Advani: A Pale Shadow Of His Glorious Past
A politician with clean public image, the 86-year-old BJP patriarch put the party on tenterhooks recently by resigning from three posts immediately after the news of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s anointment as chief of party’s campaign committee
“… In Chinese script, the word ‘crisis’ is written as compound of two characters, one denoting ‘danger’ and another denoting ‘opportunity’. It would be good for the party if we take a right turn, but would be disastrous if we take a wrong turn. I have no hesitation to say that the party took a wrong turn, leading to disaster… ”
These were the exact words written by L K Advani in the commencement of the book titled “The People Betrayed” authored by him way back in 1979. Advani had brilliantly brought out in that book intricate details the circumstances that led to the collapse of the Janata Party and its government and the role played by individual leaders. Advani had squarely laid the blame on the late Charan Singh’s “unabashed greed” to become Prime Minister as the primary and sole reason for the “beginning of the end” of the first-ever non-Congress government at the Centre. That was in 1979.
History can play a quaint joke on individuals. In 2013, the same Advani has had become a source of an “unprecedented crisis” to the BJP by resigning from three posts he held as member of the national executive, member of the parliamentary board and member of the poll panel. He had also boycotted the BJP conclave at Goa, perhaps, for the first time in his entire political career spanning over six decades.
Advani’s grouse is that he has been slighted by the party as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has been named the chairman of the campaign committee in spite of former’s reservations.
However, with the intervention of RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat, the 86-year-old patriarch relented to withdraw his resignation. Before RSS intervention, BJP president Rajnath Singh and his colleagues burnt midnight oil to find out ways and means to bring around Advani without compromising on the party’s decision to appoint Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the chairman of the election campaign committee.
At the time of the “crisis” which had the two components of “danger” as well as “opportunity,” the party adopted a principled stance “your concerns” will be addressed but no going back on Modi decision—while Mohan Bhagwat adopted “gentle coercion” to make Advani stay put in the BJP. But the mood, base and ground to make Advani relent was prepared by S Gurumurthy, the Chennai-based chartered accountant, economist and coloumnist who is also the economic ideologue of the Sangh Pariwar.
That the RSS had attached utmost importance to Advani resignation episode could be made out from the fact that Gurumurthy air-dashed to Delhi at the behest of Mohan Bhagwat to persuade Advani. Sources confided that after two hours of discussion, Gurumurthy dialed Bhagwat and made Advani speak to the RSS chief.
Surprisingly, there are many similarities in the circumstances that led to the collapse of the Janata government as explained in the book by Advani and the manner in which the BJP patriarch had been conducting starting from boycott of his party’s national executive meet at Goa.
Charan Singh, too, had boycotted the crucial Cabinet meeting chaired by the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai. Singh’s presence was imperative, as he was the Home Minister and there were many subjects pertaining to his ministry. As the clock ticked, there was no sign of the Home Minister arriving at PM’s residence. Ironically, it was Advani along with Vajpayee, who volunteered to motor down to Charan Singh’s residence and persuaded him to come to the Cabinet meeting. “Desai heaved a sigh of relief, though he looked upset, over the intransigence of Singh,” Advani writes.
Ironically, this time Advani refused to attend the Goa conclave and it was Rajnath Singh, president of the party, who tried to persuade Advani but without any result.
When the crisis reached a crescendo in the Janata Party on the issue of dual membership, Advani writes in his book that the Jana Sangh members of the Janata Party in Morarji Desai ministry offered to resign from the Cabinet, if that mollifies Charan Singh and ensures the continuation of the Janata government.
“Unity of the party and the government was of paramount importance for us. Hence, we, the members of the erstwhile Jana Sangh suggested to Prime Minister Desai to accept our resignations. The offer was made by Vajpayee. But Prime Minister Morarji Desai refused to accept our offer. He outrightly rejected it by saying, even if that would help the government survive, I would not accept such an unethical decision.” Advani, then, writes, “That was the moral fibre Desai had in him.”
In 1979, Advani had mooted the idea of resigning from the ministry (he was Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting) in order to preserve the unity of the Janata party and the government. Today in 2013, miffed Advani had resigned from three posts which threatened to split the 33-year old party. What a tragic irony!
