LK Advani is finally speaking out, now that he has nothing to lose.
The 91-year-old’s hopes of contesting another election were dashed when the current BJP leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah unceremoniously dropped him from its list of candidates. Insult was added to injury when he was replaced by Shah in the Gandhinagar constituency, where Advani had consecutively won Lok Sabha elections from 1998 to 2014.
It didn’t, of course, come as a surprise—Advani and his peers such as Murli Manohar Joshi had been relegated to the “margdarshak mandal”—derisively termed “old-age home” by the opposition—by Modi and Shah back in 2014. Joshi, reports quoting sources say, is now in active talks with the Congress about becoming the joint opposition candidate against Modi in Varanasi (no, we are too far past the point of irony now).
Advani, who till last year still considered himself politically relevant and had expressed hurt at party leaders suggesting retirement, seems to have finally accepted that his political rath yatra is over. And hence, the blog.
Ah, that blog. That beacon of hope, extolling the BJP’s commitment to the “freedom of choice of every citizen”, written by the man who drove a communal chariot through the heart of India.
Advani’s hate politics
In this blog, his first in almost five years, Advani claims that the BJP has never regarded those who disagree with them politically as its “enemies” or “anti-national”, but only as “adversaries”.
Despite the moral high ground that Advani is trying to take after being snubbed by Modi and Shah in the 2019 polls, let’s recollect what the veteran BJP leader is remembered for.
As the president of the BJP, Advani embarked on the rath yatra in 1990—it began in Somnath, Gujarat, and was supposed to end in Ayodhya. His journey laid the groundwork for the demolition of the Babri Masjid by whipping up communal sentiments.
The yatra was a major contributory factor to the horrific communal violence in the 1990s and beyond, wrote Ramachandra Guha in Hindustan Times.
The Supreme Court, in 2017, had also rebuked Advani, Uma Bharti and Joshi and said they would be tried in a criminal conspiracy case for the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The top court had ordered a day-to-day trial to be completed in two years, which means 19 April 2019. It’s unlikely that this deadline will be met. In September 2018, the Supreme Court had asked the Lucknow court sessions judge how he planned to complete the trial in time.
People have pointed out the consequences of Advani’s rath yatra:
Both Advani and Modi have been the implacable face of Hindutva, as this Firstpost piece pointed out. Former JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav, then one of former prime minister VP Singh’s votaries, described Advani’s politics as anti-OBC and communal, the report further said.
Why is he speaking up now?
The Wire’s Raghu Karnad has pointed out that Advani’s recent blog is a reminder of his fiery writings from the 1970s, when he and others had fought against the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. Karnad, however, adds that it is unlikely that Advani was moved to pen these words entirely out of principle. Rather, it is the realisation that he is now completely irrelevant to both his party and the larger political system that may have pushed him to it.
As the report on Joshi’s negotiations with the Congress show, it may be tempting for liberals to think of Advani as having had a change of heart. But Advani has largely remained silent since 2014, when the BJP government came to power, and never once reminded the leaders what the party stands for until now.
According to India Today, the BJP veteran has only spoken 365 words in Parliament in that last five years. And all of this was in 2014.
PDP chief and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti also pointed out “that not a word was uttered since 2014” and wished that he had spoken up all these years.
Where was Advani?
Advani claims that the BJP has never regarded those who disagree with it as “anti-nationals”. It would have helped if he had shared this insight in February 2016, when the word first entered the national lexicon, thanks to his party leaders who ensured that one of India’s most progressive universities was demonised and students put in jail on sedition charges.
Ok, leave 2016.
When Shah recently claimed that Congress’ manifesto for Lok Sabha elections was “anti-national”, there was not a peep from Advani.
Why didn’t the BJP founder say anything when party spokesperson Sambit Patra said, “The Congress is fast becoming an anti-India and anti-Hindu party”? Patra was responding to Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor’s remark that the BJP aims to create a “Hindu Pakistan”.
In fact, Union Minister Giriraj Singh went to the extent of saying that those who don’t attend Modi’s March 3 rally (soon after Pulwama attack) in Bihar would make it clear who supported Pakistan. And yet, Advani remained mum.
Advani, in his blog, also said that:
“BJP has always been at the forefront of demanding protection of independence, integrity, fairness and robustness of all our democratic institutions, including the media.”
Journalists, however, told Reuters that they are increasingly facing intimidation aimed at stopping them from running stories critical of Modi and his administration.
In its annual World Press Freedom Index released in 2018, Reporters Without Borders said that India was now ranked 138 in the world out of 180 countries measured, down two positions since 2017 and lower than countries like Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Myanmar.
Reporters Without Borders counted instances of Indian journalists being killed because of what they write. “At least three of the journalists murdered in 2017 were targeted in connection with their work,” it said. Among them was journalist Gauri Lankesh.
While Advani seems to be reprimanding Modi and Shah for what the BJP has become, it’s worth remembering that he is no better himself.
(With Reuters inputs)