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Advani-Modi clash: Secular vs communal twist astonishing

Last updated on: June 10, 2013 20:55 IST

To promote Lal Krishna Advani as a moderate is as much a travesty of truth as to present the children of Godse as followers of Gandhi, feels Poornima Joshi

The man who brought the Bharatiya Janata Party from the fringes to the mainstream of Indian politics is standing at the crossroads today. In the twilight of his political career, Lal Krishna Advani has pitted himself against the party that he helped create and grow. And make no mistake about it; Advani may not resuscitate his dwindling chances at becoming prime minister but with this move, he will certainly help damaging the burning ambition of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

For those who might be confused about Advani’s resignation, two aspects of the strategy which resulted in his resignation from the post of BJP parliamentary party chairman and member of the parliamentary board need to be understood.

The first part of this strategy is related to a continuation of the process of “secularisation” of his image that Advani thought he had launched by praising Mohammed Ali Jinnah in Pakistan in the summer of 2005. The thought that praising Jinnah would endear him to India’s Muslims not just reflects the perversity of such a perspective, it also shows how desperate Advani was to make himself more politically acceptable on the lines of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The second part of Advani’s current strategy is to explore and deepen the subliminal fissures in the BJP about Narendra Modi’s anointment as party’s election campaign committee.

Modi’s uncompromising and dictatorial working style is a cause of unease among the central BJP leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj as well as state satraps such as Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and the former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. These leaders would want a say in the allotment of party tickets in the run-up to the 2014 general elections. Modi is not known to be accommodating and would want a majority of MPs to be his candidates in the prospective parliamentary party. This is, of course, in addition to the prime ministerial ambitions of at least four leaders -- Advani himself, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley -- in the BJP’s parliamentary board.

This much is clear enough. What is most astonishing is the secular-versus-communal twist that is being given to the Advani-versus-Modi discourse. The depravity in the ongoing political discourse cannot be more striking given that the man whose only significant contribution to Indian politics, so aptly recalled by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is the “demolition of an old mosque,” is now sought to be painted as a “secular” candidate.

Of course, Modi with his disgraceful recollection of Newton’s Third Law in relation to the massacre of Muslims as a “reaction” to the burning of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra on February 27, 2002, is perhaps a more attractive Hindutva icon than Advani today. But to promote Advani as a moderate is as much a travesty of truth as to present the children of Godse as followers of Gandhi. Nothing can be more appropriate here than an analysis by author A G Noorani:    

“Advani should not complain of his image. It flatters him. The reality is far worse. No one, since Independence, has injected communal poison in the body politic to the degree he has. The bloodshed he has caused... does not affect him one bit. Corruption, he readily condones, if it helps his politics. He has lowered the level of political discourse and shown a capacity for low intrigue even against colleagues in the party, the cabinet and the leaders of both. Add to these a reckless disregard and profound contempt for the truth and there emerges the real persona of Sri Lal Krishna Advani.”   (A. G. Noorani, Frontline, May, 2008).

The appropriate term for what Advani is doing is “political survival” not secularism or moderation. What is presently transpiring in the BJP is that Advani’s political strategy has become outdated. The idiom of Hindutva has changed from ‘Ramjanmabhoomi’ to ‘Gujarat Shining’. The self-proclaimed loh purush has been replaced by yet another Hindu hriday samrat who has redefined Hindutva and given it a fresher definition.

The tired socialists and Lohiites in Janata Dal-United may embrace the former deputy prime minister in the hope that their Muslim voters are not completely repelled but the term for such positioning is political strategy not “moderation” or “secularism”. The JDU’s rejection of Modi is as opportunistic as their most popular leader Nitish Kumar’s refusal to order even the statutory enquiry when the bogies of the Sabarmati Express caught fire on February 27, 2002. The present Bihar chief minister was railway minister at the time and his party’s stunning inaction and continued support to the BJP throughout and after the massacre of Muslims that followed the Godhra incident is reflective of how genuine the JDU’s secular credentials are.

The fact is that Advani is playing a game of brinkmanship at a time when he knows he has nothing much to lose. His public tantrum will upset the BJP even if it does not help him in any manner. But for such despicable manoeuvres to be termed an exercise in “moderation” and “secularism” just reflects the depths of depravity in India’s political discourse.      

Poornima Joshi in New Delhi