Op-Ed: The tragedy of being Advani

A picture, they say, tells a thousand words. Just look at the picture above for proof. It is sad to see Lal Krishna Advani, the man who played a key role in the BJP’s transformation from a pariah till the 1980s to the pre-eminent political party in the country today, standing like a supplicant with folded hands before a man, who probably would have found it hard to get an appointment with the BJP stalwart in his heyday. Amit Shah, now in his second successive term as the BJP President, looks completely disinterested in the party veteran who, along with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, spent a lifetime building the party from scratch, brick by brick, and was the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2009 general elections.

The picture, of course, is entirely in tune with Advani’s current status in the party. The scene was no different at Vajpayee’s funeral recently. He has been sulking since Narendra Modi was declared as the Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2014 election at the party’s national executive meeting in Goa in 2013. Modi bhakts, many of whom were groomed by Advani when he was at the helm of affairs in the party, shunned him like a rotten potato once the former began his ascendancy in the BJP hierarchy. Even Finance minister Arun Jaitley was quick to realize which way the political wind was blowing and maintained a safe distance from his former mentor to ensure a place of eminence for himself in the new dispensation’s scheme of things. But of late, the man who put the BJP on the road to power in the early 1990s, gives the distinct impression that he has reconciled himself to his irrelevance in the new order. One of the most eloquent speakers in the BJP, Advani’s voice is hardly been these days, either inside Parliament or outside.

I often wonder what he would be thinking these days. Does he rue his decision to back Narendra Modi in the face of the stated desire of Prime Minister Vajpayee to remove him as Chief Minister of Gujarat in the wake of the anti-Muslim pogrom under his watch at the party national executive meeting at Goa in April, 2002? Did he oppose Modi’s candidature because he wanted another shot at becoming Prime Minister in 2014 as Modi supporters would have us believe? When he meets Murli Manohar Joshi, another member of the party’s geriatric club ‘kicked upstairs’ to the amorphous Margdarshak Mandal of the party by the Modi dispensation, what do they talk about? Will he ever talk about what he thinks of Modi’s Prime Ministership or quietly walk into the sunset? With friend and comrade-in-arms for 65 years Vajpayee now gone, does he really feel there is any role left for him in public life, if not active politics? [There is talk of fielding the nonagenarian leader from Gandhinagar again in 2019. But one wonders if he would swallow his self-respect and agree to contest, given his increasing disillusionment with those who call the shots in the party these days.]

Indian political history, of course, is replete with examples of shishyas outsmarting their gurus. Forget the numerous such instances in the ancient regime. Even the post-Independence era has more than its fair share of acolytes betraying their mentors. N. Chandrababu Naidu pulling a fast one on NT Ramarao is among the most cited cases of betrayal. Akhilesh Yadav did the same to his father and mentor in the last elections with disastrous results. Closer home, there is Srikant Jena, who worked overtime to ensure that his mentor Biju Patnaik did not become PM – or even a Union minister – in 1996 with generous help from the JB Patnaik government. Modi is only the latest practitioner of the ‘art’ of betrayal.

Now contrast this with the way the Vajpayee and Advani stuck to each other for a lifetime, subsuming their personal ambitions to the greater cause of building the party into a viable political entity. Given the preeminent role that Advani played in building a party, he could have easily staged a coup d’ etat – like Modi did with him – and ensconced himself as the party’s Prime Minisetrial face at the expense of Vajpayee. But he didn’t and remained a lifelong friend and fellow traveler to the former Prime Minister.

But then it was a different world in Advani’s heyday. A time when power was a means to an end; a time when power – as Atal was at pains to emphasise – was necessary, but not ‘at any cost’. In the current scheme of things in the BJP, power, ‘at any cost’, is an end in itself.

Consumed by a fierce desire for power, Modi may have succeeded in banishing his mentor to the sidelines. But history will certainly treat Advani with greater kindness than it does his erstwhile ‘disciple’

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same).