At a point, when the entire party, its structure, ideology and members seem to be falling apart bit by bit and sometimes in chunks, one man – who so tirelessly built the party with immense care post the Vajpayee era, now seems to be standing alone in the middle of it all, still holding on to his ‘mettle,’ refusing to budge against everyone, including the RSS’s wishes – Lal Krishna Advani.
Situations never got more ironic, as the Bharatiya Janta Party readied itself for the 15th Lok Sabha elections and made a mess of it, in what was aimed to be one of the greatest political comebacks in Indian history. The Prime Minister-in-waiting, along with his ‘presidential style’ campaign managers, marched ahead with an enthusiasm that would have put the younger leaders to shame and proposed that none, but the Iron Man himself was fit to hold the highest position against the Congress’s Manmohan Singh – who at that point was recovering from a major cardiac surgery. Even though every form of media bombarded the Indian citizen with the ‘Mazboot Neta, Nirnayak Sarkar’ (Strong Leader, Decisive Government) campaign that prompted L. K. Advani’s vision was the way ahead, the poll results spoke of a different story altogether.
As the three decade old party sat collecting the shambles of the poll result, it seemingly was undoing itself exactly the way it had been built. Keeping everything aside from personal and ideological differences, to the blame game and the electoral loss itself, the only words that came to describe the situation were – disarray and commotion – things that were taking the party apart, bit by bit. A little later into the year, even as Jaswant Singh – a man who had been there right from the start, was gracelessly expelled and Arun Shourie contrasted L. K. Advani to Vajpayee’s leadership and moral flexibility – even the speech writer-campaign manager-key advisor-in-one to Mr. Advani, Sudheendra Kulkarni walked out on the party – making the Iron Man only look worse. With these ties snapping from the party, glaring revelations were made, kinds that spoke of the hypocrisy of the BJP, cover ups from the Kandahar plane hijack and how the moderate shoes of Atal Bihari Vajpayee were impossible to fill, no matter how hard one tried. Even post the electoral defeat, as he offered to resign as the Leader of the Opposition, recent events showed that the plan was quite clear and L. K. Advani would clearly stay on for the entire term of the 15th Lok Sabha. This obstinate or as some would call it, ‘stubborn’ decision proved to be going awfully wrong – despite all the signals from the party mentors. The result – the two major party meetings, in New Delhi and Shimla respectively turned out to be battlefields and arenas that witnessed skeletons from the past coming to life, rather than reformatory.
After the former External Affairs Minister was sacked, in what some call a ‘baseless and partial’ manner, Jaswant Singh made revelations of a kind that shocked the nation, to an extent that the faults of the leadership came in to the limelight – and how. Day by day, Jaswant Singh went from being saddened, to remorseful to finally wanting to avenge his humiliating exit. He expressed how the party did not require to be selective on the subject of leadership, making his stand clear about Advani’s remarks on Jinnah, in 2005 – the cause of Singh’s expulsion. He also made revelations regarding the Kandahar flight and Advani’s knowledge of it and how the terrorists could have been released without the home minister consenting and signing ‘pieces of paper?’ Jaswant Singh admitted on how he had covered up for Advani, in a TV interview. Meanwhile, party president Rajnath Singh, at the end of the Chintan Baithak (introspection conclave) announced how ‘Advaniji’ would continue to lead the party since he was their leader. This statement erased any doubts of how Advani could not have stood away from any of the commotion. As days passed, Jaswant Singh was not finished, or close to being so with his revelations. The much dreaded topic of the 2002 Godhra riots was raised and the part Advani had to play in it. He let out how Advani had cautioned and eventually convinced then Prime Minister Vajpayee from taking action against Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi saying it would cause uproar in the BJP. Vajpayee was so grieved by the carnage, he in his authority had wanted to take action against Modi, and on being held back, had wished to resign.
The revelations continued as Arun Shourie joined the circus and backed Jaswant Singh’s comments on the issues related to Kandahar and Godhra; a few days after Former Party President M Venkaiah Naidu said that Singh’s comments did not hold importance considering he was not a party member any longer. In the process, Arun Shourie was asked to watch his conduct considering the time he went to press, he was still a member of the BJP, but refused to rectify. Shourie also said the expulsion of Jaswant Singh was based on well plotted outrage and disappointment and that references from the book towards Sardar Patel were raised and not Jinnah, so that no one would point fingers at Advani. Shourie further went on to say, in a bare-all TV interview, how the entire top leaders of the party could be done away with and how ‘Atalji’ had been shown advantages but there were certain things he would have never done. He further went on to refer to the grief caused to the then-PM, by the Godhra riots, that had a ‘poet’s sensitivity’ – which only made Advani’s iron man image appear as insensitive and cold-blooded. Party insiders expressed dismay as the 2009 debacle had been rather shameful and the vote margins proved to be so. Trailing the Congress with a 3 percent difference in the Delhi Assembly polls, the BJP went on to trail the Congress with a 20 percent difference in the Lok Sabha elections – which many blame on the faulty projection of leadership. A report of the party meet in Shimla was handed out and had clearly mentioned the inability of the leaders to corner the Congress over the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai and had inversely put pressure on the BJP over the Kandahar issue – a report, the existence of which was altogether denied by party General Secretary Arun Jaitley.
Jaswant Singh further went on to spill more beans as he said Advani had been aware of the cash-for-votes sting operation that had taken the Lok Sabha by storm on the 22nd of July, 2008. Three M.Ps of the BJP had flashed currency notes, claiming them to be bribes offered by Samajwadi Party General Secretary, Amar Singh to vote in favor of the Congress-led UPA Government. The Congress passed it off as one of the many dirty tricks played by the BJP and recovered, winning the vote of confidence – which later proved to be disastrous for the Opposition. However, post severing his ties with the party on grounds of ideological differences, Kulkarni believed that the RSS and party members had done great damage to the polls held in 2009 by asking Advani to step down from the party president’s post in 2005, describing the event as one that was uncalled for and in a manner which ‘undermined his authority.’ He also believes that the party would bounce back on the condition that they learnt their lessons and clarified the doubts of leadership amongst themselves. Advani’s comparisons to Vajpayee as an alliance manager were uncharitable and some even regarded him to be the perfect replacement – a prediction gone terribly wrong. BJP strategists believed that even though the 2004 elections had been lost, the party could have come back to power after ruling from 1998 to 2004, if Advani had taken the baton over from Vajpayee in a manner that was required for him to fill in the shoes of his predecessor.
Even though the Iron Man had had his moments and phases of glory and heightened success, irony could not have withheld. In 1991, since the time the BJP gained importance by winning 120 seats in the Lok Sabha elections, it was Advani who had structured the party to the extent of its greatness, beginning with taking over as Party President in 1986 and later with the chariot march in 1990. But, when the time came for the BJP to lead a coalition government in 1998, Advani had to make way for Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the moderation that came along with him. Advani’s attempts at shedding the party’s anti-Islam image in 2005, also faced a lot of heat from the party, but he recovered soon – only to leave ideological mentors, the RSS in doubt. Chief of the RSS, Mohan Bhagwat asked older leaders of the party to make way for younger ones, just a day before the Shimla meet which set and made the agenda of the meeting very clear. The RSS Chief’s words had shed light on the fact that nothing was to come in the way of ideologies and the larger interests of the party, against individual motives. Perhaps, Lal Krishna Advani has a voice in his head that guides him and his conscience, to lead the party – considering the fact that it is he who built it – giving him the de facto right to do so.
Amidst the mess, it is the nation that lacks a credible Opposition. Not Advani, not the BJP.