Ajay Singh | September 13, 2013


Barring a few, the leadership in the saffron brotherhood has reconciled to the inevitability of Narendra Modi as the indisputable number one in BJP. Advani, thus, is set to be marginalised further.
Barring a few, the leadership in the saffron brotherhood has reconciled to the inevitability of Narendra Modi as the indisputable number one in BJP. Advani, thus, is set to be marginalised further.

With the RSS-BJP leadership seeming determined to push BJP patriarch LK Advani to the margins, the grand old man of the Hindutva family today stands in splendid isolation. There are few takers for his argument that the declaration of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi would do more harm than good for the party.

In the past fortnight, all persuasive skills of the RSS-BJP combine failed to convince Advani that the propping up the Gujarat chief minister as the party’s PM candidate would stand in good stead for the party, which seems to be in total disarray to capitalise on growing anger against malfunctioning of the UPA government. Advani has been consistent in his argument that in an era of coalition politics in a diverse nation like India, Modi’s polarising personality would interest harm the party’s.

It would be naïve to surmise from these contradictory positions between Modi loyalists and Advani that both diverged on their Hindutva agenda or their idea of India. Advani’s Hindutva is no different from Modi’s political philosophy. Ideologically they are birds of same feather but refusing to flock together. Their differences arise from their varying approaches to attain power.

This is the precise reason why RSS has discovered a flaw in Advani’s argument that a divisive figure is unacceptable for the country’s top executive post. Modi loyalists see this argument as advancement of ambition by the old leader by stealth. In their view, if a divisive or polarising figure is acceptable as the country’s home minister and a state’s chief minister, he would be equally acceptable as the prime minister.

Ironically, Advani, who emerged as divisive as Modi is after demolition of the Babri Mosque on December 6, 1992, occupied the post of deputy prime minister and union home minister in the Vajpayee government. In 2009, he was declared the party’s PM candidate.

However, what is quite curious and interesting is the conduct of the BJP's patriarch, who is rightly credited for the BJP's rise but is now seen as a veritable villain, creating hurdles in Modi's coronation. He is seen as an old man possessed by an unrealistic ambition and out to destroy the party's growth for his personal aggrandisement.

Rise and fall of a leader

In fact, the fall from grace for Advani has been as dramatic as was his meteoric rise since the late 1980s in the wake of his Rath Yatra to campaign for a Ram temple in Ayodhya. Though a senior leader and BJP president then, Advani always played the second fiddle to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and maintained a low profile till he joined the VHP's Ayodhya agitation. His mild mannerism and dhoti-clad personality was quite in contrast with the militant mood his yatra evoked.

Vajpayee, his one-time mentor, was even shocked when he saw Advani riding a motorised chariot to mobilise people on an issue which was divisive in nature and religious in content.

Though initially uncomfortable, Advani launched his yatra in a typical religious warrior fashion and led it to its denouement on December 6, 1992 with the demolition of the Babri mosque.

This brief recounting of Advani's emergence bears significance in order to highlight the fact that his emergence as a formidable leader had much to do with the impression that he was the preferred choice of the RSS. From 1990 to 1995, Advani ruled the roost in the BJP and set the political agenda.

Souring relationship with RSS

In 1995 Advani decided to project Vajpayee as the party's prime ministerial candidate unilaterally, much to the chagrin of the Sangh leadership. Given his image as a polarising figure, Advani was of the view that Vajpayee would be best suited for the post of the country's top executive. But in RSS's perception, Advani was stuck as a leader who believes in unilateralism.

This perception was further reinforced when Advani decided to take over as the BJP president after M Venkaiah Naidu chose to relinquish the charge in 2005. Advani did not consult the RSS before effecting changes within the BJP. This resulted in then RSS chief KS Sudershan's fulmination against old guards when he demanded a generational change within the party in a TV interview in 2005.

The level of distrust plumbed its depth when Advani visited Pakistan and made a contentious statement about secular credential of Jinnah. The second-generation leaders deserted him and jumped on the RSS bandwagon in the hope that they will be suitably rewarded in the ensuing power struggle. Since then, Advani and the RSS have been consistently crossing each other's paths while showing occasional bonhomie.

In the process, Advani's stature got substantially diminished within the cadre while the RSS could not hide its political ambition behind the facade of being a socio-cultural organisation. Never in the history of RSS, after Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, was the organisation’s leadership exposed to such critical scrutiny for its role as they are now. Even during the Emergency, the RSS could hide behind its avowed objective of being an apolitical organisation.

But the running feud between Advani and the RSS has clearly bared the latter's overtly political objective.

Though the equation between the RSS and Advani continued to sour, with each side sniping at the other on many occasions, they avoided getting engaged in an open war. But the veneer of decency was peeled off at Goa recently, where Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley vied with each other to facilitate Modi's anointment with the blessing of the RSS. Suresh Soni, the RSS joint general secretary, oversaw Modi's appointment as chief of the election campaign committee, a precursor to his declaration as the party's prime ministerial candidate.

Advani remained absent from the Goa executive ostensibly for health reasons.

A day after the Goa executive, he resigned from various party posts while retaining his post as the chairman of the NDA parliamentary party. Ideally the RSS would have loved to push him to the margins but restrained its vindictive instinct in view of the possibility of creating a negative image. Advani was persuaded to fall in line, with assurances that his concerns about the "dubious role" of certain individuals will be attended. But he soon realised that he had been fobbed off by false assurances to cease hostility.

A veteran of the Hindutva family, Advani knows too well the inherent ruthlessness in politics and the dynamics of cloak and dagger game that is played within the organisation. He took out his hatchet, which was not buried, when he found the next opportune moment – the eagerness to declare Modi as the party's prime ministerial candidate. Apparently he seemed to be consistent with stance that in a diverse country like India, the PM must have a persona acceptable to all sections of the society: in 1995, Vajpayee fit this description, while Modi is totally misfit to qualify those standards in 2014.

However Advani's evaluation of the country's political scenario is seen within the party and the RSS as futile imagination of a mind stuck in time warp. With his age nearing 86, his views, apparently at odd with the leadership of the Sangh parivar, are also considered to be out of sync with the ground reality. Barring a few, the leadership in the saffron brotherhood has reconciled to the inevitability of Modi as the indisputable number one in the BJP.

Even those seen with Advani are quite amenable to goading by the RSS to change tack and desert the veteran leader.

There is a growing realisation within the Hindutva fold that it would be prudent to find Advani expendable in the larger interest of organistional goal. Modi's coronation would be a suitable occasion to effect a generational change and bury the past for good. But unfortunately the past has an uncanny tendency to haunt the present, beset as it is by uncertainty and intrigues.

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