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An Advani Honoured, the Republic Diminished

There is a stench of shabby calculations in L.K. Advani being awarded the Bharat Ratna.
Photo: Government of India/Wikimedia Commons. GODL.

A society is known and gets eventually defined by the personalities it chooses to bestow its high honours on, because each honoured personality is an embodiment of certain values and virtues and is associated with a record of achievements and failures.

In post-independence India, state honours, especially the Padma awards, are designed to acknowledge and salute individual contributions in various walks of life; but the highest honour, a Bharat Ratna, invariably reflects the principles, preferences, priorities and sometimes the prejudices of the regime of the day.

So, a citizen is entitled to some bafflement as to the following question: what possessed Prime Minister Narendra Modi to award a Bharat Ratna to Lal Krishna Advani? And which Advani is sought to be honoured?

There is, first, an Advani till 1990; a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind – that is, the RSS/Jana Sangh/BJP crowd.

Other than being a loyal, disciplined and unquestioning party operative, there is nothing in the first three decades of Advani’s public life to arrest more than a passing attention. Throughout this time, he was perennially trying to catch up with his smarter and wiser comrade, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

This Advani would not even deserve a Padma Shri.

It is the second Advani, who in a game of one-upmanship with Vajpayee, set out on a rath yatra from Somnath to grab the mantle of the so-called “Ayodhya Movement”.

This was the first time in the history of free India that the leader of a political party had deliberately designed an initiative that was calculated to divide the polity and that inevitably ended up stoking resentments and recriminations among the two major communities.

The rath yatra unleashed raw impulses and lumpen forces and ended with the December 6, 1992 ugliness and shame.

Also read: The Ayodhya Ram Temple and LK Advani’s (Sour) Grapes of Rath

What’s more, this second Advani mischievously tried to put “jan shakti” against the constitution. At one time, he even suggested that a “dharma sansad” [consisting of assorted sadhus and saints] had higher legitimacy and acceptability than the Parliament of India.

Anyone who remembers this Advani would shudder at the thought of a Bharat Ratna for him.

Then, there is a third Advani, who became deputy prime minister and fancied himself as the “second sardar.”

But he not only failed to perform his constitutional duty when Gujarat played host to one of the worst carnages in modern India, he also frustrated his own prime minister’s stated desire to send Narendra Modi packing for having failed to perform a chief minister’s raj dharma.

His record as deputy prime minister was to collude with the Nagpur bosses to slow down and sabotage Prime Minister Vajpayee.

After the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was thrown out of power in 2004, the fourth Advani was in the market, with prime ministerial ambitions fully aroused. 

He travelled to Pakistan in an attempt to soften his image as a hard-liner and made some convoluted formulations about Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

He became a victim of those very unwholesome elements in and outside the BJP whom he had encouraged in his power struggle against Vajpayee. He had the ignominy of being asked by the shadowy men from Nagpur to step down as the BJP’s president.

Also read: L.K. Advani, the Provocateur in Chief

The fourth Advani was also rejected by the electorate when he was projected as the NDA’s prime ministerial choice against Manmohan Singh in 2009. 

This was the greatest political defeat for a man who had long-prepared himself for the moment and that too at the hands of a political rival whom he pooh-poohed as the weakest prime minister India had known.

The Advani story was essentially over in 2009 and everybody except him recognised this. The hard-cored men who call the shots in the BJP never appreciated his efforts to refashion himself as a moderate and mild leader.

He had fallen out of favour with the Nagpur commissars, who were now scouting for a new winning horse. A thoroughbred was already straining at the leash in Gandhinagar.

And, this man who prided himself on reading the mood of the nation and of the karyakartas in his own party failed to discern that the Modi age had already begun in the BJP.

Modi, the disciple, was no longer meek and humble and had no qualms in showing Advani his place in a remote corner. The grand old man had no choice but to stoically pay homage to the new emperor.

Narendra Modi and L.K. Advani. Photo: Facebook/Narendra Modi.

So, it is anybody’s guess as to which Advani is being sought to be honoured by the prime minister.

None of the avatars deserve India’s highest award. Perhaps the prime minister is paying off an old debt he owed to Advani for installing him in the first place as the chief minister of Gujarat in 2001. That installation was anchored in intrigue and conspiracy, the very hall-mark of the Sangh parivar’s working style.

There is a stench of shabby calculations in this honour for Advani, that too within days of another Bharat Ratna for another untapped ‘ratna’.

The republic stands diminished and dishonoured. But there is a new king, a new court and a new kingdom with its own imperial etiquettes and protocols in this naya Bharat.

The new king is assertive of his whims and fancies. So be it.

Harish Khare is a former editor-in-chief of The Tribune.


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