By Sagarneel Sinha
Former home minister and deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani, whose name was missing from the candidates’ list of the ruling party, was once called as the “Iron Man” of the Bharatiya Janata Party. It was Advani who steered the Rathyatra demanding for the Temple of Lord Ram on the site of Babri Masjid at Ayodhya. It was the Ram Temple movement which politically benefitted the saffron party which tasted power for the first time after the 1996 parliamentary elections — although for a short 14 days. Nevertheless, BJP won the 1998 and 1999 parliamentary elections and Atal Bihari Vajpayee — Advani’s close ally — became the prime minister of India. It was Advani himself who had announced Vajpayee as the face of the BJP in the party convention of Mumbai held in 1995.
In the last 2014 elections, BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi won 282 seats — garnering majority on its own. But BJP’s rise wouldn’t have been possible without the Ram Temple movement steered by Advani. Actually, Lal Krishna Advani was the “Bhishmapitamah” of BJP who is credited to build the party from 2 seats in 1984 elections to being elected as the country’s ruling party in the mid and late 90s and later in 2014.
Advani, who is currently 91 years old, was replaced by the party president Amit Shah from veteran leader’s constituency Gandhinagar in the first candidates’ list of BJP. After that, media reports emerged that veteran leader like Advani was denied the party ticket propelling the party to clarify that it was Advani himself who opted out of the race of Lok Sabha elections this time. However, opposition parties like Congress hit out at Narendra Modi and Amit Shah for forcing a senior leader like Advani to retire from politics. Even BJP’s ally Shiv Sena in its editorial of the party mouthpiece Saamna said that “Bhishmacharya of Indian politics” — in reference to Lal Krishna Advani — was forced to resign who was one of the founding fathers of BJP and referred him as BJP’s “tallest leader”. Saamna’s editorial also said that presently there is an environment in the BJP to ensure that the seniors don’t get any responsibility this time.
Was Advani really forced by the BJP leadership to quit the electoral politics? BJP can’t deny the fact that after Narendra Modi’s becoming the prime minister of the country, Advani has been pushed back to the wall with his name removed from the Parliamentary Board — party’s highest decision making body — and was made a member of Margdarshak Mandal, along with veteran leader Murli Manohar Joshi plus Atal Bihari Vajpayee — although he was non-active in politics due to prolonged illness. The Margdarshak Mandal was constituted to guide the party. Although, the truth is that the body has never met even for once. Neither was Margdarshak Mandal consulted by the party for guidance raising questions about the purpose of existence of the body. Not only this, Advani was replaced by Amit Shah as the chairman of NDA after the 2014 elections. This hasn’t gone well with Advani as he felt neglected by the party inspite of being the senior most leaders after Vajpayee, who passed away last year after prolonged illness.
A media report pointed out after analysing 2014-2019 Lok Sabha records, the nonagenarian leader’s attendance was 92 per cent despite his being the most oldest member of the house. Advani’s 92 per cent attendance was well above the average 80 per cent attendance of the Lok Sabha members. But astonishingly, Advani spoke only 365 words in five different occasions in the Lok Sabha as the report says. In fact all those 365 words were uttered by him only in 2014. This is strictly in contrast to his own performance during the 2009-2014 Lok Sabha where he took part in 42 debates and spoke 35,926 words turning the tables against the then Manmohan Singh led UPA government. The 16th Lok Sabha figures lucidly point to the disappointment of Lal Krishna Advani with his own party led by the Modi-Shah duo.
Although the reports claim that Advani’s consent about contesting the election was asked by the party but the senior leader expressed his unwillingness citing health reasons. However, Advani has always been seen active with no reports of any major old age illness. Certainly, this points that although the 91 year old leader cited health reasons, the actual reason was not related to any health issue. He was actually dissatisfied the way party is being run by the Modi-Shah combine without even consulting him — despite his being the senior most leader of the party — who is the main architect of the BJP. Also there are reports that Advani was not miffed with the decision to deny party ticket to him but was unhappy how the party dealt with the issue. Seems that Advani is indirectly forced by the party leadership to quit the electoral politics.
Will this have any negative political effect on BJP? No. This would not cause the party any significant electoral loss. Nevertheless, its slight negative effect couldn’t be ruled out. The Advani incident has only added more smoke to the perception that Narendra Modi is an intolerant leader and doesn’t want any high stature leader in the BJP who has the potentiality to attract limelight. Although, the party took decision with Advani’s consent, the criticisms against Modi-Shah combine wouldn’t be lighter as it was true that everything was not fine between Lal Krishna Advani and the BJP. Actually, Advani was the political mentor of Narendra Modi and protected Modi when the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was eager to remove him from the post of chief minister of Gujarat after the 2002 state riots.
It is also a fact that Advani had angered party’s ideological parent RSS after calling Mohammed Ali Jinnah as “secular” during his Pakistan visit in 2005. Despite criticism and pressure from RSS to quit politics, Advani managed to become the prime ministerial face of BJP during the 2009 elections against the then prime minister Manmohan Singh of the Congress where the party performed badly. However, Advani refused to resign from politics keeping in mind the 2014 elections to fulfill his ambition to become the prime minister of the country. Nevertheless, he was overshadowed by Narendra Modi in the 2014 elections.
Truth is BJP could have handled the issue of ignoring the senior leaders smoothly had it given importance to the Margdarshak Mandal and its members Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi — who is also not contesting this time. Younger ones should be given priority and no doubt replacing the seniors is a welcome step. But isn’t it the duty of the party to carry out the process in a well manner? Amit Shah if elected to the Lok Sabha will have to let go his Rajya Sabha seat — the term of which will end in 2023. So, there are chances that Advani may be shifted to the Rajya Sabha to fill the vacancy of Amit Shah — only if the BJP’s senior leadership — Modi-Shah combine agrees to do so — although there is very less possibility. After all, every shining sun has to set. However, one thing that can’t be denied is Lal Krishna Advani — BJP’s “Bhishmapitamah” — would remain as one of the finest parliamentarians who commanded an image of a national leader while at the same time looking after the organisational works of the party. (IPA Service)