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Why Modi fails to enthuse Advani

As Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Rajnath Singh on Sunday last anointed Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi party’s face for the campaign during the 2014 general elections and the assembly elections before that, your reporter could not help but recall the notebook he had penned about a year back comparing party veteran L K Advani to protagonist of Ernest Hemingway’s best-seller Old Man and the Sea.<br><br>Political analysts were quick to suggest that the helmsman of the Ramjanambhoomi Movement has entered the twilight of his ‘illustrious career’ not realising the veteran still had some spark left. His resignation letter, which followed the next day, has the potential to partition the party. This is a sad situation as Advani steered the party away to the stormy waters of Cultural Nationalism. He persuaded the RSS to endorse BJP’s programmes with Advani as its poster boy. Advani managed to achieve this creating a new generation of leadership. Ironically those who came together on the dais at Goa to cast the veteran away from the centre-stage were personally mentored by the man, using his own analogy, like Bhismapitamah looked after his disciples. Thus the question arises why Advani is finding himself so close to Bhismapitamah.<br><br>Advani’s absence at Goa for the national executive and thereafter his resignation from all the positions in the party, could be likened to Hemingway’s Santiago, whose determinedly sails 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. Unfortunately, Advani, unlike Santiago – who had a Manolin at his side, as of now looks to be ploughing a lone furrow.<br><br>The genesis of the differences between the mentor and the disciple lies in Advani’s decision to depart from his hardline Hinduvta to a more liberal political line symbolised by his visit to Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s mausoleum in Pakistan. Narendra Modi, who all along owed his rise to Advani, for the first time chose to not stand by him when the latter returned from the controversial trip to Pakistan in 2005.<br><br>However, Advani chose the line realising that investment in Hinduvta gave the BJP best returns in 1996 with 25 per cent votes and 182 Lok Sabha seats. But it could get them just 13 days in the government. With a lesser vote share and an equal number of seats in 1998, the BJP formed a government and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came alive not just in the word but also in spirit. Atal Bihari Vajpayee in his five years as a successful Prime Minister looked up to the National Agenda for governance as the gospel and not the BJP manifesto.<br><br>In making Modi the face of party’s campaign the BJP runs the risk of pre-1998 like isolation. But the pro-Modi leaders point out that it was acceleration and momentum achieved during the Ramjanambhoomi Movement which gave the BJP electoral sinews to form a successful political alliance. They expect Modi to revive these sinews even at the risk of inviting political isolation.<br>There is reason in what Advani is stating but why isn’t a powerful faction in the party not ready to listen to him. It’s the overdose of Machiavellian tactics in veteran’s recent political moves which has probably lost him the support of even his followers. Advani’s disciples cannot be charged of being ungrateful. Despite having made major ideological departure in 2005, the BJP still accepted Advani as their leader during 2009 general election. Following the defeat in 2009, under the arrangement to allow the next generation to take over, Advani vacated the space in Parliament and party but never showed the desire to give up control. His desire for another shot at the prime ministerial chair became increasingly evident when he decided to launch another Rathyatra in 2011 from Porbandar bringing him in direct confrontation with Modi, who himself was pushing himself centre-stage with his sadbhavna fast to reach out to the Muslims. Modi, in his haste to free himself from the apron strings of his mentor, refused Advani the permission of launching his last Rathyatra from Gujarat, something which he had always done in the past. In his hour of crisis Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar offered Advani the stage, taking on the role of Manolin for himself.<br><br>Advani with a non-Sangh Manolin could never be acceptable to BJP’s conscience keeper, which in turn had foisted its protégé Nitin Gadkari as party president. Gadkari with the agenda to neutralise the ‘deviant forces’ and in a short time made too many enemies – Advani, Modi and of course the D4 – the New Delhi based faces of the party. Gadkari never had the occasion to be tutored by the grand old man and failed to counter the veteran’s superior political brinkmanship.<br><br>Maharashtra leader’s Nagpur mentors in that battle proved to be weak opponent to time-tested political skills of Advani and blinked. They saved the day by bringing back Rajnath Singh to the office, which must have been much to the chagrin of the veteran leader but he accepted to establish his authority in public perception.<br><br>Today that authority for Advani stands lost as Modi found in Gadkari and Rajnath Singh, whom Advani did not allow a second term in 2009, able allies. Outsmarted and out-numbered Advani reached out to Gadkari, who refused to bite the bait. Goa for RSS, more than Modi, proved to be second-time lucky as in 2003, and again 2013, it has retained BJP’s moorings in ideology of cultural nationalism and stopped the drift towards social liberalism.<br><br>Sidharth Mishra is with Centre for Reforms, Development <br>& Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post <br>
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