At 91, LK Advani finally fades into the sunset. There is no grand send-off for the patriarch of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), no celebration of the fact that he – through his much-debated methods – transformed a marginal player, on the sidelines of India, to the centre stage of Indian politics. Advani, the six-time winner for Gandhinagar, is not the parliamentary candidate that the BJP is fielding this time. His place has been taken by the new strongman of the BJP, Amit Shah. At 91, there will be no comebacks for Advani, as he moves from the ignored margdarshak mandal, out into the cold with vanprasthashram.
There are many who believe that he should have gracefully gone into the sunset after the NDA lost the 2009 elections. But, Advani’s ambition to become the Prime Minister kept him in politics, and at the helm of the BJP. Despite the 26/11 attack a few months before the elections, Advani was unable to enthuse voters to buy his vision of India, and the UPA returned to power. He made way, rather ungraciously, and extremely reluctant, for his onetime protégé Narendra Modi, and from then on, his career has pretty much been on ice. That most within the party and outside wished him a graceful retirement, was something he was fairly oblivious to. While the election of Mahathir bin Mohamad, as Prime Minister of Malaysia, at 92, may have ignited some hope, the BJP had moved far beyond his reach. With diminishing influence in his party, and younger leaders demanding more seats, it is but natural that the BJP would look to the future, rather than the past.
Advani stamped his authority on the BJP in the late 80’s. While Vajpayee was the acceptable face of the BJP, it was Advani’s personality that drove political Hindutva. As the president of the BJP, he saw the opportunity to carve out a Hindu vote bank, made up those who believed their political identity to be Hindu. And, at the core of the strategy was not politics or political demands, but an emotive demand – the building of a Ram temple, in Ayodha, at the spot where Lord Ram was supposed to have taken birth. On that spot, stood a mosque built by Emperor Babar. Hence, Babri Masjid. The belief was that an earlier Ram temple was destroyed to build the mosque. The Ram Janmabhoomi movement was the inflection point for the BJP. It went from a small group of active politicians who catered to the upper caste and class, to become a party with a committed base across social and socio-economic segments. For Advani, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was the lightning rod with which he galvanised his base.
But while he charged up his party, he also moved the demand for a Ram Janmabhoomi from the margins to the mainstream. In 1990, as president of the BJP, Advani undertook a rath yatra across most of north India, with the one demand of “
mandir wahi banayenge”. And as the yatra gained momentum, the Ayodhya issue moved from a disparate disorganised call to an organised movement. And, as this movement made its way through India, it left behind death, destruction, and divided communities. And, that really is the legacy of Advani. This is what he will be remembered for. The Ram Janmabhoomi movement that culminated in the destruction of a mosque by a mob charged by Advani. And, of course, the riots that followed. That is what Advani’s political life will be remembered for.
Advani consciously tried to change his image from the hard man of the party, into a more acceptable figure, who would be as fondly regarded as Atal Behari Vajpayee was. He caused a furore amongst the extended Sangh Parivar when he said that the
was the saddest day of his life. He followed it up by visiting Pakistan and declaring Jinnah as a great secularist and an ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity. The backlash that followed ended with him stepping down as party president. And, that is when he should have gracefully moved into the sunset. Making way for the next generation. demolition of the Babri Masjid
He waited too long. And, he has been left out forever. The party he did so much for, doesn’t need him anymore. It is truly the end of an era.
Harini Calamur writes on politics, gender and her areas of interest are the intersection of technology, media, and audiences.