In one of his press conferences held in Bangalore just a few days before the tragic assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, Advani was posed a question as to who would be the Prime Minister if BJP came to power. Advani’s immediate response was, “Who else other than Atalji? People of India want Vajpayee to become the Prime Minister.” Advani was looking all happy and beaming when he said this. Almost at the same time on the same day, Vajpayee was posed a question in a press conference at Lucknow. His response was, “Who else other than Advaniji? He is the natural and obvious choice.”
Both the leaders who share an unbroken and meaningful friendship of over six decades were “in for a fight” of a different kind. Both had “differences” of a different kind on the issue of prime ministership.
That was Advani in 1991 but in 2013 the same Advani had not been able to conceal his desire to occupy the post of Prime Minister, though he has not said it in so many words. He is unable to reconcile to the new and emerging situation. His opposition to “the manner in which Modi has been elevated” sounds like euphemism for his desire to become number one.
In his strongly-worded letter to Rajnath Singh, Advani cited the “deterioration” in the character and quality of the working style of some of the party leaders for him not being able to reconcile in the party. Charan Singh, too, had cited the reason of the “government being in the firm grip of vested interests” to vent his anger. Everyone knew that it was euphemism to conceal his “greed” to occupy number one position in the government.
Colleagues and Friends, Past and Present
The achievements of my party or of the governments that I have worked in, were due to the determined collective efforts, in which I only played a part. I have had the privilege and honour of working with hundreds of outstanding colleagues in my own party, in the parties that allied with us from time to time, and in the two governments in which I had ministerial responsibilities. Working with them for common national objectives has also been a source of immense happiness.
In Morarji Desai’s government, I admired the commitment and competence of H.M. Patel, Shanti Bhushan, Madhu Dandavate, Ravindra Varma, and, of course, the indomitable George Fernandes, who played a decisive role later in the formation of the NDA, also serving as its Convenor.
In later years, I have worked closely with a large number of leaders from other political parties who have made valuable contributions to India’s development and to the maturing of its democracy- V.P. Singh, Devi Lal, N.T. Rama Rao, Biju Patnaik, Prakash Singh Badal, Gurchararn, Singh Tohra, I.K. Gujral, Bal Thackeray, Ramakrishna Hegde, H.D. Deve Gowda, Sharad Pawar, Dr Farooq Abdullah, N. Chandrababu Naidu, Dr Jayalalithaa, Navin Patnaik, Nitish Kumar, Dinesh Goswami, Prafulla Mahanta, Mamata Banerjee, Omprakash Chautala, Kanshiram, Mayawati, Dr M. Karunanidhi and Murasoli Maran.
In my own party, it has been my privilege to work with several generations of committed and highly talented colleagues. I must mention here the names of old-timers like Nanaji Deshmukh, Jagdish Prasad Mathur, Sundar Singh Bhandari, Krishna Lal Sharma, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Kushabhau Thakre, Sikandar Bakht, Jana Krishnamurthy, K.R. Malkani, Kedarnath Sahni, Kailashpati Mishra, Murli Manohar Joshi, Jaswant Singh, Ved Prakesh Goyal, Keshubhai Patel, Madanlal Khurana, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, Sundarlal Patwa, Kailash Joshi, Shanta Kumar, Suraj Bhan, and Appa Ghatate. Then came a new crop of leaders: Pramod Mahajan, Kalyan Singh, Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh, K.N. Govindacharya, Arun Jaitley, Narendra Modi, Kalraj Mishra, Uma Bharati, Premkumar Dhumal and B.S. Yediyurappa. Now, another generation of leaders is contributing to the party’s expansion. Amongst them are Gopinath Munde, Nitin Gadkari, Vasundhara Raje, Dr Raman Singh, Ananth Kumar, Sushilkumar Modi, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Manohar Parrikar, Shahnawaz Hussein, Dharmendra Pradhan, Balbir Punj and many others. The BJP also gained considerable strength by inducting some outstanding persons from a non-political and non-BJP background such as Jagmohan, Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and Najma Heptulla. Harin Pathak, Ch. Vidyasagar Rao, I.D. Swami and Swami Chinmayananda worked with me as my deputies in the Home Ministry. I am aware that many of my former and present colleagues have gone unmentioned in this book, but my eyes become moist and my heart is filled with gratitude when I think of all of them.
I have great faith in the young blood of my party. The question ‘Who after Vajpayee?’ or ‘Who after Advani?’ never arises. The BJP is not like the Congress party in which the top slot is forever reserved for a member of the ‘dynasty . The BJP provides even an ordinary worker the opportunity to rise through the ranks and assume leadership responsibilities on the strength of his or her commitment, capability and record of service.
