Debating India

BJP

A conscious effort

Saturday 18 June 2005, by MURALIDHAR REDDY*B.

in Islamabad

Advani made the most of his six-day visit to Pakistan to dispel the fears about his party and himself and whatever statements he made in that country were apparently made with a definite purpose.

JPEG - 13.8 kb
HANDOUT PICTURE
Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf greets Advani in Rawalpindi on May 31.

HOURS after his meeting with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on May 31, Bharatiya Janata Party president Lal Krishna Advani addressed a news conference at a hotel in Islamabad to share the experiences of his interaction with the General. Advani’s managers had taken a "policy decision" 45 minutes before the actual event to throw open the conference to the local and international media. This could not have been possible without his knowledge, if not consent. It was clear that the leader not only had come to Pakistan with an unambiguous message but was ready to account for the history of animosity between the two countries and his own role in promoting it.

As expected, the media thronged the conference room. For it is rare to have at a podium on Pakistani soil a man who is considered to be the architect of the Hindutva ideology that questions the very existence of Pakistan and is perceived to be rabidly anti-Muslim.

Minutes into his introductory comments, the BJP president made it known that his manager, who wrote the press release, had resorted to bombastic language in describing his hour-long meeting with Musharraf. The press release had described the interaction as a "milestone" in furthering India-Pakistan relations.

Would the same explanation hold good for the subsequent statements of Advani, which caused political tremors in India, within the Sangh Parivar of which the BJP is a political constituent, and in the rest of society? Were they the product of the same overzealous scriptwriter who got "carried away" by the BJP president’s first official engagement in Pakistan?

Going by some of the observations Advani made in the course of the press conference and during the rest of his six-day visit, it was clear that they were made with a definite purpose. Responding to a question from a Pakistani journalist on the Babri Masjid demolition and the Gujarat riots, Advani said December 6, 1992, was the "saddest day" in his life. Of course, he did qualify it by saying that he had made known his views on the Babri Masjid demolition within a "week or fortnight" after the event in an article published in one of the English-language dailies in India.

Advani did not shy away from taking questions on his anti-Pakistan statements or the "literature" in the BJP manifesto targeting Pakistan and Muslims. He said the BJP’s statements were only in the context of terrorism and how even Pakistan was a partner in the "war against international coalition against terrorism". Advani lamented that everyone in public life had a certain image and his own real personality did not match the perceptions.

He quoted BJP Members of Parliament, who were in Pakistan weeks before his visit in connection with a conference, as telling him that the people of Pakistan were eagerly looking forward to his visit (he visited the country last in 1978) and perhaps they were curious to know if he had "horns".

JPEG - 15 kb
MIAN KHURSHEED/REUTERS
With Fazlur Rehman (left), Pakistani Opposition leader and leader of the hardline Islamic alliance Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, and Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri (centre).

Advani made an impassioned plea to the peoples and governments of the two countries to forget their past and move on with the future.

There was nothing to suggest from the tone and tenor of his statements and the themes he chose for enunciation that he had got carried away either by the emotional tug of the visit to the land of his birthplace (Karachi) or a desire to get into the history books. It was more like a journey of a seasoned and mature political leader with a clear message: A message of hope, love and a change of heart.

Broadly speaking, Advani dealt with five distinct themes and talked about them with a certain degree of authority. None of the themes he touched upon were the result of any expediency caused at least in Pakistan. In the sense, he had ample time and opportunity to clarify, amplify and elaborate on any of the themes he had decided to dwell on. And it must be said to his credit that when he returned to New Delhi he summarised his visit to Pakistan as one of the "most memorable weeks in his life" and called for a debate on the controversies triggered on account of his observations there.

It is clear that Advani worked studiously on each of the themes. He focussed on the need to carry forward the India-Pakistan rapprochement; on how the Babri Masjid demolition made him sad; on Akhand Bharat as a dream gone sour; on the need for a secular certificate to the present Pakistan government for the tolerance it exhibited towards minority communities; and on Jinnah’s concept of a secular Pakistan.

It was for his endorsement of Jinnah’s secular Pakistan that Advani got the maximum flak in India. He found himself completely isolated on the subject. The Right, Left and Centre joined hands in attacking him for applauding Jinnah.

