The L K Advani Tragedy: Ad–vani, Bad–vani, Sad–vani
The desperate fight of a man for his soul is not a pleasant sight. To see a person with the brilliance and political acumen of LKAdvani in that situation in the twilight of his career is tragic. Ironically, it comes almost 30 years to the day when emergency was declared—and he proved that he would not bend. It was his finest hour. In his memorable words, during the Emergency the Indian press crawled when it was asked to bend. How did a man of such promise get relegated to the sidelines--'benched' in football parlance?
The importance of being Advani
Lal Krishna Advani is, arguably, India’s most successful, self–made politician. Nehru had the independence movement, and was widely seen as Gandhi’s chosen. Indira Gandhi got a leg up due to the widely held perception that she was Gandhi’s daughter, and the dynasty. So also Rajiv Gandhi. VPSingh and PVNarasimha Rao were due to circumstances. GLNanda and LBSastri were stop–gap. Even Vajpayee rode on the success of L K Advani. The other worthies do not merit mention. Much like Jawahar Lal Nehru, Advani is most comfortable with the Centre, and VPSingh at the Centre–Left.
Advani had to succeed when there was no great movement or national crisis—he had to create one. Though an ardent exponent of the flavour of the season, LKAdvani was not a particularly religious person—just like Jinnah. By the time his ‘rath’ was stopped, he had ensured irreversible momentum for hindutva. By the time he was ideologically countered (‘In the Ramayan, it was Ravana who came in the Chariot, Lord Ram walked’ by Devi Lal), he had captured the imagination of large sections of the nation.
The break with his idealism came when he saw himself in a party with just two seats in parliament. Riding a tiger he could not get off, variously calling it a ‘national movement’—but one that excluded vast sections, and a silent majority—and an assertion of ‘cultural nationalism’ he took a turn to the political right, and onto infamy. Tragically and, to be fair in hindsight, Advani could have just waited for a few years and the entire political space would have opened up.
The Communal Congress
The Congress has always occupied the centre–right part of the Indian political spectrum—variously called soft–hindutva, pseudo–secular, proto–fascist—even from the days of Gandhi. Going by what it has done, its communal record—except for the time of the much maligned Nehru—is clearly one of competitive appeasement: the Shah Bano law, permitting the foundation for the Ram temple and now changing the status quo there by putting up a bullet proof structure, banning Satanic Verses, Last Temptation of Christ and other assorted books and films.
The fascist bent of the Congress was most clearly demonstrated in the declaration of internal emergency by Indira Gandhi, assertion that it could be re–imposed by Rajiv Gandhi, the infamous press bills—even to the present day—and the notorious Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act [TADA].… all clear indications of its ‘Centre Right’ positioning. On top of this are the the clearly neo–Liberal economic policies, nuclear weapons and militaristic policies, coupled with cynical tokenism in social justice.
The Congress was already in terminal decline and disintegrating in 1984. But for the tragic assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi, they would’ve been progressively marginalised. Their vote share was steadily decreasing right from the heady 1972 snap poll called by Mrs Indira Gandhi after the euphoric win of the Indo–Pak war that lead to the creation of Bangladesh. Though astute political observers correctly analysed this implosion of the Congress, and predicted that the political centre was being thrown wide open, Advani misjudged his political space and future. Just as Jinnah.
The Blue Shift
It was in Bangalore Jail where he was incarcerated during the Emergency that Advani read Mein Kampf, and decided to put Nazi ideology into practice. Choosing the Muslims in place of Hitler’s Jews as the ‘other’, and the Ramjanmabhoomi in place of Hitler’s Goebbelsian ‘big–lie’ and ‘Hindu Self–Respect’ instead of Hitler’s German humiliation in World War I, Advani made his move. Apart from riding the hindutva tiger, he had the tactical savvy to step aside for Vajpayee—who was more acceptable to the broader electorate since he was not perceived to be ‘directly’ involved in the demolition of Babri Mosque. Studying Mein Kampf, he did not study history well enough. Hitler went out in a blaze of ignominy, and the ‘Thousand Year Reich’ with him. Hitler could’ve chosen a path of constructive engagement, to channel the obvious hurt of the Germans. Instead he chose the negative path.
The shift to the regressive right was a reaction to the capture of the liberal–left position by VPSingh, ignorant of the opening cosmopolitan centre. That the left–of–centre and the centre space is available is amply demonstrated by the increasing victory of the Left political parties. Ironically, given the conservative and neo–liberal position occupied by both the Congress and the BJP, the parliamentary Left almost look Centrist, not to mention Centre–Left.
Now that he has made his point, he wants to get off the tiger. Once he got power he even said that it is governance that matters, not ideology. Unfortunately, once events are set in motion, the idea often becomes larger than the ideologue in direct proportion to his success. But, as is clear from the reaction to his ‘Jinnah is secular’ statement, not much of his writ runs anymore among those whose heads he filled with the romance of violence and in whose heads he placed the explosive ideology of hate.
With the over 50% population under the age of 30, India is an youthful nation: full of idealism, and the impatience of youth. Traditionally, such a demographic profile leads to militaristic leaders, who offer simplistic solutions. With India on the threshold of becoming a global superpower, it awaits a leader who can lead it on a positive agenda of inclusion and social equity—of caring and sharing—that will utilise this idealism, impatience, energy and enthusiasm of the youth.
Unfortunately, L K Advani has missed the golden opportunity. He now has to wait out on the sidelines. And India still awaits a truly left–of–centre political formation.
anita and edwin
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends—Martin Luther King Jr.