VICTIM OF A PROPHECY

With astrologers failing him, Advani's dream of becoming the PM has repeatedly crashed. So what makes the ageing Hindutva icon go on?
Hardnews Bureau Delhi

After being ritualistically fed by sycophantic pollsters and a loyalist media that the BJP-led NDA was returning to power with a resounding mandate in the 2004 Parliament elections, it simply became difficult for its muscle-flexing, pumped-up leadership to reconcile to a stunning defeat. They were crestfallen, dumbfounded, devastated. Pray, how did it happen? 

During this numbing phase of extreme existential confusion and crisis about the fate of the BJP, astrologers stepped in and pompously announced that the loss was an aberration and a few months later the collapse of the Congress-led UPA is imminent. Astrological advice was rationalised through the tenuous nature of relationship between Congress and the Left parties and how they would go their separate ways in the coming days, quarrelling on contentious issues. 

This meant that the UPA government will not really have a honeymoon period. Hence, it was harangued repeatedly in Parliament. The intent was to keep it destabilised through the disruption of Parliament and a vicious cycle of rumours that the government was inevitably bound to fall. Predictably, BJP leader LK Advani was leading this noisy, jarring orchestra. 

He seems to be convinced that if the government crumbles, he would be the NDA's prime ministerial candidate, because the ailing Atal Behari Vajpayee's chances were all but over. Hence, when the UPA government inevitably survived the dark 'astrological prophecies', which fell flat, Advani did not know how to react. 
Clearly, the mumbo-jumbo didn't pay off. 

Indeed, it is not clear whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's 'advice' in an undelivered speech in Parliament in 2008 (during the no confidence motion) was taken seriously when he sarcastically told Advani that he  must change his astrologer. The prime minister's speech was drowned out by shouting BJP members. Therefore, he submitted his undelivered speech to the speaker.

The speech was sharp, scathing: "Mr Advani has chosen to use all manner of abusive objectives to describe my performance. He has described me as the weakest prime minister, a nikamma (useless) prime minister, and of having devalued the office of prime minister... 

"To fulfil his ambitions, he has made at least three attempts to topple our government. But on each occasion, his astrologers have misled him. This pattern, I am sure, will be repeated today. At his ripe old age, I do not expect Mr Advani to change his thinking. But for his sake and India's sake, I urge him at least to change his astrologers so that he gets more accurate predictions of things to come...

"Can our nation forgive a home minister who slept when the terrorists were knocking at the doors of our Parliament? Can our nation forgive a person who single-handedly provided the inspiration for the destruction of the Babri Masjid with all the terrible consequences that followed?"

The otherwise soft-spoken prime minister then got it on the dot on the astrologers. However, for the Hindutva party and its superstitious leader-believer, things never seemed to change. It seems, in 2011, the same soothsayers and black magic prophets have re-surfaced. Or else, there is little reason why an ageing Advani, all of 84 years of age, should try to get his mojo back now. 

Although the younger leaders in the BJP, some of them his own favourite appointees, have brazenly eaten into his authority, stature and position, the wizened leader has positioned himself strategically as the chairman of the BJP parliamentary party, to take advantage of any miraculous situation, if it arises in the future. He seems to be still desperately day-dreaming that the astrologers who predicted the UPA government's early demise might prove to be true, while he, ah, actually would become the prime minister. Even as Alladin's magic trick, this would surely be the 'last prophecy' for the fading veteran. 

Besides, his ambitions are stifling the prospects of the new, younger BJP leadership. Like a fossilised banyan tree, he is not allowing any other tree to grow under his shadow.

Advani, in his 60-year-long career from the RSS to Jan Sangh to BJP (plus a short stint in the 'merged Janata Party' after Emergency), has given his entire life to building a party that was always at the fringes of Indian politics. Earlier, his party was basically called a 'baniya outfit' of petty traders and shopkeepers. Insiders say that he made the maximum sacrifices, while 'others' benefited. The Sangh Parivar folklore is that he was the one who spent more time in jail after protests, while his senior leader Atal Behari Vajpayee managed to wheel himself into a hospital's emergency.One of his admirers told Hardnews: "He always got a raw deal in life. While others, who took life easy, got everything."

He also led one of the biggest mass movements in the country that redefined the content and terms of discourse of Indian society and politics. Post VP Singh's 'brahamastra' - the Mandal wave - as backward-dalit polarisation swept north India, Advani helped a cornered BJP ride the storm. Riding on a motorised rath across the country, he galvanised the Hindu masses to question years of "pseudo-secularism" and "minority appeasement" practised by the Congress. While his arguments were riddled with half-truths and half-lies, they struck a chord with a sectarian section of the Hindu majority that held the Congress culpable of mollycoddling with the minorities. The Partition's communal divide and phobia was yet again resurrected in the political unconscious. 

His speeches provided legitimacy to his fanatic cadre, which decisively communalised the society. Selectively using mythology, half-baked historical facts, hate politics and Hindu religious imagery, the movement for the liberation of 'Ramjanmabhoomi' in Ayodhya became a catalytic juggernaut. At last, Advani seemed poised for popularity and greatness, and Indian politics seemed on the threshold of a paradigm shift - when he failed once again.

Tacitly or otherwise, he decisively failed to control the fundamentalist forces that he had unleashed on India's pluralist social fabric. The extremist, lumpen and violent elements that had given flesh to his 'mandir wahin banayenge movement' (we will construct the temple there) brought down the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. It was perhaps one the darkest hours in the history of post-Independence India. 

