L K Advani: History to Oblivion
by Sandhya Jain on 18 May 2009 15 Comments

It took just 46 days for my warning to the BJP leadership to undertake an urgent course correction or face electoral rout to come true: 

“Something is gravely amiss in the BJP. It has lost its character and sense of direction. Unless the party quickly takes the right turn, Mr. Advani could find himself walking out of the gates of History, and into Oblivion”
[See Varun Gandhi: Albatross round BJP neck, 30 March 2009,  

16 May 2009 was a sad denouement for the BJP and its leader, Lal Kishan Advani, who metamorphosed from a possible prime minister to a person who could not bear to remain one moment in the glare of public discomfort. He departed in a grand sulk, refusing to face the party and the electorate of the nation he had hoped to lead till a few hours ago, owning no responsibility for the vacuous electoral strategy he crafted, which resulted in this finalé.

Mr. Advani’s grief is understandable, but how could discerning Hindus vote for BJP given its utter disinterest in the Hindu people? Is Advani even concerned that Hindus will now face the depredations of a minority-pandering Sonia Gandhi? His instant flight from the public arena is symptomatic of a larger failing. That it has grown unchecked suggests grave and hitherto unstated shortcomings in the larger Sangh Parivar.

As BJP draws much of its public legitimacy and political muscle from the RSS ideology of Hindu nationalism, and the selfless service of RSS cadres, it may be pertinent to see where the interface between the parent organisation and its political offspring failed to yield fruits for the Hindu Rashtra both were supposed to serve. As both draw strength and status from Hindu society, some measure of accountability is necessary regarding this electoral debacle at such a critical time in the nation’s history.

This article seeks to throw light on some aspects of the Advani leadership that no one was willing to recognise through his long stewardship of the party, with results that are there for all to see. It is an attempt to detect what went wrong with Hindu society’s most powerful upsurge – the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement – since the Cow Protection Movement in the late nineteenth century.

Dr. K.B. Hedgewar founded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925 to promote Hindu Rashtra (Hindu-centric nation), inspired by V.D. Savarkar and Aurobindo. Simple chronology suggests that the immediate provocation was Mohandas Gandhi’s linking the struggle for political freedom with the Muslim community’s atrocious desire to restore the Ottoman Caliphate [Khilafat movement, 1919-1924].

Dr. Hedgewar was astute enough to realise that by establishing communal parity between the native Hindu community and Muslims unreconciled to loss of political dominion in India, and supplicating both before the Raj (Khilafat was discussed at the London Conference, 1920), Congress would subvert the cause of the Hindu nation. His links with Bengal’s Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar (he was imprisoned for sedition in 1921) led to an assessment that nation-wide armed insurrection may not bring results as quickly as desired because of the fragmented nature of the then polity; he conceived the RSS to unite Hindus nationally on the basis of common culture (hence the term, cultural nationalism).

But the goal was Hindu Rashtra – a Hindu-dominant polity nestled in the geographical boundaries of the now-elusive Akhand Bharat. That powerful geo-strategic-political factors have inhibited realisation of Akhand Bharat is one thing; that somewhere along the way BJP ceased to believe in and DESIRE it is an issue that bears scrutiny.

Babri bloomer

I met then chief minister Kalyan Singh in Lucknow on 5 December 1992, and returned to Delhi sure nothing unusual was likely on 6 December, notwithstanding media hype. This was also the conclusion of then Central Minister and BJP-baiter Arjun Singh.

But the unexpected did happen on 6 December 1992. Then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao had mysterious ‘black out’ spells which lasted till about 5 p.m., after which alone the Union Cabinet could meet and dismiss the BJP governments in four states. The canny Kalyan Singh, seeing the writing on the wall, sent his resignation to the President half an hour before his sack orders came!

But the most inexplicable behaviour was that of Mr. Advani! Like Mahatma Gandhi after the solitary violence against a few policemen at Chauri Chaura, Mr. Advani took the demolition of the contentious structure as a personal slight (he had promised the Supreme Court nothing would happen), and without any discussion with senior party colleagues present there, especially then party president Murli Manohar Joshi, resigned his post as Leader of the Opposition by faxing his resignation to the Lok Sabha Speaker and releasing the information to the press. The party was faced with an uncomfortable fait accompli.

