Wednesday, April 17, 2019
By RK Misra*
Political epitaphs have a way of returning to reclaim the hand that buried them. If the present prime minister of India spares no effort to berate Jawaharlal Nehru for perceived injustice to his deputy Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, how would Narendra Modi be rated when posterity evaluates him for putting to pasture two of his own party patriarchs — LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi? Lot less flatteringly then he desires.
Lack of basic courtesy bordering on utter disdain marked the manner in which the two were sent packing. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the third of the triad that sculpted BJP to power, had already been reduced to a ritual when he bowed out.
Every dawn comes with a timed sunset but it is the way you treat your revered that shows the moral fibre of a leadership and the pedigree of a party. It is common knowledge that BJP president Amit Shah did not even care to inform the two that their candidature was not in the reckoning in the 2019 general elections. By any yardstick this was a serious breach of protocol.
Shah may hold the post but has hardly the stature to take such a decision on his own without the concurrence of Modi. It was only after Joshi came calling on Advani and their anger at the deliberate snub spilled into public domain that an apologetic Shah sought to make amends. It was too little, too late.
Advani, along with Vajpayee and Joshi, constituted the three founding pillars of BJP. Vajpayee’s relevance stood reduced after the party’s defeat in the 2004 hustings and his health issues subsequently turned him into a ceremonial relic until he passed away last year(August 16, 2018).
Always the bridesmaid never the bride, Advani’s highpoint was being deputy prime minister in the NDA government under Vajpayee before Modi caught up with him. Joshi, a six term Lok Sabha member is the founding general secretary of the BJP and has been its national president from 1991 to 1993. Presently chairman of the parliamentary estimates committee, he is locked in a losing battle for relevance in his own outfit. Electoral possibilities for both come later.
The mirthful irony of evolving politics is that while Modi owes his rise to chief ministership of Gujarat solely to Advani, the latter was the first person he sidelined on his way to prime ministership. In fact, Modi had been banished from Gujarat in the aftermath of Shankersinh Vaghela’s rebellion in 1995 that led to the fall of the first BJP government in Gujarat headed by Keshubhai Patel. Vaghela had flown to Khajuraho with 48 party legislators. A compromise was worked out by Vajpayee to save the government.
According to the truce formula , Keshubhai was replaced by Suresh Mehta and state party organization secretary Narendra Modi was sent packing out of Gujarat. However the Mehta government could barely survive 11 months as behind the scene machinations by Modi and VHP leader Pravin Togadia triggered a chain of events that led to it’s fall and a stint of President’s rule later brought Vaghela to power at the head of a regional party, RJP with Congress support.
The RJP government lasted about 500 days and opted for elections in which Keshubhai returned to power in 1998 heading a BJP government. He was replaced by Narendra Modi in the aftermath of the earthquake, as chief minister in 2002 with Advani playing a pivotal role in the change of guard.
Even thereafter, it is common knowledge, that Vajpayee wanted Modi replaced in the aftermath of the 2002 statewide communal riots that followed the Godhra train carnage. However, it was Advani again who ingeniously scuttled the move. Modi was at best a shadow presence when both Advani(1990) and Joshi (1993) took out their respective ‘yatras’ from Gujarat to criss-cross the country.
Incidentally, as Gujarat chief minister, Modi’s three day ‘sadbhavana’fast — Sept 17-19, 2011– wherein he first unsheathed his national political preferences came just a month before Advani’s ‘Jan Chetna’ yatra from Bihar in October the same year. It was then seen as an attempt by Modi to upstage his mentor in the run up to the Prime Ministerial sweepstakes.
Factspeak is that in June 2013 Modi took over as head of the BJP campaign committee for the 2019 parliamentary polls and two months later was declared the party candidate for prime ministership . The rest is history. Soon after Modi took charge as Prime Minister in 2014, both Advani and Joshi were dressed into a ’margdarshak mandal’, a sort of apex advisory body with nowhere to go!
How times change. On September 28, after a road show in Kalol town of Gandhinagar constituency during the 2009 Lok Sabha campaign Amit Shah stood head bent bearing the brunt of an angry Advani after a particularly lukewarm public response. Now seen standing hands folded at public engagements before his two helming disciples, Modi and Shah, ignored and sidelined, does not make for a pleasant sight.
Ideally, a fitting finale to Advani’s illustrious political career would have been his anointment as the country’s president by his most favoured disciple but there are latent insecurities which would prevent the ruling duo from any such act of grace.
Modi is sought to be projected as champion of the ‘weak’ and detests anyone ‘strong’, moving swiftly to neutralize a possible future threat. No wonder Advani was passed over in favour of then Bihar Governor Ramnath Kovind though the Congress proved more graceful in rewarding Pranab Mukherjee with the top job. Advani’s journey to oblivion is just a logical progression of a continuing sequence of events.
Even in 2014, there was drama and suspense in his ticket allocation. Inspired media reports emanating from within the party spoke of him being looked over. ‘Testing the ground’, said a senior BJP leader. It was only after Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan announced that he would be happy to accommodate Advani from his state, that his candidature from Gandhinagar was confirmed.
Modi has been ruthless in his pursuit of power. In 2014 ,he came from behind to trip his mentor in the final lap to emerge as the prime ministerial face of the party. Once crowned, the ruling duo set up a ‘margdarshak mandal’ as a top notch policy formulating body with Vajpayee, Advani and Joshi as its members.
In all the five years, the mandal never met formally and in hindsight proved nothing more than a parking place for discarded, elderly egos. To add salt to sore wounds, Advani was totally absent from the campaigning scene during the critically important 2017 Gujarat Vidhan Sabha elections. After Modi came to power in Delhi, Advani’s visits to Gujarat have been comparatively infrequent while that of the prime minister much more commonplace.
Advani has old links with Gujarat. In the wake of partition, the family had migrated from Sindh to Adipur in Kutch and therefrom on to Delhi. As he came of age in politics, he was elected for four consecutive terms to the Rajya Sabha from 1970 to 1989. It was only in 1989 that he was for the first time elected to the Lok Sabha from Delhi.
He however opted for Gandhinagar in the tenth Lok Sabha in 1991. He had quit in 1996 after the Jain hawala diary scandal and did not contest the 1996 elections. He however returned after being cleared in the case to win Gandhinagar in 1998 and continued to represent the constituency in the Lok Sabha till he was run out by his own protégé at 91!
The ancient theory of Karma enunciates that what goes around, comes around. It may be curtains for Advani but the Modi saga is still unfolding .
*Senior Gujarat-based journalist. Blog: http://wordsmithsandnewsplumbers.blogspot.com/