Never thought it would happen, but it has. One is feeling sorry for old Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader LK Advani –– a man who worked selflessly and ceaselessly for the party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and also played a key role in the demolition of the Babri Mosque that catapulted his party to power. He has been shortchanged by both the BJP and the RSS more than once.
The first was really what became Advani versus Atal Bihari Vajpayee, where the latter became the prime minister, while the former sulked through this period. Of course, then, Advani put a good face on it even though his supporters always let it be known from a remark here, or a hint there, that Advani was not particularly enthused by Vajpayee’s style of leadership and would have done a far better job had he been the man at the helm of the government. But even so, the two worked well together.
But the real humiliation has come now. Advani, who was positive that his day would come and that the RSS and the BJP would anoint him as leader, has received many shocks in the last few months. The first was when he realised that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who till not so long ago was touching his feet, had slowly but systematically acquired a commanding position in the RSS and the BJP. Advani lived with a sense of entitlement that the premiership would finally be his. Modi set about puncturing that entitlement in the eyes of those who mattered the most in this process –– the RSS.
No wonder Advani had tears in his eyes not so long ago and wept publicly. The hurt must be phenomenal and the feeling of being let down even more so by a party he had raised like a baby from two seats in parliament to power through a calibrated policy of divisiveness. But then the master was outmastered and it is a difficult realisation. And the humiliation now is complete. Yet the old man sticks on, threatening on occasion, but getting virtually pushed around by Modi and his supporters, with his protests becoming more muted and shaky as the Lok Sabha polls approach.
First, Advani had to contend with being virtually left out of the candidate selection process. No one asked him, and being a little more dignified than many in the BJP, he did not speak when it became clear he was no longer wanted.
Two, the campaign strategy was finalised without Advani’s input. And what is perhaps worse, he is not being asked to campaign either. It is Modi and Modi all the way, with Advani sitting the 2014 elections out, with no one inviting him for the campaign. It is suddenly as if the leader is no more.
And three, what is perhaps the worst blow, Advani was pushed to contest from a constituency without his consent. Advani, who used to determine the BJP candidates for parliamentary elections, was thus today struggling to get a seat of his choice. Anyway, to cut a long humiliating story short, the RSS has hammered out a solution and the old BJP leader has agreed to contest from Gandhinagar after the BJP announced that he was free to decide for himself. A victory? No one really seems to think so.
The chicken, they say, is coming home to roost, and perhaps the past is catching up with Advani –– isolated and friendless in the BJP. There are many who are writing off Advani and with him, off the senior leadership of the BJP.
But then there is a ‘never’ in politics and every politician, so long as he is physically and mentally able, can roll back just when all have written him or her off. And who knows, an opportunity might offer itself when the ballots have been cast and the votes have been counted. Post-poll in India is now as important as the poll itself.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2014.