Bloody riots broke out all over. Innocents were butchered, homes burnt, families ravaged, towns ransacked. The secular republic seemed in grave danger of being singed by communal fires. Mercifully, shamefully late, the State moved, albeit very slowly, to douse these fires. The dark episode was equally a blot on the face of the Congress regime in Delhi led by Narasimha Rao. 

Later, uncannily, Advani said December 6 was the "saddest day" of his life. No one believed him, not even his own party leaders. Everyone distinctly remembered the war cries during Advani's rath yatra with the fanatics of VHP and Bajrang Dal leading the pack. Elsewhere, hysterical xenophobes like Uma Bharati and Sadhvi Rithambara raised the hate-speech pitch to unprecedented levels.

The demolition may have served the doctrines of a fascist putsch, but it was a criminal violation of the Indian Constitution and democracy. Surely, Advani, politically and morally, presided over this demolition, and thereby, forever spoiled his chances to become prime minister. Ironically, Vajpayee distanced himself from the demolition at Ayodhya.

Given the fact that Advani, who posited himself as the inheritor of Sardar Patel's tough legacy, pitchforked the party into the national consciousness and was the chief organiser, the top job should have rightfully gone to him. However, tragically for him, when the BJP-led NDA came to power, the prime minister's job went to his senior colleague and 'consensus man', Vajpayee. Surely, the so-called classical symphony between Advani and Vajpayee was not always in tune. It was often jarring and out of sync.

Before BJP first came to power in 1996, Advani, who had a clean record and led a Spartan life, also found himself mired in a corruption scandal. His name figured in the pages of the diary of a hawala dealer as a recipient of pay-off from a businessman. Advani was devastated. He never thought such misery would visit him. Sources close to him suggest he was so disgusted that he wanted to quit politics, but his handlers told him to fight it out.

Later, the court declared that entries in loose diary sheets could not be taken as part of an account book. There have been suggestions that a lot of fancy footwork was done by friends and well-wishers, including a London-based businessman, to allow him to breathe easy.

Advani knows what it takes to run a government. A simple man, he has closely seen fixers and wheeler-dealers make money. Ironically, many of these undesirable fixers swore by him and allegedly claimed to have bailed him out from his various professional and personal messes.  

It is important to put into context Advani's stint as Union home minister during the NDA's reign. When he started off his innings in the North Bloc, the self-styled 'iron man' promised a tough and hard Indian state. He was supposed to chase terrorists and also give a bloody nose to the Pakistanis if they dared to send their militants. And pray, what happened? 

India saw some of the worst terror attacks witnessed in independent India. Parliament was attacked, and so were temples and markets. Indians were always on the edge. Their fear was compounded by the periodic threats to the home minister from terrorists. 

As per gossip, there was also a funny fall-out in the bloody underworld war. Dawood's 'D Company' was marked as an enemy, while the Chota Rajan mafia was termed as 'patriotic' and apparently received the protection of some important functionaries in Delhi. Rajan's escape from police custody in Thailand will forever remain a mystery, even while the Indian cops were on the look out for him.

Advani's period as home minister allegedly saw militarisation of Hindutva extremist groups by covert intelligence operatives and also communalisation of the police force. This issue has become the subject matter of Hindutva terror investigation by the UPA government. There are intrinsic linkages to the various blasts, and the hounding, imprisonment and torture of innocent Muslims, especially youngsters. Home ministry sources claim that it would take a lot of effort to undo the harm Advani had caused to the ministry and intelligence agencies.

Besides, the tragic Godhra killings was followed by the State-sponsored carnage in Gujarat, while Advani obsessively backed Narendra Modi. Some argue it is not only his faith in 'Moditva', but also the 'Gandhinagar factor' (his parliamentary constituency) which compels him to toe the Modi line.

In the past, he tried to manufacture a secular image to reposition himself. But after his Jinnah remarks in Pakistan he was literally sacked by the RSS from the BJP president's post. There was all-round bitter criticism within the Sangh Parivar for Advani - and universal shame. Since his partial rehabilitation, his political space has been rapidly shrinking. The three major jobs - leader of the opposition in both Houses of Parliament and BJP president - are not his. He may have got the ceremonial post of chairman of the parliamentary party, but he has no power or responsibility. The BJP leadership, to comfort him, holds some meetings of top leaders at his residence.

Of late, he has been very active demanding the return of black money stashed in tax havens abroad. The 2G scam has come in handy to help him return to his old rhetoric about how Congress is synonymous with corruption. He had successfully queered the Congress's pitch during the Bofors controversy and thinks he can do an action replay. 

But, soon after a BJP task force report alleged that the Gandhi family held Swiss bank accounts, Advani had to apologise to Sonia Gandhi. The apology, moreover, came at a time when the CBI had decided to move the Supreme Court to reopen the Babri Masjid demolition case, questioning the erroneous order passed by a trial court 10 years ago - during the NDA regime - which had watered down Advani's involvement and discharged him along with 21 others. This CBI move is likely to dampen the hyperbolic high spirits of Advani, who was living in the belief that he had rid himself of the taint of the Babri Masjid demolition. 

Political observers believe that the revival of the court case takes care of Advani's ambitions, and his removal would finally allow the BJP and RSS to zero in on the next leader who would lead the party in the event of it coming to power. Others are convinced that Advani's presence, even though he is involved in the Babri Masjid case, would help in consolidating BJP's support base that wants a muscular, Rightwing Hindutva. Only time will tell whether BJP can resolve the strange dilemma called LK Advani.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MARCH 2011

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