India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was recognized even by his most trenchant critics to be a civilized man who had a vision and strove to establish a responsible government in a country that had just won independence. India’s present prime minister may not possess Nehru’s apparent sophistication but he has a certain charm and like Nehru is driven by the need to establish a responsible, middle-of-the-road government. Nehru’s successor, even if one overlooks the brief interlude of Lal Bahadur Shastri’s premiership, was Indira Gandhi who emerged from the chrysalis of a greenhorn politician to the status of a tough leader. India’s present prime minister in-waiting, Mr L.K.Advani, seems to be poised on making a similar transition. To elaborate this one needs to dwell a bit on Mr Advani’s background. Drawn to the ideology of the Hindu Mahasabha early in his youth, Mr Advani’s entry into mass politics was singularly unremarkable as were his initial years in the Lok Sabha. He shot into public prominence and then public notoriety with the rath yatra and the destruction of the Babri Masjid to which his name became inextricably linked. Mr Advani tried to rid himself of this image when he assumed office as the home minister in Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet. But in Indian politics, a stigma once attached is difficult to eradicate. Thus Mr Advani’s name has remained associated with the politics of communal violence.
It has not taken Mr Advani very long to recognize that such an association is a serious liability for some one projecting himself as the future prime minister of India. Nowhere is this awareness more explicit than in his address to the Lok Sabha on Monday. The fact that he announced that he was in tune with his prime minister over the election commission’s decision to ban the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s yatra in Gujarat is of little or no consequence. As Mr Vajpayee’s number two, he should be in agreement with the prime minister. If he is not then that is a matter internal to the BJP and the gossip mills of Delhi. What is politically significant is that Mr Advani has virtually disavowed his entire ideological heritage. He declared in parliament that those Muslims who remained in India after 1947 are “sons of mother India’’ and that India “can never be declared a Hindu state’’. Mr Advani, whether he realizes it or not, denied what he had been taught when he wore khaki shorts and waved a saffron flag in his local shakha. By this one statement he has announced that he no longer upholds the legacy of V.D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwolkar. Hindutva is no longer Mr Advani’s calling card.
Mr Advani has made a virtue out of necessity. He is aware, as is Mr Vajpayee, that one cannot be seen as a future prime minister of India and still carry an overtly religious and communal card. Mr Advani has thus shifted the emphasis to good governance and ministerial responsibility. There could be an element of disingenuity in the transition but it cannot be ignored because there are signs here of Mr Advani’s ambitions.