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Advani, will he ever retire?

All alone people, where do they all come from, sang the Beatles. This is a question, which should occur to anybody who was accustomed to attention sometime in his life but find the same waning. Like Browning’s Patriot who laments, There’s nobody on the house-tops now. Lal Krishna Advani, who once created history by following the hardcore ‘Hindutva’ line for the first time in independent India, might perhaps be seeking an answer to the puzzle.

Advani was in the forefront of the anti-emergency movement in 1975-1977. But the failed experience of the Janata Dal government promptly consigned the leaders of the emergency days to the backburner. It also led to rebirth of Jansangh as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The assassination of Indira Gandhi saw the majority Hindu community unitedly voting for the Congress. Advani-led BJP pursued the anti-Congressism even in the 1989 election that saw Rajiv Gandhi losing his post. But the subsequent effort of ‘mandalisation’ of Indian politics by the V P Singh government forced Advani’s hand. He had to opt for a hardcore Hindutva line. The Somnath to Ayodhya ‘Rathyatra’ of 1990 was the culmination of the same political shift.

While the movement created the base for BJP it, unfortunately, sealed the fate of Advani to assume the mantle of the nation’s prime ministership. ‘Ram Rathyatra’ did not enthuse voters across India. More so due to the electoral importance of non-Hindu votes in many constituencies. Clearly to form a government the BJP needed a soft face. AtalBihari Vajpayee was a perfect fit. Advani the political craftsman had to hoist Vajpayee as the prime minister. This helped the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to put together a coalition government. It was Advani’s practical sense that made him sacrifice his own political ambition.

But not for long. In his pursuit for the top executive post of the nation Advani kept committing one mistake after another.  The first one was to go for ‘general election’ in 2004, one year before the term of the Vajpayee-led government was due to expire. This offered opportunity to non-Hindu forces to regroup.  Also, the election saw many regional leaders deserting the NDA ship. Clearly they were uncomfortable with the idea of a hard-core ‘Hindutva’ leader as the next prime minister. Advani, too, sensed the problem.

Blinded by his ambition Advani travelled to Pakistan. If a visit to Pakistan could have washed his sins  – creating a strong ‘Hindutva’ brand of politics, and demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya  – Osama-Bin-Laden could have taken shelter in the White House after the 9/11. The intense ambition saw Advani scrawling comments on Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah, which was unpalatable as historical untruth for majority of his supporters. Advani’s decline as a political force received an irreversible slump.
If despite that he was projectedas NDA’s prime ministerial candidate in 2009 election the reason was primarily the absence of any serious challenge to the UPA-I government. The economy was faring well. There was no major scandal sullying the government’s image. The Left withdrawal on the issue of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal was generally welcomed.  The terrorist attack in Mumbai made Indians rally in support of the government. One cannot tell about what was Advani’s feeling but an average Indian knew whom he would vote for.

The discouraging turn out at Advani’s rallies was signal enough for the astute politician to guess what was in store. The painstaking self-promotion efforts of Advani – releasing his auto-biography (taking a leaf out of the US President Barack Obama perhaps),  creation of blog, visit to Pakistan – were all in vain. Now Advani is at the ripe old age of 86.  He is having a peripheral role in his party. The coalition called NDA is just a patchwork. Advani cannot enthuse the younger generation anywhere in the country.  At best he is a mediocre speaker. In parliament he is unimpressive especially when one compares him with opposition leaders like Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. Often enough he attempts to recall the past which are little relevance for today’s instant media. There is hardly any spontaneous crowd in his public meetings. Even party functionaries know that Advani is past.
But the indefatigable Advani fights on.  He knows well enough that his party rank and file wants the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the face of the BJP campaign in the next general election. The only and most critical weakness for Modi as a political leader is the incessant campaign against him for the 2002 Gujarat riots. While there has so far been no evidence against the office of the chief minister, the campaign refuses to die down.  Shrewd politician Advani is attempting to encash the same.

As the ‘mentor’ of BJP he cannot take an open hostile position against his party’s current poster boy. So he does the same through a circuitous route. Sometimes he praises the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. He uses his cronies in the party – mostly those who feel threatened by Modi’s ascendancy – to create confusion. He is, said to be, encouraging the anti-Modi campaign from NDA constituent JD(U).  The man who created BJP is now out to split the same. What is the writing on the wall? Whatever be the case, Advani cannot ever become the prime minister of India. Maybe he should recall what King Lear once told, ‘You must bear with me. Pray you now, forget and forgive. I am old and foolish.’
The author is a communication professional

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