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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2040

Advani and his many masks

By Tushar - Syndicate Features

“A problem with Advani is that at any given time he wants to wear more than one mask. He often speaks in two tongues also. He styles himself as a true champion of Hindutva and damns the government for ‘appeasing’ Muslims and yet seeks minority votes. He regrets the demolition of Babri Mosque but strongly supports the construction of a ‘grand’ temple at Ayodhya. For him Gujarat carnage is a mere aberration though he says he regrets for what had happened in Modi Gujarat. He asks RSS to keep off the BJP affairs but genuflects before the sages in Jhandewalan and Nagpur”, says the author.

The after effects of the loss of power in the 2004 general election continue to be felt in the Bharatiya Janata Party, especially among some of its top leaders like L. K. Advani. Over the years he has assiduously cultivated the image of being a hawk, or a ‘Lauh Purush’ (Iron Man). He also came to be regarded as an uncompromising majoritarian leader. This image, he probably feels now, hangs around his neck as an albatross, especially when he is compared with Atal Behari Vajpayee who always enjoyed an edge over Advani on account of his carefully cultivated moderate image.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the BJP ‘Lauh Purush’, who is nearly as old as Vajpayee though physically fit, is getting increasingly desperate to displace his senior as the party’s main mascot. Advani also wants acceptability among a wide cross section of Indians. But the more he tries to achieve that status the more he seems to alienate himself from the party and its powerful remote controllers sitting in places as far apart as Delhi’s Jhandewalan and Nagpur in Maharashtra. His latest endeavour in grabbing unquestioned eminence within the BJP may prove as disastrous as his earlier attempt at image makeover when he discovered the ‘secular’ credentials of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, while touring the land of his (Advani’s) birth (Pakistan).

In response to a reporter’s query, Advani said that he had opposed the then NDA government’s decision to release three top Pakistani terrorists in exchange for passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane six years ago. Advani made the ‘confession’ obviously in the context of his latest ‘air-conditioned rath yatra’ which is supposed to highlight the alleged security lapses of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. According to him, the present government inept handling of security matters has led to an increase in terrorist activities in the country. In keeping with his self-righteous politics his observations were supposed to show him as a true ‘Lauh Purush’, a man not willing to compromise on security and as an unquestioned hawk on the question of tackling terrorism.

Unfortunately for him, his reference to the hijack episode has shown him in an altogether different light. The release of Maulana Masood Azhar and two other dreaded Pak terrorists from Indian jails and then the country’s external affairs minister escorting them to the Taliban-controlled Kandahar in Afghanistan was the most shameful chapter in India’s history of tackling terrorism. The BJP has been trying hard to outlive that stigma. At that time, in the cold winter month of December 1999, both the BJP and the NDA government had justified the decision on the ground that it was the only course open for saving the lives of the passengers Many disagreed with this contention then and even now because the general view is that the government of the day had failed to exercise other options like aborting the take off by puncturing the tyres of the hijacked plane when it made a stop over in Amritsar.

If Advani, as he says, was the one-man minority in taking the decision to exchange hostages for the release of terrorists his disclosure at this juncture can only be seen as an attempt at self-glorification and denigration of the other leaders in the NDA government, including the then prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee. The Indian cabinet functions on the principle of collective responsibility, which implies that despite differences among cabinet members—and there will always be some dissenting voices—every member of the cabinet has to defend the collective decision and accept responsibility for it in public. The differences have to be kept confined to the four walls of the cabinet room.

Today, Advani claims that his heart was not in the decision to release the Pakistani terrorists, one of whom went on to establish a deadly India-specific terrorist organisation based in Pakistan while another person is known to have played a key role in the September 11, 2001 attacks on US targets in New York and Washington. If he had really felt so strongly against the decision taken by the rest of the NDA cabinet, why did he not speak up much earlier? There can be only two inferences: first his opposition was a token gesture in deference to his hawkish image; second he is now presenting a misleading picture.

Advani has been repeatedly charging the present government with security lapses and started his latest ‘rath yatra’ to ‘sensitise’ the people to the looming threat to nation’s security. But the Lauh Purush would do well to introspect about his own record as the NDA Home Minister, and deputy prime minister. It was while he ruled North Block that the country witnessed some of the worst terrorist acts, the attacks on Parliament and the Akshardham Temple being just two gory examples. By his logic such attacks should be seen as the result of security lapses by the government of the day. Where will that leave his image?

The government in which Advani was always muscling in frequently was also the first foreign government to legitimise the illegal takeover of power in Pakistan by its military chief, Gen Pervez Musharraf when the latter was invited for talks at Agra. The talks failed, and were a diplomatic disaster for India. According to many, who watched the Agra summit from close quarters, Advani deserves more than a fair share for the failure.

Advani’s belated attempts to disown a major decision of the government in which he was a key member may embarrass his colleagues in the NDA government. But he might be mistaken in thinking that this would bring him political dividends. Many observers have already commented that Advani’s indiscrete talk has further aggravated the rift within the BJP; Vajpayee himself is greatly annoyed with Advani. If Vajpayee decides to stay away when Advani’s ‘rath yatra’ reaches Lucknow, the Lok Sabha constituency of the former prime minister, the BJP faultlines will become more pronounced with all the consequences that will flow from it. Of course, Vajpayee is famous for his flip-flops and may be in a forgiving mood. But the impression that Advani has been rather reckless in experimenting with different masks would not go away.

Actually, a problem with Advani is that at any given time he wants to wear more than one mask. He often speaks in two tongues also. He styles himself as a true champion of Hindutva and damns the government for ‘appeasing’ Muslims but wants minority votes. He regrets the demolition of Babri Mosque (generally referred to by him as a ‘structure’) and the Gujarat carnage but strongly supports the construction of a ‘grand’ temple at Ayodhya while the worst he would say about Gujarat is that it was an ‘aberration’. He asks the custodian of the BJP ideology, the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh, to keep off the BJP affairs but genuflects before the sages in Jhandewalan and Nagpur.

Advani had escaped without being unduly hurt when a controversy broke out some years ago over the different ‘masks’ worn by Vajpayee and Advani. That was probably because at that time he was quite content to wear only a single ‘mask’. This time around it is about the different ‘masks’ that Advani likes to don now and then. A man with, well, many faces!

- Syndicate Features -

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