Khushwant Singh passed away yesterday at the ripe age of 99, and the self-confessed dirty old man of Indian journalism who saw politics from close quarters could not have picked a more significant day to depart. Singh had signed senior BJP leader LK Advani’s nomination paper in the elections that followed the 1984 carnage, which Advani saw as an endorsement of the wave against the Congress.
Today Advani, who Khushwant later addressed as the man who sowed the dragon seeds of hatred in this country, stands at a crossroad. As you read this, he has reconciled to yet another confrontation with his one-time protégé Narendra Modi, after he refused to contest from Gandhinagar and insisted on Bhopal – the state ruled by his new favourite, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
It is not the first time that the grand old man of Indian politics, the bhishma pitamah of the BJP, has had to go through this drama of rebellion and humiliation. Late last year, Advani and other senior BJP leaders including Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Sushma Swaraj decided to boycott the party conclave in Goa which sealed Narendra Modi’s candidature as the election in-charge and face of the party for 2014.
What followed was a predictable round of posturing, similar to the one his colleague from the NCP, Sharad Pawar, had mastered over the years. After resigning from party posts and posting a scathing blog that indirectly lashed at Modi, whose career he had salvaged in 2004, Advani was back to square one. He also claimed to those he knew that he had secured a moral victory by opposing the man who the organisation had prostrated to.
The attempt at questioning Modi’s authority continued with Advani publicly ignoring him at party summits and making his discomfort with the Modi coterie obvious to the RSS. The Sangh, which has been the ideological backbone of the party, has maintained a measured silence on the rift, giving Modi a free hand to galvanise cadres across the country, not wanting any obstacle in its last ditch effort to grab power at all costs. But Advani is not alone in his disagreement with Modi’s decision-making style. From Murli Manohar Joshi to Nitin Gadkari, Sushma Swaraj and now Jaswant Singh who have all openly revolted against Modi’s supremacy, the one-man show in the party is now no secret.
Many party insiders believe that Advani’s latest salvo at the high command (now to be read as Modi) was not an attempt at securing the Bhopal seat but to ensure that a message went out to party leaders, cadres and the media that he was still putting up a strong fight to the dictatorship that had been unleashed on the party, and no decision could be imposed on him. By expressing his desire to contest from Bhopal, he wanted to prove his pan-India acceptability – as a leader who did not want to confine himself to the safe seat of Gandhinagar.
But has this jockeying ended up in Advani’s favour? Has the charade of opposition that he and other party colleagues put up, including rebellious tweets from his loyalist Sushma Swaraj, worked against Modi? Perhaps not. It has taken a while for Advani to wake up from his slumber, but he has woken up too late for any damage control – too late for the damage to be controlled by any blog, resignation or manipulation.
Narendra Modi is his nemesis and he is unable to come to terms with it. And if he believes that the party has become a one-man show, that the cult of Narendra Modi has overpowered the BJP as an organisation, then it is Advani himself who is to blame. For his protégé is being loyal to each and every trick in the book taught by his mentor.
It is ironic Modi and Advani have locked horns over the Gandhinagar seat, which has been symbolic of their relationship. As a pracharak of the RSS and as a member of BJP, Modi put all his resources to ensure that Advani won Gandhinagar by a thumping majority. He would be Advani’s shadow, emerging behind him from the lotus shaped rath. He was keenly observing the shrewd tactics of his mentor and soaking in every bit of the manoeuvering that he would one day use against the same man.
Advani repaid Modi’s loyalty by defending him in Goa when former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee asked for Rajdharma to be followed by the chief minister and take moral responsibility for the riots. It was at this time when Advani used his veto power to back the man who had taken the same path of violent Hindutva and provocative speeches to retain the position of power. Back then, Advani was using Modi as a cover to make veiled attacks on Vajpayee’s dilution of Hindutva and his apologetic attitude towards the Sangh’s ideological moorings. In a speech given at Panaji at the BJP executive meet in April 2002, Advani said, “We have not been able to fully measure up to our own very high ideals that inspired us to found the Jan Sangh and later the BJP. This is the main factor responsible for the disillusionment of the people with the party. It is also the basis of the present state of demoralisation among tens of thousands of our karyakartas (workers).” The speech and the encouragement not just gave Advani the upper hand but helped him protect Narendra Modi from what he referred to as Vajpayee’s positive secularism.