It beat me then, and it beats me now – what was there to be upset about? If the removal of the usurper-structure – either in a planned way or inadvertently through mob surge – was not the goal of the Ayodhya movement, what was it all about?

More startling was the realisation that the entire top RSS leadership did not view Advani’s unilateralism as something that damaged the BJP and the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. The then RSS chief, Balasaheb Deoras, sought information about the statement made by Advani after the masjid fell, and fashioned his own public response accordingly!

Dr. Joshi was isolated in his view that the resignation had ruined everything. He told party leaders present that if Mr. Narasimha Rao decided to let them come to Parliament and explain themselves, the party was finished; only arrest could save them. Mercifully, Mr. Rao was forced to order the arrest of the top BJP brass, and huge public response to the ‘heroes-in-spite-of-themselves’ saved the day.

A few years ago, a man reputed as an RSS ideologue (whatever that means), smugly told some Hindu intellectuals that the Ayodhya movement was conceived to mobilize Hindu society. The goal was never to build the Ram Temple; he was aggrieved that Vishwa Hindu Parishad president Ashok Singhal took the issue so literally!

I was speechless then; I am speechless now.

I would only add that on 6 December 1992, I was possibly the only Hindu journalist who saw Mr. Advani’s resignation not as moral high ground, but as plain and simple betrayal of the Hindu community, a running away from the heat of battle. My immediate reaction then was that nothing big could ever again be expected of Mr. Advani, because he could only worry about salvaging his version of his personal prestige in any critical situation.

No one agreed with me then. But now, as Mr. Advani literally runs out of the public arena, RSS as an institution will have to take a call on what the proper response to the Babri demolition should have been for the proponents of Hindu Rashtra.

Mandal and Ayodhya

In fairness, one must also insist that the BJP’s espousal of the Ayodhya movement gave a timely respite to Hindu society when it was being ruptured by the vicious implementation of the Mandal Commission Report by then Prime Minister V.P. Singh. 

Caste (gana, jati), it bears emphasising, is a venerable institution of Hindu society; its system of uniting people and maintaining harmonious social conduct, so that minimal government is necessary at grassroots level. Sadly, for reasons we need not go into here, first the colonial state tried to fragment society on caste lines, and the modern state under Jawaharlal Nehru perpetuated that legacy for electoral survival. But since everyone played the caste game to some extent, and electoral victory necessarily involved caste alliances, things remained manageable.

Mandal injected a new poison into the polity by the sheer quantum of instant reservations granted to a section of society hitherto undistinguished from other groups; threatened the future prospects of large sections of the youth, and set passions ablaze. In this scenario, Mr. Advani’s Somnath-to-Ayodhya yatra was truly historic – it not only drew attention away from Mandal, but provided a soothing balm to inflamed Hindu society and sought to unite the Hindu people on the basis of adherence to a common civilisational foundation.

Ayodhya paved the way for the fall of the V.P. Singh government, and social fissures healed over time. It was Advani’s cogent articulation of Hindu sentiments in this period that gave him a formidable reputation as a Hindu thinker and leader, and covered up many sins of omission and commission.

Sadly, Mr. Advani has come a long way from the man who in 1989 seized the nation’s imagination with his warning that secularism had degenerated into putting a premium on minorityism, creating a minority complex in the minorities, and not serving either the national interest or the interest of minorities. Lambasting such pseudo-secularism, he argued for Hindutva or cultural nationalism, and invited Muslims to share common pride in India’s ancient civilisational ethos. More pertinently, he asserted that India had to somewhere be co-terminus with Hindu dharma because we are a very ancient people, not born or created in 1947, but going back millennia.

How could Advani throw away all this?

More pertinently, why did he allow ‘minority’ to become co-terminus with Muslims, when the real threat to Hindu society today is from Christian evangelicals running riot under the patronage of Ms. Sonia Gandhi and the West, particularly the United States of which he is so enamoured?

What explanation does BJP have – and it must give one – for total silence on the UPA decision in the midst of elections, to allow the American governmental body USCIRF to come to India to survey religious freedom in Gujarat and Orissa? This is tantamount to forcing both states to allow missionary depredations on poor folk; yet the party of Hindu nationalism remained silent even though one state is ruled by it and the other was in coalition just weeks ago!

