Millennium Post

Old man and the party

The title of today’s notebook is inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s classic Old man and the sea. The novel was a major contributing factor in the American giant wining the Nobel Prize for literature. It told the story of an old fisherman, Santiago, disowned by his community after a particularly long dry spell at fishing. He, however, still makes one last attempt and manages to hunt down an 18-feet-long marlin.

Veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Lal Krishna Advani, through writing his blogs and attempts at raising issues like black money through rathyatra in the recent past, could well be likened to the character of Santiago, whose commitment and determination is reflected in sailing farther than any of the fishermen to prove his worth to his community and also prove that he is not unlucky. Advani has a similar point to make to a powerful faction of the BJP, the party he co-founded, and which is too eager to elbow him out from the centre stage.

The question which arises here is – will Advani be able to redeem his pride as leader, as Santiago the fisherman managed to do fishing down the marlin in the American classic. Like the novel, Advani too has to look for a disciple as Santiago found one in Manolin. Having personally groomed a whole generation of party leaders, it’s rather unfortunate that he is unable to find one for the battle of 2014 general election.

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, till about a year back, looked like the man who could be Advani’s preferred disciple. However, Modi, in his haste to free himself from the apron strings of his mentor, refused Advani the permission of launching his last
from Gujarat, something which he had always done in the past. In his hour of crisis, it was the non-BJP chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, who offered Advani the stage, taking on the role of Manolin for himself.

It’s this combination which is cause for much worry for the party and the ideology which Advani has served for more than half of a century. The precedence of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) vis-a-vis the BJP [and its predecessor the Bharatiya Jana Sangh] was settled way back in 1954, soon after the death of Syama Prasad Mookerjee. In the past 60 years, the hegemony of the RSS over the BJP has seldom been challenged but for the short spell between 1980-85 and again 1998-2004.

Those were the halcyon days of the moderates within the BJP under the stewardship of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, first as the party’s founding president and then as prime minister. Advani, on the other hand, was responsible for the retrieval of the lost Hindu ground of the party post-1985, after it faltered in the general election, with the Congress thriving on the policy of double-appeasement.

Advani, as the helmsman of the Ramjanambhoomi Movement, steered the party away from the BJP’s then adopted ideological moorings in Gandhian socialism to the stormy waters of cultural nationalism. The RSS, which in 1982 had decided to maintain a policy of equal distance from all political parties, came back to endorse BJP’s programmes with Advani as its poster boy.

In a complete turn of events, Advani in 2012 is fighting a battle of nerves with his former disciples to keep the shadow of the RSS over the functioning of the BJP to the minimum. In the past decade, the patriarch has had a running feud with the Sangh, with the latter prevailing most of time but Advani also managing some brawny points, especially his nomination as the prime ministerial candidate ahead of 2009 polls.

Before we discuss the attempt Advani could make at making Nitish Kumar NDA’s prime ministerial candidate, it’s important to examine why has the veteran decided to steer away from his party’s conscience keeper – the RSS. Advani as the protagonist of the Ramjanambhoomi Movement has been both a witness to and sufferer of political isolation.

The Hinduvta currency at its best possible market rate could get the BJP a maximum of 25 percent votes and 182 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1996 and just 13-days of governance.

With a lesser vote share and an equal number of seats in 1998, the BJP could finally manage to form a government and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came alive not just in the word but also in spirit. Vajpayee in his five years as a successful Prime Minister looked up to the National Agenda for Governance as gospel and not the BJP manifesto.

With Vajpayee vacating the centre stage, Advani has worked hard to put an emphasis on more secular issues and end his own personal political isolation, which included even a visit Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s mausoleum. Advani fully comprehends that to keep alive the spirit of the NDA, the party has to devise its political strategy at best in consultation and not subservience to the RSS. The Sangh, at its end, has ensured least resistance from the party by foisting a stature-less Nitin Gadkari as BJP president.

The party’s current Hinduvta poster boy, Narendra Modi is least expected to release energies of convergence and synergy to sustain the NDA. The RSS, with its stated position of politics not being its vocation can afford political isolation at the cost of pushing its cultural agenda. The bigger question is can a political party like the BJP, which is presently principal opposition in Parliament and in government in several states afford a similar isolation.

Sidharth Mishra is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and consulting editor, Millennium Post.
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