Look carefully at each and every action of Narendra Modi since 2002 and each will bear the mark of LK Advani. Advani rose to fame as the mascot of Hindutva with his rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya, which led to the destruction of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 and unleashed the worst possible bloodshed in the history of the country in the name of religion. As Khushwant Singh wrote in his review of Advani’s memoir My Country, My Life, “He, more than anyone else, sensed that Islamophobia was deeply ingrained in the minds of millions of Hindus and it only needed a spark to set it ablaze. The choice of Somnath as a starting point and Ayodhya as the terminal were well-calculated. Mahmud Ghazni had destroyed the temple at Somnath; Ayodhya was believed to be the birthplace of Sri Ram.”
Modi is repeating the same formula today by contesting from Benares – one of the holiest places of worship for Hindus. Like Advani, Modi too started young as a pracharak in the camps of RSS, rising quickly in the ranks of the Sangh and consolidating his position as the man who came from the grassroots and wanted the parivaar and the party to achieve new heights.
The Liberhan Commission formed to look into the Babri demolition indicted Advani and senior RSS and BJP leaders including Murli Manohar Joshi for their “sins of commission and omission” and accused them of “physical, ideological and intellectual responsibility” for the act. However the Action To Be Taken report tabled by the Home department under the UPA made no reference to the indictment of top BJP leaders, including LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Kalyan Singh and leaders of various Sangh Parivar outfits made in the report.
Uncannily, the Supreme Court in 2004, while hearing the Best Bakery case in which 14 people were torched to death during the 2002 Gujarat riots, lambasted the Gujarat government for its laxity in bringing the culprits to book. It said, “The modern day Neros were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be protected.” However the SIT formed to look into the Gujarat riots gave Narendra Modi a clean chit and found no evidence of his involvement. The parallels do not end here.
Realising that the secular fabric of the country and an entire new generation would not be accepting in his ambition for the top job, that of being the prime minister of the country, Advani charted the Pakistan route to chant the mantra of secularism. The Pakistan trip saw Advani attempting to reposition himself politically and shed the hard-line tag to position himself as somebody who would be much more palatable to the wider electorate. In what came as a shock to the Sangh, Advani, then aided by his speechwriter and lieutenant Sudheendra Kulkarni, spoke of Jinnah’s forceful espousal of a secular state in which every citizen would be free to practice his own religion, as one of the few men who recreated history.
This was to be the beginning of the end for Advani, as the RSS criticized him publicly and forced him to step down as the party president. Since then, he has never been able to re-establish his relationship with the old guns in the Sangh Parivaar, who have on many occasions advised him to keep his ambitions aside for the larger good of the party. Little would Advani have known that the formula which boomeranged on him would work for the pracharak who he had brought from the Himachal wing of the BJP to finish off his rivals in Gujarat.
Narendra Modi might not be seen as an inclusive leader, barring the few Muslim faces that he has managed to attach with himself. His Sadbhavna fast in Gujarat in 2012 to bring together people from all faiths in Gujarat, was a remodelling of the Advani school of politics. As expected, Modi received a cold response from the RSS, including senior leaders like Suresh Soni and the chief Mohan Bhagwat who sent emissaries to the CM to not place the ideology on the backburner. But by then Modi had become a power to reckon with, the Sangh was not in a position to impose diktats on Modi, to be out of power for the third consecutive term. It needed the cadre, the corporates, the big money.
While helping Advani rise up the ladder as the top man in the party, Modi was given a free hand to negotiate with top corporates and big names to fund the BJP. Pramod Mahajan indeed was the main face of corporate BJP, while Modi worked in the backroom, especially in Gujarat. With Mahajan’s demise, the party lost its corporate face and this catapulted the stars of Modi. If the allegations of Modi benefitting the Adanis and Ambanis are true, then Advani’s candidature and lobbying for the top job had similar support from high profile business houses. It did not take Modi too long to turn the tables in his favour.
Today, Advani has no right to ask for Gurudakshina, for in politics of manipulation, bigotry and radicalism, there are no rules and ethics. What is driving Narendra Modi to a one-man rule, an autocracy in the party, is his obsession to see himself as the prime minister of the country, the same obsession that saw Advani being pulled down by his rivals in the Sangh and the BJP.
But will the similarity end here? Will Modi be able to live his ambition, his obsession, unlike Advani, or will he fall short of reaching the winning track? On his way to the top, Modi has made many enemies baying for his blood. In a situation where a post-election consensus is to be developed, the shishya could meet the same fate as the guru. That perhaps, could be Advani’s redemption.
Rana Ayyub is a journalist and a writer. She tweets at @RanaAyyub.