Good bye, Mr Advani

Arguably the first prominent divisive leader of independent India, LK Advani rides into the sunset as RSS and Modi deny him, first the PM’s office, and now the office of the President

Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Zafar Agha

It is curtains for Lal Krishna Advani, one of the senior most Indian politicians and a seasoned political player of the Indian establishment. Once BJP chief Amit Shah formally announced Ram Nath Kovind’s name for the country’s top job, all speculations about Advani being rewarded with the office of President for his long services to the BJP came to an end.

Poor Advani, the politician, who is said to have nursed the ambition of being both Prime Minister and President of India, but was denied both the offices by his own party.

In the early 1990s, everything was going good for Advani. It was the time when the Saffron party first began nursing hopes of wresting power in Delhi. Those were the heady Ram Temple-Babri masjid controversy days. Advani was the hero of the movement and he was then at his peak too.

He was not just the BJP president then but was also the unquestioned leader of the Saffron brigade that was leading the Ram movement. The Sangh Parivar seemed to have a surge of support under Advani’s unquestioned leadership for building the Ram Temple at the Babri Mosque site in Ayodhya.

It seemed Advani was the commander of the Saffron army wherein its every unit, right from the RSS down to Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) looked up to his command. He not only led and energised his own party but also rallied the majority community to the cause of Ram Temple.

Advani was playing divisive politics at its best. His political craft lay in convincing the majority community that the ruling establishment worked for Muslims at the expense of the Hindus. It was the political magic that inspired the country around Ram Temple and Babri Mosque politics. And, the magician of this politics was none other but Lal Krishna Advani.

Those were the heady days when Advani soared above all political leaders, both within the ruling and the Opposition ranks. The country seemed to be eating out of his hands.

That was also the only time in his long political career when Advani seemed to have overshadowed even his friend and arch rival within the BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It seemed obvious then that Advani would be the natural choice for the office of Prime Minister if BJP formed the next government. That was perhaps Advani’s nemesis too.

At this peak of his political career, Advani suffered a bolt from the blue. Suddenly, his name figured in the hawala diary. And hell broke loose. Advani was the BJP president then, while PV Narasimha Rao was heading the Congress government.

The media narrative also changed from Ram Temple to hawala payments. There was a diary seized by government agencies from an unknown person whose pages were filled with names of the prominent politicians of that time. Against each name, certain amount of hawala money paid was mentioned.

Advani’s name, too, figured in that diary. A case was registered against him. He had to secure bail to avoid arrest. Now the tide turned. Advani, hailed as the Ram of Indian politics, suddenly began to look like Ravana of those times.

He resigned from the party top job. He also announced that he would not contest any election till his name was cleared in the hawala controversy. It paved the way for the rise of Atal Bihari Vajpayee within the BJP. Vajpayee took charge of the party as president and eventually became the first Prime Minister of the BJP-led government in 1996.

Thus began his slide. He eventually managed to return to the top echelons of the BJP as his name was cleared in the hawala controversy. Advani even managed to be the Deputy Prime Minister in the Vajpayee government when it came back to power in 1998. But he could never manage to be the same Advani of the Ram temple movement days.

Advani was projected as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2009. But his magic was already over. BJP under Advani could never make it to power. The tired and old Advani was now at loggerheads even with the Sangh which punished him for labelling Jinnah a secular politician during his trip to Pakistan.

The 2009 loss also paved the way for the rise of Narendra Modi within and outside the BJP. Modi was now the new hero of Hindutva politics outshining his guru Advani in the game of divisive politics. Modi not only earned a majority in the Lok Sabha for the first time for the BJP but he was also the toast of the rising middle classes and masses now.

Modi completely overshadowed everybody within the Sangh parivar. Advani’s only hope now was that his one-time disciple may push him to the top job of the country as the next President of India.

But that was not to be.

Advani, the rath yatri, was ultimately consumed by his own divisive politics which he injected into Indian politics in a big way in early 1990s in guise of the Ram Temple movement. Modi not only played the divisive politics card better than even Advani, but he completely marginalised his guru, denying him even the office of the President of India.

Well, Advani may not have earned the office of the Prime Minister and President of India. But he will surely find mention in history books as the first major divisive politician of post-Independence India.

Good bye, Mr Advani.

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Published: 20 Jun 2017, 7:50 PM