WILL LK ADVANI EVER RETIRE?
His first rath yatra led to Babri masjid demolition -- the blackest day in the history of India -- followed by riots all over. After that, all his yatras have failed. Now at 83 he is threatening yet another yatra. Will LK Advani ever retire?
Akash Bisht Delhi
Advani should not complain of his image. It flatters him. The reality is far worse. No one, since Independence, has injected communal poison in the body politic to the degree he has. The bloodshed he has caused... does not affect him one bit. Corruption, he readily condones, if it helps his politics. He has lowered the level of political discourse and shown a capacity for low intrigue even against colleagues in the party, the cabinet and the leaders of both. Add to these a reckless disregard and profound contempt for the truth and there emerges the real persona of Sri Lal Krishna Advani. -AG Noorani, Frontline, May, 2008
Scene 1: At a recent press conference on corruption and black money hosted by Sharad Yadav at his residence in New Delhi, BJP veteran LK Advani, all of 84, took over the microphone and started a relentless tirade against the Congress-led UPA government. Much to the discomfort of other speakers, he kept endlessly rambling in a speech which never looked like coming to an end. Initially, Yadav patiently waited for his turn, but when Advani just refused to stop, the former seemed visibly at unease. He gave Advani the kind of looks that could kill. But the unfazed Hindutva leader chose to completely ignore the restlessness around, desperate as he was to hog the media gaze.
Scene 2: At another recent luncheon press conference called by Advani at his residence in New Delhi, the senior BJP leader stood solitary in a corner of his palatial house while most mediapersons hovered around leaders like Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. Clearly, the power paradigm has shifted. Standing alone, bereft of even the company of his party leaders, Advani seemed lost and isolated. He wasn't a shade of his old self where he was the one who garnered most attention. A few journalists present recalled how lonely the grand old man has become. "In his own house, in his own press conference, he was being ignored not only by the media, but also by the younger generation of leaders and his protégés. This suggests that his time is up and he should gracefully retire," said a scribe.
Rocked by scams that run into unimaginable sums, the UPA regime is on a sticky wicket. Cynics believe that the monster of 2G spectrum has acquired a life of its own, and its vicious linkages might one day catch even the most powerful in the government. Several political pundits have been predicting a mid-term-poll-like situation, in case the government collapses. In such a hypothetical scenario, a chest-thumping BJP is bound to gain.
However, the irony is, it's not all hunky-dory for the faction-ridden BJP. The Hindutva party has its own lingering ghosts to exorcise.
Undoubtedly, the power struggle within the BJP, along with the insatiable ambitions of its die-hard veterans, including LK Advani, who, amazingly, still harbours the dream of becoming the prime minister, is decisively harming the party's interests. Advani is doing everything in his capacity to stay relevant and pursue his quest. Many younger leaders, however, believe that Advani at the helm of affairs can bring no gains to the party.
The fact is, Advani built and organised the party. Most of the second rung (including Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Ananth Kumar, Venkaiah Naidu and Narendra Modi) have been hand-picked by a hardliner Advani, committed to the RSS brand of Hindutva. In an inverse sense, it also reflects the ideological content, quality and calibre of these leaders. Despite that, on the Jinnah issue, they all 'opportunistically' ganged up against Advani - clearly following the hostile signals from the RSS. Many of them are now hoping against hope that enough is enough - Advani should retire.
The 'Advani-should-retire camp' in the BJP is consolidating, mending differences, making bridges, growing in confidence, mapping an eclectic consensus. (Witness arch-rivals Swaraj and Jaitley working in tandem.) They feel embarrassed at the manner in which Advani makes unilateral statements on miscellaneous events/issues, as if from a pulpit, and thereby makes a mockery of the party's official stance or nuanced/strategic silence. But, pray, how to stop Advani?
"After Atal Behari Vajpayee's stint, the party campaigned in the name of Advani, but you can't have the same name and logo to win elections. Second-generation leaders believe that he should quit and if that happens, the front-runners for the top job are Swaraj, Jaitley, Rajnath Singh, et al," says a senior political observer close to Advani.
Others feel that the spectacular defeat of the BJP in 2009, with Advani positioned as the next PM, is a signal the party just can't ignore. Besides, even at his peak, Advani's popularity ratings were always abysmally low. And in the current circumstances, with the majority of voters in India young, when age, credibility and charisma are against him, if he leads, the party will inevitably be doomed.