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'Had Modi been sacked in 2002, he would not have become PM'

Last updated on: December 07, 2020 19:00 IST

'Certainly if Advani had agreed to Vajpayee in sacking Modi, then we would never have been talking of Modi today.'

IMAGE: Then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, left, then deputy prime minister and home minister Lal Kishenchand Advani, centre, and then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, right. Photograph: Reuters
 

The widest crack that appeared in the jugalbandi of then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then home minister L K Advani was on the issue of then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi's resignation after the riots in 2002.

While Vajpayee reportedly insisted on Modi's resignation, Advani rallied the whole party behind Modi, forcing the then PM to back down.

In his book Jugalbandi: The BJP Before Modi, Vinay Sitapati explains why Advani backed Modi despite "knowing that what happened in Gujarat was wrong".

"Modi's political career would have been over had Advani had agreed with Vajpayee," Sitapati tells Rediff.com's Saisuresh Sivaswamy and Syed Firdaus Ashraf in the third of an eloquent five-part interview.

Was Vajpayee adamant that Modi had to resign as CM after Gujarat riots?

Yes.

Why did Advani go against Vajpayee and protect Modi in 2002?

I have a whole chapter in the book on this question.

Both Advani and Vajpayee knew that what happened in Gujarat was wrong. And both of them didn't want a 'Hindu Taliban'.

But very soon after that, the intellectual classes in India started to polarise.

Secular liberals saw that sacking of Modi was protecting their idea of India. While the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal saw his continuation as (necessary to) their idea of India. And this became a wedge.

We must understand the politics of that period and the various factors that Advani and Vajpayee took into consideration, as the contest between Parliament and BJP cadres.

Vajpayee always cared for what Parliament thought. As Yashwant Sinha used to say, he was a guest artist to the party.

Whereas Advani always cared about the cadre -- he used to meet party workers and people in the VHP -- so he understood the mood.

Advani was only reflecting the mood that Modi should stay, in addition to the fact that he liked Modi.

The principal character to make Modi Gujarat chief minister was Advani and not Vajpayee. In these matters, Vajpayee would not intervene and that is why the jugalbandi worked so well.

And I suspect Advani liked Modi more because they are cut from the same cloth as they both were (RSS) pracharaks.

The evidence was there that there was a coup by Advani, Arun Jaitley and Modi against Vajpayee.

Vajpayee used to push the party and he would push only so far and when the entire party ganged up against him, he would back down.

This happened in 2004 after the BJP lost elections.

In 2004, once again, Vajpayee asked Modi to resign after the BJP lost the (general) election, saying Modi is the cause of defeat.

And once again the cadre and everyone in the BJP stands up for Modi. Vajpayee then backed down for the second time.

What complicates matters more is that personal relations between Advani and Vajpayee had become terrible. Personal love between the duo could have fixed this problem, but that did not happen.

Hindus have always voted in big numbers for leaders accused of supporting rioters, like they did for the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra in 1995. Isn't it?

I would push back against that (hypothesis) as the evidence don't show that.

For example, Ashutosh Varshney and Steven Wilkinson have the best data set of riots in India from the 1950s and most of the riots happened in Congress rule.

Gujarat being a very big exception where, if you don't see the death toll of both Hindus and Muslims -- it was around 2,700 -- there has been statistically a decline in Hindu-Muslim riots since the 1980s.

I spent a lot of time in thinking about this question and I am quite honest and candid about the role of violence vis-a-vis the BJP. I don't think this violence has led to the electoral rise of the BJP. There is no evidence for that.

But post the 1990s, wherever there have been riots, the BJP gains, be it Muzaffarnagar in UP or, for that matter, even terror accused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur winning by 3 lakh votes against Digvijaya Singh.

It is a really complicated history that is why I push back against the certainty of that question.

What Project Hindutva meant to the Vajpayee-Advani duo is not what it means to their successors in power now, is it?

I end the book suggesting that there is more continuity than change.

It was circumstances that made Advani and Vajpayee that way. They were bridge characters.

The Nehruvian idea of India was completely dominant in Parliament and the Hindu voter at that time was a very different Hindu voter from today.

I would suggest there is a lot more continuity.

Let us take issues of the BJP from that era -- Uniform Civil Code, Article 370 and Ayodhya.

As famously known from 1998 to 2004, the BJP didn't pursue these issues and the primary reason was electoral and coalition compulsions rather than their beliefs.

I also feel if you wear a mask long enough you begin to see the world that way.

There are definitely personality differences from each other between Modi-Amit Shah on one hand and Vajpayee-Advani on the other.

Vajpayee and Advani were very different characters from each other whereas Modi-Amit Shah are more similar than they are different.

And the BJP always required jugalbandi. The founder of the Jan Sangh, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, had Deendayal Upadhyaya.

The BJP is a movement and a political party seeking power, and as a consequence you get someone who are seeking these two things.

But there are some things that are core to the movement, for example territorial integrity and demographic anxiety, and which will prevail.

I think Modi is a superior politician than Advani and Vajpayee. Neither of them were mass politicians and neither of them could win a state.

In 1960s and 1970s it was people like Vijayaraje Scindia who could bring home Madhya Pradesh.

Advani could handle the cadre and Vajpayee could handle Parliament, but none of them could handle the Indian voter the way Modi could do.

In that sense, Modi is more similar to Indira Gandhi as he has a connect with the Indian voter.

Towards the latter part of the book you refer to Amit Shah as Modi's Advani. I am not sure if the comparison holds true. In the Vajpayee-Advani case it was a case of equals; it certainly is not the case with Modi-Shah?

Yes, you are absolutely right. The way I use that sentence (has to do with) that particular time, (when) Shah becomes the cadre man for Modi.

There were different phases between Vajpayee and Advani's relationship, but right now that is still to happen between Amit Shah and Modi as right now it is a hierarchical relationship.

Right now, it is not technically a jugalbandi because they are not playing equal music.

And who knows what the future holds, but that is a good question.

Writing this book, did you wonder what would have happened if Advani had backed Vajpayee against Modi?

Modi's political career would have been over. No question. People forget.

People forget that Modi had no political backing and what makes him unique is that he never had any godfather.

He had not held a single post even at the village level before he became the chief minister of Gujarat.

There was so much opposition against Modi in 1995. Shankarsinh Vaghela's key condition to come back to the BJP was that Modi had to leave Gujarat.

He was not a consensus leader in 2002 and there were enough heavyweights in the BJP. Not just Keshubhai Patel, there was Kashiram Rana who could have become CM.

What happened in Gujarat (the riots) would have happened under any other chief minister of Gujarat. It is Modi's genius that he made it about himself.

I don't know how the trajectory of how India would be different, but certainly if Advani had agreed to Vajpayee in sacking Modi, then we would never have been talking of Modi today. No question.

It is the December 2002 election that does not only make Modi the Hindu Hriday Samrat, but also the elected Hindu Hriday Samrat, which changes the game completely.

SAISURESH SIVASWAMY and SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF