The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A Vajpayee without art of escape
- Advani pays for comments in Pakistan that left no room for manoeuvre

New Delhi, June 7: In Ahmedabad today, Vishwa Hindu Parishad supporters cleansed the street Lal Krishna Advani christened gaurav path (road to glory) last month. They danced in the streets, celebrating his resignation.

This is Advani land, Gandhinagar ' from where he contests ' is Ahmedabad’s twin.

Why did Advani risk becoming a pariah in his constituency by calling Mohammed Ali Jinnah a “great man”'

There are no clear answers, but only guesses. One is the last Lok Sabha poll where the BJP lost unexpectedly. Sources said Advani’s belief was that the election busted the myth of a Hindu vote bank, reinforcing the fact that a party cannot win without minority support.

The other is the prickly relationship that has developed of late between the BJP and the RSS with Sangh chief K.S. Sudarshan suggesting some time ago that A.B. Vajpayee and Advani should make way for younger leaders.

Sudheendra Kulkarni, Advani’s political secretary, is believed to have drafted the entry the BJP president made in the visitor’s book at Jinnah’s mausoleum and some in the party are baying for his blood. But it is difficult to imagine Kulkarni’s draft did not have Advani’s sanction.

Besides, his comments on Jinnah were not an isolated instance but one of a piece of the series of statements he made on his Pakistan trip.

He called the creation of Pakistan a reality that could not be ignored, he said the Babri Masjid demolition was the saddest moment of his life.

The statements suggested that the perceived hardline face of the BJP was attempting an image makeover. He seemed to be taking the position of moderation so far occupied by Vajpayee.

But the problem, his sympathisers said, was that while Vajpayee could pull off the secular act and yet remain a swayamsevak by making open-ended statements that confounded Hindutva votaries and liberals alike, Advani did not know the art.

His statements in Pakistan, for instance, left little or no scope for different interpretations.

Besides, it’s hard to believe Advani was not aware what reaction his statements might draw back home. Assuming that he was, it is possible he misread the possible extent of adverse response that may now have claimed his scalp. A calculated image makeover has spun out of control.

Sources said Advani did choose to pursue moderation because he was “convinced” the BJP would not be able to bridge the caste divisions that had set in among voters in the Hindi heartland with a repeat of Ayodhya.

“When he mounted the Ram rath and traversed the country to ask people to build a Ram temple, it was doubtless a response to the Mandal issue. But the backward castes of the Hindi heartland could still be emotionally swayed at the time by the temple movement. All that changed in a couple of years when Mandal became the dominant feature of Hindi-belt politics. The BJP lost Uttar Pradesh and never regained it,” they said.

As the BJP president, he felt it was his job to expand the party beyond the constituency his Ram temple politics had created. The minorities had to be “neutralised” and the “secular” and “liberals” won over, the sources added.

By making himself acceptable to a wider audience cutting across communities, Advani might even have succeeded in countering pressure from the RSS increasingly impatient with a BJP veering away from its core ideology.

The bigger Advani’s image, the greater his leverage with the Sangh.

Advani had his first run-in with the RSS last March when in a meeting of the parivar’s “intellectuals” in Bhopal, Kulkarni received flak for advocating “moderation”.

The second occasion was Sudarshan’s call for a younger leadership. It later emerged that the age factor was an alibi to ventilate a major grouse that Advani was going the way of Vajpayee. He would ignore the likes of Sudarshan and Ashok Singhal and recast the party in the image of his choice.

Undeterred, Advani persisted with his image “makeover”.

The die was cast last Sunday shortly after he wrote his remarks on Jinnah at the Karachi mausoleum. He did not issue Jinnah a secular certificate, as hardcore elements in the Sangh parivar have alleged and as presumed by his BJP colleagues who have not come to his defence.

Advani’s message in the visitor’s book referred to Jinnah’s August 11, 1947, address, calling it a “forceful espousal of a secular state” and ending with a “respectful homage to this great man”.

As the Sangh and VHP attacked him, the BJP’s media cell reportedly refused to release a copy of the comments phoned in by Kulkarni.

The episode is more than just about Advani’s political future, but also the BJP’s.

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