THE first stop of the BJP leader after Islamabad was the Katas Raj Temples on the way to Lahore. He was ecstatic about it, to say the least. At a function in Lahore later, he said:

"What also left an indelible impression on me - and I consider it to be an important turning point in the relations between India and Pakistan - was my visit to Katas Raj this morning. It was truly an honour for me personally, but more so a gesture of immense symbolic value for the people of India, that I was invited to lay the foundation stone for the project to restore the historic Hindu temples at Katas Raj in Chakwal district, which have a deep significance for Hindus all over the world.

"Legend has it that it was at the pond at Katas that the Yaksha and Yudhishthir, the eldest of the five Pandava brothers [the protagonists of the Mahabharata], had their famous question-answer session. The Yaksha’s questions and Yudhishthir’s answers have a profound philosophical message, which is relevant even to modern times. I was told that it is the first time since 1947 that an Indian political personality has been invited to a project aimed at the restoration of Hindu temples in Pakistan.

"I was heartened to hear that the restoration project would be carried out through cooperation between archaeological experts from Pakistan and India. I was also told that, after restoration, the temples would be made `living temples’ - meaning that they would be open for devotees. I hope that in the near future it would be possible for pilgrims from India to visit Katas Raj."

He said life was always a saga of surprises and discoveries. Among those who greeted him was Raja Mohammed Ali from village Gah who presented him a large photograph of the cluster of Katas Raj temples. He was a classmate of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a primary school. "After witnessing and experiencing all this, I have to say that fiza zaroor badli hai (the atmosphere has indeed changed)," he said.

At a function organised by the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) Advani confessed that he was somewhat at a loss to articulate the totality of his feelings and thoughts after this combined experience. He recalled the words of one of his journalist friends in Delhi, who had said: "Best wishes. Your visit will hopefully make you realise, as I have come to realise, that there is a little bit of India in every Pakistani and a little bit of Pakistan in every Indian."

Advani said he would like the people of Pakistan to know that neither the BJP nor for that matter any section of India’s polity wished ill towards Pakistan and there was no place for anti-Indianism in Pakistan, and no place for anti-Pakistanism in India. "Specifically, as far as my party is concerned, I would like all the people of Pakistan to know that the emergence of India and Pakistan as two separate, sovereign and independent nations is an unalterable reality of history. I am stating this only because I find that there are still some misconceptions and false propaganda about what the BJP thinks of Pakistan. In fact, this propaganda has no legs to stand on now, since it is a BJP-led government that started the peace process in 1999 and steadfastly continued it throughout the six years we were in office."

At a function in Karachi a day later, Advani said that the creation of India and Pakistan as two separate and sovereign nations was an unalterable reality of history. However, he went on to add that some of the follies of Partition can be undone and must be undone.

"I dream of the day when divided hearts can be united; when divided families can be reunited; when pilgrims from one country - Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs - can freely go to holy sites located in the other country; and when people can travel and trade freely, while continuing to remain proud and loyal citizens of their respective countries."

What obviously infuriated the Sangh Parivar the most were his comments on Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Advani wrote in the visitors’ book after visiting the mausoleum of Jinnah: "There are many people who leave an irreversible stamp on history. But there are few who actually create history. Qaied-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah was one such rare individual. In his early years, a leading luminary of the freedom struggle, Sarojini Naidu, described Jinnah as an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. His address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, is really a classic and a forceful espousal of a secular state in which every citizen would be free to follow his own religion. The state shall make no distinction between the citizens on the grounds of faith. My respectful homage to this great man."

He followed it up with an observation: "I believe that this is the ideal that India, Pakistan as well as Bangladesh - the three present-day sovereign and separate constituents of the undivided India of the past, sharing a common civilisational heritage - should follow."

The message triggered a tsunami within the Sangh Parivar. By all accounts senior party leaders kept in touch with him and informed him of the developments back home, so much so that even while he was at the dinner hosted by the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) in his honour Advani spent some time absorbing the feedback from New Delhi. He, however, was of the firm view that he had done no wrong and that his visit would usher in a new chapter in both India-Pakistan and Hindu-Muslim relations.

Before he packed his bags to leave Karachi, Advani drafted his resignation letter and kept it in his folder.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

Volume 22 - Issue 13, Jun 18 - Jul 01, 2005

SPIP | template | | Site Map | Follow-up of the site's activity RSS 2.0