Advani’s last throw of the dice (Comment)

October 15th, 2011 - 3:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Narendra Modi For a believer in astrology, L.K. Advani cannot be too pleased with the way he set off on his latest rath yatra. First, he had to shift the starting point from Gujarat to Bihar after Narendra Modi suddenly demonstrated his intention to play a larger role by a volte face which sought to replace his earlier sectarian image by a socially inclusive one.

Since this transformation was interpreted as a move to join the prime ministerial race, Advani had no option but to turn away from Gujarat since his own yatra has also been seen as a prime ministerial ploy. Obviously, it would have been odd if Gujarat became the base of two contenders for the top slot.

The disingenuous element in this affair is, of course, patent enough. Neither the Gujarat chief minister nor the leader of the BJP’s parliamentary party has openly declared his candidature. The ostensible reason for Modi’s call for “social harmony” and for Advani’s yatra against corruption is to spread the message of brotherhood and arouse public consciousness against sleaze.

But no one in the BJP and outside is fooled. The fact that it is on the basis of such deception that the two leaders have embarked on their campaign is a sad commentary on the state of Indian politics. But, to return to Advani’s yatra, the unfavourable omens continued not only with the shifting of the starting point but also the sudden illness which afflicted Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley - the two BJP leaders who are also said to harbour prime ministerial ambitions - even as Advani was setting off on his journey. Then, as if these inauspicious signs were not enough, the Isuzu rath - not Toyota unlike the 1990 yatra - got stuck in an ancient bridge.

But Advani would not be Advani if he was daunted by these setbacks. Instead, he ascribed them to the Congress’ machinations and exulted in the public acclaim which he claimed to have received so far. According to him, the adulation was greater than what he experienced in 1990. Considering that he had seen a “sense of reverence” in the eyes of the people in 1990, the latest reception will appear to be quite overwhelming unless he is resorting to hyperbole again, as he did when he compared the police attack on Baba Ramdev’s followers in the Ramlila grounds with the Jallianwala Bagh atrocities.

However, the new venue, the sudden indisposition of two senior companions and the mishap on the bridge were not the only disconcerting portents. No less significant is the fact that Bihar too, like Gujarat, can now be said to have two prime ministerial aspirants in Advani and, perhaps the real frontrunner, Nitish Kumar. The BJP leader’s decision, therefore, to switch from one state to another hasn’t served the purpose for which the step was taken. To the astrologically-inclined, this similarity of situation may seem like an instance of fate pursuing a person.

All these premonitory indications can be unnerving for Advani if only because his latest venture is evidently the last throw of the dice where fulfilling his latent ambition is concerned. He had missed his first chance in the wake of his first yatra - when he had surged ahead of Atal Bihari Vajpayee within the BJP for a while - after he became embroiled in a hawala scandal.
And even his second attempt was problematic because, for one, Modi’s name had come up even then, and, secondly, his saffron colleague, Bal Thackeray, had expressed his preference for his fellow Maharashtrian, Sharad Pawar, just as the Shiv Sena chief had backed another Maharashtrian, Pratibha Patil, for the president’s post instead of the veteran Bhairon Singh Shekhawat of the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

If provincialism trumped Hindutva solidarity at the time, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what twists of fortune will confront Advani this time. But there is little doubt that his hindrances are formidable. First, his party is against him and has been ever since the aftermath of its defeat in 2009 when it kicked him upstairs - to use an infelicitous phrase - by nominating him chairman of the parliamentary party.

The post was created to accommodate him after Advani had declared, suo motu, that he would continue to be leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha till 2014. Since this would automatically make him the prime ministerial candidate in that year, the BJP decided, post-haste, to give him a new designation.

The second, and possibly even greater, obstacle in Advani’s path is the disinclination of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to let him realise his ambition. True the RSS could not stop Vajpayee from becoming prime minister although it was opposed to him as well because of his perceived moderation. But Advani is not Vajpayee since he lacks the latter’s across-the-board appeal.

And, last but not the least, Advani’s age is against him. To some, this may be his plus point - that an octogenarian can have so much zest for life.

(15.10.2011 - Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at amulyaganguli@gmail.com)

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