The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- In the end, Advani was cowardly in the face of his own courage

The BJP's resolution that facilitated Advani's withdrawal is a painfully blinkered return to its own past. It acknowledged that Advani's visit to Pakistan was significant but then went on to describe its significance entirely in Hindu nationalist terms. The visit now becomes significant because Advani participated in the restoration of ancient temples, reiterated India's tough stand on terrorism and lectured the Pakistanis on how they had failed to live up to Jinnah's vision for Pakistan. If this is what made Advani's visit significant, then we are in troubled waters indeed. The visit was supposed to be about the India-Pakistan peace process. But the BJP's resolution turns even the peace process into a matter of proprietorship. Its main aim is to give credit to the NDA for furthering the process. It forgets the larger ambition with which Advani went to Pakistan, and the larger context of the peace process.

Ultimately, the peace process can move forward only if the leaders of India and Pakistan can talk to and convince the public in each other's countries. India's dilemma has been that its own principles have made it difficult for it to grant Pakistan any more than grudging ideological legitimacy. Certainly, praising Jinnah on any matter was taboo and we were obliged to reiterate denials of the two-nation theory. But if we so much as refuse to acknowledge Jinnah and constantly remind Pakistanis that we do stand opposed to every ideological current that led to their founding, we put ourselves in a politically vulnerable position. This is grist for the mill of those in Pakistan who argue that India cannot be trusted because it cannot adapt to the reality of Pakistan.

Denial of the two-nation theory is important as a normative exercise. It is a way of reiterating our claim that multi-ethnic, multi-religious democracy is a possibility. But we need to articulate this claim in a way that is compatible with recognizing Pakistan as a legitimate state. In that sense the pre-1947 debate over the two-nation theory has become irrelevant. The point of Advani's statement in Pakistan was to find a language for moving forward. This language takes the emphasis away from debates over nationalism to a debate over shared constitutional values. The exhortation to Jinnah's constitutional aspirations was a way of saying: we might disagree over conceptions of nationhood, but there are some constitutional values we could nevertheless share. Can we use that as a basis for moving forward'

Besides, the denials of the two-nation theory can also be fraught with unsavoury implications. It could mean the kind of enforced unity that Savarkar, its early exponent, was after. It could also be made compatible, as the BJP has done, with a thoroughly assimilationist and hegemonic project that denies the two- nation theory only because it wants to assert the claim of one particular conception of nationhood.

While the link is understandable, it would be a mistake to link the fate of Indian secularism to denials of the two-nation theory. We need to transcend the categories about nationalism that were bequeathed to us by the nationalist movement or we will continue to fall into the same traps and divisions that hobble both India and Pakistan. The appeal to constitutional values rather than conceptions of nationalism was the right place to start.

But the BJP has once again negated that fleeting attempt that Advani made. In doing so, it has made it clear that it is still a party of the past, not the future, still unable to think outside a traditional RSS framework and organizationally completely beholden to it. The BJP has secured a short-term truce, but at the price of postponing the inevitable day of reckoning about its own identity.

It is, of course, impossible to tell what motivated Advani to do what he did. It should not always be assumed that politicians' own calculations and motives are always completely transparent to them. Given the political taboos that surround Jinnah in both India and Pakistan, his deft use of Jinnah's August 11 speech, was an act of courage. And the chorus of criticism that followed, from Togadia to Ambika Soni, from Jyoti Basu to Sudarshan, certainly showed how hazardous even small innovations are. Advani did want to be seen as a man of peace for three reasons: to overcome his own image as a hardliner on Muslims, to exorcize the ghosts of Agra where he was seen as a spoiler, and to reclaim the peace process for the NDA.

This evolution was in no way incompatible with Hindutva. Characters like Togadia and Modi may have a pathological, over determined and irrational fear of Pakistan and Muslims. For Advani and Vajpayee, Hindutva has always been about protecting Hindu interests. But the definition of these interests is historical: it is based on what they perceive as the threats. So the articulation of Hindutva in the early Nineties when India is undergoing a profound crisis, facing numerous insurgencies, subject to the Congress's compromises on secularism in Shah Bano and Rushdie, will be very different from a Hindutva when India is far more confident about its role in the world, insurgencies are more contained, and the BJP has understood at least some of the imperatives of governance. This reinterpretation of the anxieties that need to be addressed can again change. So the fact that Advani could change is not surprising. The world has changed.

But in the end, Advani was cowardly in the face of his own courage. A charitable interpretation of the withdrawal of his resignation might go something like this. For Advani, the unity of the sangh parivar is of paramount importance; he has given to the parivar what was meant for the nation. So it is not surprising that he gave in. After all it is not easy to split with the party that defined your identity so thoroughly. But the resolution on the basis of which he has come back shows how weak he is. There will be no getting around the fact that he will now be seen, both within the BJP and outside, as the leader who caved in to the RSS.

Those who were prepared to admit that Advani had transformed will feel betrayed; those who thought he had the ability to lead will now have to admit that he can only follow; those who thought he was genuine about becoming a statesman will recognize him as nothing other than a party hack. Advani has regained the presidentship of the party, but he has lost his place in history.

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