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March of Advani, the Atal bhakt

Gorakhpur, April 7: What Lord Hanuman was to Ram, L.K. Advani seeks to become to Vajpayee. He seems to have become an Atal bhakt. He asks for votes in the name of Vajpayee. He urges people to help make Vajpayee the Prime Minister of India once again. He credits Vajpayee with stabilising the Indian polity, making India a nuclear power, brokering peace with Pakistan, changing the ground situation in Kashmir and improving the economy.

While the outcome of the cricket Tests in Pakistan may be difficult to predict, Advani concludes anybody can predict who the next Prime Minister of India would be. “The only answer is Atal Bihari Vajpayee,” he declares.

“Between 1988 and 1998, we had seven Prime Ministers. In six years now we have had only one. And God willing, come May 13, once again the President would invite Atal Bihari Vajpayee to form the government for another five years,” Advani predicts.

If there was any doubt about Advani projecting himself as a true Atal bhakt, one only has to look at his rath. The luxury bus in which Advani is travelling across the country has pictures of Vajpayee painted on it but none of the pilgrim himself.

Why was that, I asked him. A helpful assistant travelling with him in his bus suggests: “When Advaniji himself is in the bus, where is the need for his pictures'”

Advani, a clever politico, considers it below his dignity to engage with such issues or with those elements who suggest that this is a vote-Atal-elect-Advani election. Sitting comfortably in his well-appointed bus, he says people either do not understand his association with Vajpayee or deliberately try and distort things.

Was not the BJP becoming a plebiscitary party going to polls on a single issue — Vajpayee’s personality and his record, I ask him. “People tend to relate to personalities better than to abstract issues. I always give the example of the Conservative Party in Britain. They could have said that they were for the free market and privatisation. Yet they deliberately chose to call their policies Thatcherism,” he says by way of explanation.

But does not personality projection also react back on individuals and make them sensitive to personal criticism' And had not that happened in the past in the BJP leadership' Advani does not dismiss the possibility out of hand but says that any bitterness caused by this is not significant.

In becoming Vajpayee’s Hanuman, Advani also seems to be re-inventing his public image. He loses no opportunity to point out that politically he is a much misunderstood man. He denies that he is now projecting a mellower personality then earlier. His argument seems to be that he was always mellow.

“Show me one sentence from my public pronouncements which is anti-Muslim. In 1995, at the BJP national executive in Jaipur, some people raised the slogan, which said Jo Hindu ki baat karega, woh Bharat par raj karega (He who talks of Hindu interests will rule India). I had said at that time that this slogan was wrong. I gave an alternative slogan — Jo rashtrahit ki baat karega, woh Bharat par raj karega (He who talks of national interest will rule India),” he claims.

Did this mean that along with Advani, the BJP had now become more accommodative of different political opinions and religious groupings' “Provided our basic commitment is not affected, yes. Our basic commitment is to cultural nationalism and whatever follows from that. You can call it Hindutva or Bharatiyata or Indian-ness,” he claims.

In re-inventing himself, however, Advani also has to somehow explain away the BJP’s Hindutva. He does that by claiming that in the initial stages of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, the party was not “formally” associated with it.

“The attitude of the Congress to the Shahbano case and the shilanyas at Ayodhya by the Centre prompted us to join the movement in Hindu society. And if that could benefit the party, why not'” Advani asks suddenly climbing down from the civilisational heights of cultural nationalism to the low ground of pure communalism.

After all, as he himself seems to admit, it is not high politics that led to the party’s success. “It is Ayodhya which has taken us to the position we are in today,” Advani says.

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