Autumn of the Patriarch

It should be considered one of the supreme ironies of Indian politics that the man singularly responsible for the rise and rise of the right wing in India, taking the BJP from a measly two Lok Sabha seats in 1984 to 182 in 1998, should now find himself cornered and quartered by his former acolytes.

The drama unfolding at BJP headquarters in New Delhi where tickets are being distributed for the forthcoming Lok Sabha seats under the looming shadow of Narendra Modi is no less fascinating than a Greek tragedy.

Advani, for whom contesting from Gandhinagar in Gujarat has always been a pleasure having won the constituency five times, suddenly spotted a bee in the bonnet this time. On his last trip to Gujarat, his well wishers told him privately that while he could contest from his favourite seat, no guarantees could be provided for a sixth term. The subtlety of the moment was not lost on him; there were enough Chinese whispers and media speculation to suggest that Advani could be an uncomfortable thorn in the flesh of Modi’s ascendance to power.

An alarmed Advani then let it be known that he would be keen to shift his constituency to Bhopal where his favourite chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan had extended an invitation to him. Indeed, he told the BJP parliamentary board that as a veteran, he had the right to choose his own constituency. But the board — most of whom learnt their politics at his feet back in the 1980s and 1990s — did not merely demur; they overruled him.

Advani did what the most famous Indian, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, did best; he went into a sulk, forcing his colleagues back to the drawing board. After many meetings and personal calls from Modi and party president Rajnath Singh, a relative lightweight from UP, it was announced that BJP’s senior leader could choose a constituency of his choice. It took another phone call from RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to convince Advani that Gandhinagar was as safe a seat for him as Bhopal. And that is the way it ended, at least for now.

The subtext is important here. The only person who opposed the elevation of Modi as the party’s 2014 poll mascot at the Goa national executive in June 2013 — in fact the only one who could have done it — was Advani. While personal motives were attributed to him for sulking and creating a fuss, the fact is Advani is probably more tuned into realpolitik than anyone else in that party. At 87, this former film critic is unlikely to be fazed by a smart turn of phrase or fashionable rhetoric. Unlike others in the BJP already heralding the arrival of Modi as the next prime minister, Advani has been more circumspect. He has consistently thrown the 2004 election results at them, telling all those who wish to listen that merely the BJP proclaiming India as shining may not be enough.

Back in the hey day of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it goes to Advani’s credit that he drew talent from across the political spectrum and took BJP out of the spectre of untouchability: Socialists, Trotskyites, former Gandhians and others queued up to provide the much-needed legitimacy that the party needed, four decades after one of their own had killed Gandhi.

In a sense, the gradual marginalisation of LK Advani within the saffron fold follows a time-honoured Indian tradition, one that finds resonance in the Mahabharata, where the valour of Guru Dronacharya, the man singularly responsible for turning boys into men, could not be countered by skill but with sheer deception on the political minefield. In the case of Advani, one can only hope the end is not as grisly.




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