This, among many other reasons, makes me proud and happy to belong to the BJP.
(Excerpted from My Country My Life)
Advani wrote in his book, “The damage inflicted by Charan Singh to the image and credibility of the Janata party and the government is something very difficult to repair and resurrect.”
Can the damage that has occurred to the party on account of Advani’s resignation be repaired, even if the party agrees to his conditions? Is it possible for Advani himself to resurrect the party’s image even if he is made the party’s prime ministerial candidate or given in-charge of the campaign committee?
Advani has always been a strong opponent of party activists going to the media on internal issues of the party. He discouraged such leaders or workers who chose to write letters to the party’s central leadership and release it to the media. “Democracy with Discipline” was his mantra. He had strongly suggested that those who go to the media on party’s internal matters must be subjected to disciplinary action. It would be too cruel, and perhaps, too early, to recall at this present juncture that it was Advani, in his capacity as the President of the Jana Sangh, who had expelled Balraj Madhok from the party way back in 1971.
There have been media reports that Rajnath Singh appealed to Advani not to release his letter to the media, as it would send a wrong signal to the cadre and it would be extremely difficult to “handle the potentially disastrous situation.” It would give a “convincing and credible” handle for our opponents to beat us. Please do not release the letter to the media, Rajnath is said to have appealed to Advani. What, then, is the motive and intention of Advani in releasing the letter to the media
on Sunday, thus throwing the party to the wolves?
The 86-year-old patriarch faces the problem of loneliness. More than once, Advani has said that he feels lonely without Vajpayee. All his contemporaries who were with him in BJP- Sundar Singh Bhandari, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Jagadish Prasad Mathur, Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia, Kailashpathi Mishra, Khushabhau Thakre, Dr Mangal Sein, Dr Makrand Desai, Vasant Sabnis, K Jana Krishnamurthy, Krishanlal Sharma, Hashu Advani, Sikandar Bahkt, Satishchandra Agarwal, Kedarnath Sahani, Dr Vishnu Kant Shastri, Jagannatha Rao Joshi, Dr Baldev Prakash, Ramprakash Gupta to name a few have left him.
With Dr Murali Manohar Joshi, Advani’s relationship is not as close and cordial as it is with Vajpayee. Both have behaved like “intimate strangers” though it was Advani who passed on the party’s presidentship baton to Dr Joshi at Jaipur in 1991 and both have worked in the same Cabinet between 1998 to 2004.
Given his tremendous contributions to the growth of the party since October 1951 (BJS days), Advani was not wrong in expressing his anger and anguish against the party leadership for insulting him.
But at the same time, as BJP insiders confide, Advani ought to have displayed “magnanimity” and anointed Narendra Modi as chairman of the campaign committee, at least as a matter of strategy. That would have enhanced his own prestige with elan and grace. He could have made a “virtue out of necessity.” How and why Advani—a man with keen political acumen and whose hands are always on the party and nation’s pulse—failed to gauge the mood of the party cadre and mind of the leadership is still a mystery.
Or is this new persona and character of Advani (the sign of desperateness and unable to conceal it) because he has allowed himself for too long to be influenced by one or two people of “narrow mindedness and small-town mentality” who surround him almost every day? According to psychologists, you tend to become what you are surrounded of.
As Advani’s reputation, image and credibility—which he has been able to build painstakingly for over six decades remain shattered, the party, which he nursed, nourished and nurtured, totters on the brink of a precipice. Today the party sits on the mouth of a volcano, though some sort of forced truce has been brought about. And the tragic irony is that Advani himself had become the cause and source of the “crisis” which has a compound of two characters, one denoting “danger” and another denoting “opportunity”.
In his book All the Janata Men, Janardhan Thakur in 1980 had mentioned, “… by far, Advani, the cleanest and straightest man in Indian politics and who is impeccably clean and honest in both public and private life, has lent credibility to the Janata Party by dint of his conduct and performance. People call Vajpayee a Desert Flower, but that epithet fits Advani more…”
Will Advani do something to regain his reputation, lend strength to the party and resurrect its image and credibility? Will he allow his own youngsters to carry on his baton and thereby remain eternally described as a “desert flower” (a leader who could not become PM despite possessing all qualities by the quirk of fate).
By S A Hemantha Kumar
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