From the man who would be PM to a footnote in history

By Sujata Anandan

July 31, 2020

As the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prepares to dust off Lal Krishna Advani and deign to allow him to accompany – though not lay the foundation  stone – Narendra Modi to  the bhoomi pujan for the Ram temple in Ayodhya next month, I wonder what the old fox might be thinking. Was it all worth it or is this all it was worth? For what is a foundation stone and a name on a plaque, if at all,  that no one might ever notice compared to  what he had set out to achieve when he laid the foundations for the extreme polarisation of India and the horrible dark place we are in today?

For all of Modi’s destruction of democracy and violation of the Constitutional  principles that should be sacrosanct to every Indian, I do not really blame him for anything that is happening in India today. He should always have been expected to be the kind of man that he is, for what other can you expect of a little-educated, indoctrinated pracharak who had no grounding in what the Indian nation state has been all about since Independence? But Advani, who came through the freedom movement with a British education during the struggle for independence, should have had better sense than to destroy India’s equilibrium for his naked ambition. For no one is fooled that he engineered the destruction of the Babri Masjid simply because he had some affinity to Lord Ram and wanted  a temple to the deity in the place of his birth.

LK Advani’s Somnath to Ayodhya rath yatra left several communal riots in its wake, killing and displacing many.

I say this also because of something I learnt from a court petition by his estranged daughter-in-law – that Advani had had no regard for any images of gods and goddesses. As he set off on his rath yatra through  India, BJP workers across the route where he sowed discord presented him with silver images of gods and goddesses, including several of Arjun on a chariot driven by Lord  Krishna. Given the BJP ideology, that was to be expected. But what did Advani do? Far from having all that silver deposited with the BJP treasurer, he had them melted  and converted into ordinary cutlery – forks, knives, plates, et al.

Eating off something that had once been moulded in the images of gods and goddesses earlier takes some nonchalance and utter disregard for the kind of religious sentiment that was supposed to drive his chariot to Ayodhya, and I found that absolutely cold-blooded.

Now, no one can say Advani did not have a right to do with the silver what he pleased. But if I were as devout a believer as the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cadre profess to be, I would have donated those images to temples or at least to the temple trust in Ayodhya in whose name, after all, all those images had been received. I have always felt ever since that Advani was not true to his own ideology or even beliefs, something that was confirmed a few years later when, during a visit to Pakistan, he lauded the allegedly secular character of Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

By then it was apparent that he would never be an acceptable leader to the BJP’s coalition partners, in the mould of Atal Behari Vajpayee, until he toned down his saffron rhetoric. In that sense, I appreciate Modi for deigning to make no bones about what he really is despite the intense pressure on him to be more democratic and secular – as stated in the Bible, he may be forgiven, for he believes he does no wrong and does not really know what wrong he does.

But Advani knew better and thought he would impress secular parties in India by swearing by Jinnah’s secularism when no one in India ever believed that. I do not think that even  Indian Muslims appreciated that statement because Jinnah brought them nothing but grief which he would never have done if he was secular, despite being a pork-eating Muslim on the side. Jinnah was as cold-blooded about his ambitions during the freedom movement as Advani was during the demolition of the Babri Masjid and I believe the two are kindred spirits in seeking to destroy a united nation and its harmony – Jinnah before Independence and Advani after that, in the single-minded pursuit of their ambition, shorn of even a passing concern about people other than themselves.

But while Jinnah got what he wanted, it is a matter of great satisfaction to me that Advani did not. Karma tripped him up every time with him having to first cede to Vajpayee when he got embroiled in an alleged hawala scam, taking second place to him through the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) years. Then in 2004, when he had expected to become prime minister after retiring an ailing Vajpayee in whose name the election was fought, the Congress won and Advani’s moment was past, even if he tried again and was destined to fail.

I wonder, too, as he accompanies Modi to Ayodhya if Advani would be brooding about the cipher he has been rendered to by the BJP and the RSS. If only he had not sabotaged Vajpayee over Modi after the 2002 riots, he would have been in a better place today than having to settle for the crumbs thrown his way by the BJP government. He was brutally retired by the RSS, publicly disregarded by Modi who would not even deign to return a greeting to him as Advani stood with folded hands before his former charioteer, denied the presidency he so desperately wanted after the prime minister’s office slipped out of reach, denied a ticket to the last Lok Sabha election which he had wanted to contest and generally left to brood about how badly he has been consigned to the dustbin of his own party which he had taken from two seats in Parliament to forming a government, almost single-handedly.

His means might have been abhorrent to secular forces but at least he raised all the right issues so far as his party was concerned and yet he is neither respected nor revered by the current saffron forces who will remember only Modi for making the Ram temple possible in Ayodhya while Advani ends up as a footnote of both the temple’s and India’s history.

I think I feel sorry for Advani. But I really do not feel sorry for the man who destroyed the secular fabric of India, all for the personal ambition of becoming prime minister without quite caring about how he got there.

(This piece first appeared in the National Herald)

Pictures courtesy: Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons