No sobs for Mr Advani

While court columnists like Swapan Dasgupta may sob and their ‘eyes turn moist’ as Mr. L.K. Advani steps down as the President of the Bhartiya Janata Party, it may not be out of place to reflect on the BJP’s version of the contemporary Sardar Patel, the Iron Man of India.

Advani was in a way the BJP’s man of destiny- he rose from being an almost unknown person to become the President of the BJP in 1986. The BJP technically had just 2 MPs in the Parliament at that time. Advani was still not the well known political leader that he was to become during the infamous “Rath Yatra” that he carried out on a DCM Toyota LCV. Even the rath- yatra was not his invention, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had launched rath yatra’s much earlier during the early eighties, the first of them having been inaugurated by Mrs Indira Gandhi during the last phase of her life when she looked for support from the “religion based” communal forces (Bhinderanwale in the Punjab and the VHP in the Hindi heartland).

Advani had joined the RSS in 1942, when the cry for Pakistan was just starting to gather momentum but the nationalist sentiment still overwhelmingly dominated the national political life- the Quit India movement happened in that year. Much before it became a fashion for English educated middle class, upper caste men and women to become supporters of the BJP (even if some of them wished it to become a reformed version like the Christian Democrats in some countries), Advani, a former student of St Patricks in Karachi had joined the Sangh. This was unusual- for the RSS was and still remains an outfit that has appealed to the urban lower middle classes.

It was still more unusual that a man from the province of Sindh educated in a Christian school should espouse such violent hatred for the Muslims and Christians. Islam came to Sindh as a religious and cultural influence much before it came as the religion of the conquerors from the North- west. Sufism has been a big influence on Sindhi Hindus till recent times. Even now, Sindhi associations in India publish newsletters and magazines in both scripts- one based on the Persian and the other on the Devanagri. It is very common for Sindhis to visit gurudwaras and keep a picture of Guru Nanak in their homes.

It was this indigenously syncretic tradition that Advani and his ilk would spend a lifetime to destroy and overwrite. Till about a year ago, it seemed that they had almost succeeded.

But over the last few months, Mr Advani’s “stature” fell as quickly as it had risen during the “Rath Yatra” and subsequently during his tenure as the Home Minister. In that Advani has been both lucky and unlucky- lucky to have seen his lifelong political struggle reach a crescendo within his lifetime and unlucky to see it fall in the last few months- when he has been hounded by the RSS itself, and left forlorn by his own protégés even as one of them- Uma Bharati- has slammed him publicly.

The Shiv Sena and its aging leader Balasaheb Thackeray- a ultra- Hindu ‘nationalist’ whose last name comes from a British writer (William Thackeray) also is in the throes of internal strife.

If anything illustrates the contradictions in India, the case of Advani and Thackeray does that very well.

Mr Advani’s life can be seen as four stages- the first as a relatively low key RSS/ BJP functionary till 1986- he wrote mundane film reviews of popular Hindi films for the RSS mouthpiece ‘Organiser’ for some of those years of political wilderness, the second between 1986 to 1998 when the BJP under his leadership rose as a powerful, if mistaken, voice of Hindutva, the third was his subsequent tenure from 1998- 2004 as the Home Minister when he was sought to be propped up as a living Sardar Patel and the fourth was finally the last year and half, when shorn of political power, the BJP looks like a house of cards and its leaders a pack of squabbling careerists- so much for “the party with a difference”.

As the Home Minister of the country in 2002 when orgy was let loose in the state of Gujarat, Christian missionaries attacked and burnt alive in Orissa, Mr Advani presided over the country’s Home Ministry, supporting and lauding Narendra Modi. If Mr Vajpayee was Janus- faced, Advani was the hawk.

Advani himself represented a constituency from that state, Gandhinagar of all places- history sometimes displays cruel if not mocking irony. Next to Jawaharlal, it is Mahatma Gandhi that the RSS has hated and poured scorn and venom on- one just has to pick up a copy of the “Organiser” or a book by Hedgewar or Golwalkar to understand the extent of their hatred.

Advani’s political downfall after the BJP’s “Shining India” campaign fell flat on its face was much more steep than his rise had been. He has been quickly shoved aside by the RSS and the “nextgen” of the BJP.

His rise was certainly spectacular- but let it not been forgotten that it happened in the backdrop of certain social and political developments that “created” the L.K. Advani that we came to know for the next decade and half (since 1989).

Foremost among these developments was the economic emergence of the backward castes through the seventies and eighties and their political assertion during the late eighties when V.P. Singh started liberalizing the economy and at the same time via the Mandal Commission Report paved the way for a political resurgence of the backward castes.

The Mandal Commission Report threw the upper castes into turmoil and into the welcoming arms of the BJP. That the RSS and the BJP have been the organs of the minority upper (“Brahmin- Bania”) castes especially in North India where they draw their strength, has long been noticed (see, for example, Sumit Sarkar et al, “Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags”). The plank of anti- Muslim and the creation of its “opposite” or the “Other”- the virile Hindu- camouflage the real casteist nature of these organizations. A VHP slogan was more than a giveaway: “Jis Hindu ka khoon na khola, woh Hindu nanin bhangi hai” (quoted in the book mentioned above).

Advani, with his loud rhetoric of Hindu “nationalism” stepped into this void vacated by the “secular” upper caste leaders, V.P. Singh included. That an entire generation of well- educated, even if generally upper caste, young men and women would look upon him and later (post 1998) to Vajpayee, is both understandable and ironic. This generation that grew up and was educated under Nehru’s shadow and the colleges and universities that he hoped would lead the country out of sectarianism clawed back at his legacy with a vengeance. Nehru and other leaders of the freedom movement were proven wrong.

The BJP, under Vajpaye and Advani was to reach the shrill notes of a Wagnerian dis- symphony during the six years between 1998- 2004- the night that was the long shadow of the mushroom cloud that hung over the nuclear explosions of May 1998 and among whose nightmares included the hounding of the liberal and the left, the secular and the minority missionaries and whose gravest days and nights were the days of organized orgy and violence in Gujarat.

It is good for the country that these days are past- and the men -Vajpayee and Advani-who envisioned and allowed the nightmare to linger and to gnaw at its soul have been pushed aside.

There is no reason for eyes to be moist- not for those for whom the politics represented by Advani has wrought despair and death.

An excerpt from this post here

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