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<b>Newsmaker:</b> The fall guy

Lal Krishna Advani will turn 90 this November. Since, he never formally retired from politics — he is the MP from Gandhinagar — it was easy to assume that there was still one more fight left in him. That could only be the one for President of India. This week, the CBI’s insistence on taking forward the conspiracy angle in the Babri masjid demolition case and the Supreme Court agreeing that the case be revived, ended that speculation. It is not known if Advani was in contention to run for President. But politics has a way of dignifying what is on the grapevine. In that sense, it can be said that the veteran BJP leader, the architect of the party’s rise to power, had been stopped one more time at the gate of greater glory by another untimely hurdle.
There is no way of belittling what Advani means to the BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said at a celebration to mark the BJP’s latest round of election victories, that the sacrifices of generations of leaders had begun to pay off. True, but only partly. Without Advani’s push, his organisational skills and of course, his brand of politics that was encapsulated in his rath yatras, the BJP would not have touched its present heights. In the final analysis, he was always placed second to Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the organisational hierarchy. But, there were many, even at the Sangh headquarters, who thought the two leaders were on an equal footing.
This was often at the root of bad blood within the party, and also between the two leaders. In 2003, when M. Venkaiah Naidu was BJP president, he made a remark, somewhat out of the blue, saying that the next elections in 2004 would be fought under the leadership of Vikas Purush, or development man, that is Vajpayee, and Loh Purush, or iron man Advani. Many took it to mean that the party was now putting the two leaders on the same pedestal. Vajpayee, always larger than life and a man gifted as much with great vocabulary, as with a tremendous sense of moment, was abroad at the time. On his return, he merely said, that the party would march forward under Advani’s leadership. It took an extended period of retractions and clarifications for calm to return. What it established, though, was that with Vajpayee in active politics, Advani would always be second-placed. He was larger-than-life, but with limitations.

The Ram temple movement, on the back of which the BJP grew into a truly national party, and Advani into a leader of stature, was essentially an Advani act. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal and all manner of Sangh-affiliated organisations, were there as supporting actors. The grand vision of the yatra from Somnath temple caught the nation’s imagination. For Hindutva adherents, this was what they wanted. There has always been a sense of hurt at the sacking of temples, and of being trumped by invaders. It did not make for good history. What Advani did, seemed to correct that. At the time, the divisiveness was always within paranthesis, and understood in the context of action on the ground. The name calling of today was absent, at least in public. It was easy to accept. The number of adherents grew and, ultimately, so did the seats in Parliament.
It was great while the going was good and Advani was being feted as the man who brought the BJP to power, almost single-handedly taking the party’s tally in Parliament from two seats in 1984 to 85 seats in 1989. However, the Ram temple also let loose an aggressive brand of Hindutva, that saw righteousness in violence — those subscribing to it saw it as retributive violence for past humiliation. There seemed to be no way to contain this. Indeed, there appeared to be little intent to hold back the forces. When the Babri mosque was brought down on December 6, 1992, a lot of people were surely responsible for it. But, it was no surprise that the cameras should have panned on the leading figure of the Ram temple movement at the moment that the mosque collapsed. They wanted to see Advani’s reaction. Later statements of contrition, that the demolition of the mosque was the saddest day of his life, was drowned out in cacophony demanding that he be brought to justice. And on this one issue, that is how it has been for over a quarter of a century.

At the BJP core committee meeting the day the Supreme Court ordered a deadline in the Babri case, it was believed to be the general opinion at the meeting that the leaders named in the conspiracy case should stand trial and clear their names. It is hard to argue against the stand. But, for some, that approach was tempered with a sense of regret. Advani had not merely been the leader of the Ram temple movement, or the one who won it the seats in Parliament. He had groomed an entire generation of talented youngsters, who later rose in party ranks and became ministers when the BJP was in power. Some of those leaders were now sitting in judgement over him. Just as some of them had deserted him when he spoke favourably about Mohammad Ali Jinnah at the latter’s mausoleum in Pakistan in June 2005. Or, had canvassed half-heartedly when he led the BJP in the 2009 general elections, his ambition to be Prime Minister still intact, more so with Vajpayee no longer in politics.
Advani cuts a forlorn figure in the BJP — a paradoxical situation because he is its overarching leader. Perhaps, in nursing the party, he did not nurse a constituency that would speak up for him, no matter what. Perhaps in the end, some are relieved that a plainspoken leader like him, was not there to be run for President. Perhaps, the party he nursed, is the winner after all.

This post was syndicated from - Home. Click here to read the full text on the original website.


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