The BJP – and even the RSS – need to remember that Dr. Hedgewar set up the RSS to oppose the British Raj as external enemy and Moplah-style assaults by local Muslims. Hindu society knows how to face jihad, but the challenge of Western colonialism has intensified today; Hindu India must understand that embracing the West is fraught with danger. 

The Iron Man

The Sangh under Prof. Rajinder Singh was wholly enamoured of Mr. Advani; he easily quashed the feeble assertion of Dr. Joshi who despite undoubted erudition has an inability to nurture relationships. Shri K.S. Sudarshan tried to assert control over the party, but once Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee became Prime Minister, he did not want his government compromised at any cost.

In fairness again, the entire section of the BJP that managed to get into government was determined to stay in office. So Mr. Vajpayee began concessions like retreating from Article 370, Ram Mandir, uniform civil code...

But whereas Mr. Vajpayee had the personal grace never to speak in language that caused offence (a rare feat), Mr. Advani caused tremendous heartburn by berating a VHP delegation, “tum kab tak Ram Mandir ko ghaseette rahoge” (how long will you drag the Ram Mandir episode?), as did Ms. Sushma Swaraj with her infamous remark that the Ram Temple was an cashed cheque and “you cannot encash the same cheque twice.”

As her name is now being bandied as possible successor to Mr. Advani, it may be relevant to say that Sushma and all notables of the Advani Coterie are totally unacceptable to Hindu society – Venkaiah Naidu, Arun Jaitly, Arun Shourie, Jaswant Singh (mercifully we will now see the exit of the courtiers like Kulkarni). The party now needs a face untainted by past associations.

Anyway, the BJP’s metamorphosis under power had to be seen to be believed, and in particular and ‘bends’ made by its Iron Man.

# To everyone’s astonishment, instead of taking concrete steps against illegal immigration from Bangladesh, Mr. Advani actually mooted giving work permits to the unwanted aliens! That the proposal never took off is another matter; but after that all talk of arresting Bangladeshi Muslim influx into India became hot air, and the most serious channel of jihadi infiltration into India remained wide open.

# A few points may be made:-
- Jihadi incidents have gone up in direct proportion to infiltration from Bangladesh and Nepal, both mentored by Pakistan’s ISI. Mr. Advani will have to take some responsibility for this.
- Jihadi incidents have gone up in direct proportion to India’s embrace of the United States, first under the NDA and now under the UPA (Mumbai 2008 being only a pointer of things to come).
- Anyone who doubts this assessment can show me the statistics.
- The point being made is that the West led by Britain and now America needed bases in our region to contain Russia - hence the creation of Pakistan.
- The Kashmir issue was created by Mountbatten to grab Tibet and keep China in check.
- Mr. Obama can be expected to try to take a portion of Kashmir to get ‘closer’ to China. I cannot understand the Indian establishment’s reluctance to engage China and Russia seriously on the issue of Western intrusions in our space.
- BJP’s foolish flirtation with Mr. Bill Clinton made Kashmir an international issue from a bilateral one.

# Mr. Advani and his coterie – inspired by plants from once-Indians in America and to a lesser extent in Britain, and a domestic coterie that can be collectively designated as the ‘Vaman Avtars’ (being dwarfs in every sense of the term), seriously compromised with national sovereignty by compromising on the issue of Ms. Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin. As Home Minister, he is personally responsible for some mysterious fiddling with the law on this count, and the consequences will be with us for a long time to come.

# As Home Minister, Mr. Advani faced increasing depredations by the defiant SIMI, and on one occasion, two intelligence officers were recognised and beaten badly when working in the Jamia area. He did nothing. More recently, his party tried to make some noise over the Batla House encounter controversy to score points against the ruling UPA, but so non-serious was their effort that none of these issues figured cogently in the election campaign.

# Amongst such daily disappointments – not meeting victims of Chhittisinghpora in a Delhi hospital; doing nothing for the families of policemen who died in the attack on Parliament House – what stands out most was a sudden uncontrollable itch to be Prime Minister. While rumours to this effect circulated throughout the NDA regime, deniability was lost with Mr. Advani’s autobiography – which reveals shoddy intrigues against his own boss, Atal ji.

The book claims RSS wanted Mr. Vajpayee to move into Rashtrapati Bhavan and pave the way for someone else, presumably Advani. But the catch is that the RSS turned out to mean Rajju Bhaiya, who had by then handed the post of Sarsanghachalak to Sudarshan ji – which means Advani had so factionalised a large part of the RSS that a former Sarsanghachalak could actually accompany him to the PM’s house and ask him to step down!

What an admission! Obviously Advani did not write the book – or read it either.

More recently, a below the belt attack was made on the ailing Vajpayee. Party president Rajnath Singh was reluctant to announce Atal ji’s retirement from active politics last year, but the old warhorse was too ill for public appearances and even had to be hospitalized. His family, protective of his dignity, kept the details of his ailment secret. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited his predecessor in hospital and ensured nothing leaked out. It took a known Advani-friendly journalist to inform us that Atal ji has a brain tumour and is unlikely to recover; his official retirement came soon after!

This singular ability to utilise the media to undermine friendly or unfriendly rivals alike has been the hallmark of Mr. Advani’s style of functioning throughout his political life. That and his weakness for courtiers and flattery would have isolated him from the party, the parivar, the people, with results that are there for him to contemplate in the winter of his life.

2004 and after

Advani’s inexplicable hurry to be PM forced the BJP to go in for early elections in May 2004; the rest is history.

But he remained unable to learn any lessons, and hastily used the inertia of a shocked party to further consolidate his hold over the party and its instruments of patronage. In other words, Mr. Advani factionalised and coterized the party beyond belief. To mention just some salient points:

- He used his position as party leader to fill vacancies to the Rajya Sabha with unbelievable personalities like Najma Heptullah and Lalit Suri!
- Far from stepping down and paving the way for a younger leadership after a public statement by Sudarshan ji – he used his stifling control over all internal levers of power to browbeat the Sarsanghachalak to retreat.
- He was extremely cussed about the Jinnah controversy and far from resigning with grace, again utilised his internal control over all levers of power to reinstate himself.
- He attacked RSS control over the BJP and made himself Prime Ministerial candidate in the wake of the sharp rise of Mr. Narendra Modi.
- He neglected Hindu issues like Kandhamal.
- He made only perfunctory noises about Sadhvi Pragya’s continuing incarceration, whereas a vigorous espousal could have yielded a different result. If Samajwadi Party could make convict Sanjay Dutt star campaigner, could not Advani have visited Sadhvi Pragya when she was shifted to hospital?
- What most deserves RSS attention is the manner in which the BJP national executive has been transformed from the stalwarts who passed the Palampur Resolution of 1989 to a pack of non-entities such as Smriti Irani and Varun Gandhi. If this is the BJP version of Youth Transition, the party is destined for the precipice.

On the nuclear deal, Mr. Advani engaged in classic doublespeak:-
- He opposed the deal (or so he said)
- Then he covertly agreed to it and his points man Arun Shourie wrote an article saying India could change its own laws unilaterally to get over the ill effects of Article 123 (which everyone knew was rubbish)
- He met Senator Libermann and told his friendly Left journalists that he would support the deal with minor changes!
- Did he ever discuss anything with the party – beyond the coterie, that is?
- Worst, in the vote for money scam on the nuclear issue – Mr. Advani shunned all party pleading to postpone the vote pending investigation and allowed the government to have a walkover. I am too old to believe in mistakes – things happen with intent.
- Why did he fail to manage floor coordination with the Left when all his favourite journalists are known Leftists, some even card-bearing members of the CPM?
- Finally, as the elections drew to a close, anticipating a banquet dinner at the White House, he again made polite noises about accepting (sic) the nuclear deal. How is BJP now going to oppose this slave treaty? Shame.

Peter Burleigh

This article has already exceeded the intended limit. So I will conclude with one observation: 

Whom did Advani consult (only Venkaiah Naidu?) and why did he meet American diplomat Peter Burleigh on the last day of polling (13 May)? What was Venkaiah’s previous conversation/deal with Burleigh which paved the way for the meeting with Advani?

An answer cannot be avoided amidst rumours that the gentleman, posted in India previously when Mrs. Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister, was asked to leave the country for activities inconsistent with his diplomatic status. Hint – his profile shows he was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research (1989-1991).

As the Advani era comes to an end, BJP will have to ensure that this kind of politics of unilateralism and coterie-baazi also ends, so that such grave embarrassments are avoided in future.

The author is Editor, www.vijayvaani.com

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top