Debating India


Yes. No. Maybe.

Thursday 16 June 2005

While there is nothing objectionable about what Mr Advani actually did say in all his pronouncements, why did he, forever considered the grand strategist, fail to even take his senior party and parivar members into confidence?

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L.K. Advani
’A Classic Exposition Of A Secular State’

’I believe that this [Jinnah’s speech to Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947] 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.’

Have we just witnessed a decisive battle where the combined might of the Sangh Parivar has been tested by the "lauh-purush"? Or have they just decided to call a truce? At least, for now.

Mr Advani seems to have pulled it off. At least for now. While he seemed firm about not withdrawing his resignation till late Tuesday night, his brief appearance in the morning on Wednesday for TV cameras appeared to have left the door ajar. "The resignation still stands," he said, "because the situation which made me tender it have not changed as yet" (vo praisthitiyaaN abhii badlii nahii haiN).

Jaswant Singh was absent, being away in Tel Aviv, but the other biggies — former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, senior party leaders M Venkaiah Naidu, M M Joshi, Arun Jaitely, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Sushma Swaraj, Bal Apte, Sanjay Joshi, Rajnath Singh, Kalyan Singh and party chief ministers Narendra Modi, Babu Lal Gaur and Raman Singh — had all assembled for the meeting of the BJP central office bearers and its parliamentary board at 5 P.M. on Wednesday.

As promised by Venkaiah Naidu, "The meeting unequivocally rejected the resignation of Shri L.K. Advaniji" and passed a resolution that went on to say the following:

The meeting appealed to Shri Advani to continue to lead the party, which he has so ably led in the past. Shri Advani represents the best values in public life. He has scholarly articulated the debate on nationalism in the past few decades with rationality, logic and with powerful idioms. His contribution to our ideology is unparalleled.

The party has benefited enormously from his leadership and needs his leadership in the future also.

The party strongly condemns the use of highly objectionable language by some leaders of the VHP about Shri Advani. These statements have lowered the level of public discourse. Such outbursts, indecent protests and abusive language adversely affects the strength of the nationalist movement in the country. These statements also go against the very ethos of Hinduism.

Soon after the meeting, all those present, barring Mr Vajpayee and Mr Joshi, trooped over to Mr Advani’s residence to plead with once again to reconsider his decision.

It is not clear what exactly transpired, but Mr Advani is said to have asked for time till Thursday when the BJP biggies meet again to determine the future course of action. This keeps open the possibility that with the party rallying behind him, he may actually decide to stay on.

Earlier, there had been some buzz that Mr Advani was "deeply unhappy" about the silence in the resolution about his remarks on Jinnah. Venkaiah Naidu claims that such is not the case and that Mr Advani has asked for time to think over the matter before giving his decision tomorrow. "The only agenda of today’s meeting was to persuade Advaniji to withdraw his resignation. No other issue was discussed in the meeting."

Nor, Mr Naidu avers, is there any pressure from the RSS. "They have not proposed anybody’s name for the post and it’s not in their character as well."

The pressure from the allies, particularly the JD(U) in view of the approaching Bihar elections was at work too. George Fernandes, forever ready to take the battle to the Congress, also pitched in with his expected support once again:

What happened is unfortunate as some people have not liked it (Advani’s comments) but what he said is historically true and there is nothing wrong in it. However, these developments will not have any impact on the NDA and Advani will continue to be the Leader of the Opposition. The recent happening is distressing only because it has happened to a leader who was involved in national politics for long and responsible in improving relationship between India and Pakistan. The Congress criticism of Advani is uncalled for because Nehru was responsible in drawing Jinnah to communal politics.

Nitish Kumar had in any case been the first to welcome Mr Advani’s remarks on "Jinnah’s secularism", and K.C Tyagi, general secretary, JD-U decided to be slightly less subtle when it came to letting the Sangh know how crucial the state of Bihar could become:

The views expressed by the allied institutions of the BJP and its leaders are against the basics on which the NDA was formed. They reflect only their narrow mindedness. The Janata Dal (United) is closely watching the developments in BJP.

Ram Vilas Paswan was not to be left behind and surprisingly, decided to play statesman by suggesting:

"Advani must be firm on his stand and work for secularism ignoring the RSS and VHP which have unnecessarily raised a hue and cry over his statement. The LJP extends full support to Advani on his remarks on Jinnah as it is based on historical facts".

The importance of Mr Advani to the party and the parivar was apparent from the fact that the RSS Sarsanghchalak Sudarshan was there in the press to reiterate that the resignation was an internal matter of the party, apart from offering some platitudes about Advani’s "able presidentship".

But if you think everyone has suddenly discovered love for Mr Advani, here’s a reminder from the VHP:

Pravin Togadia, international secretary, VHP stated:

I have been asked to soften my stand on Advani? Who has said this?....I have not had any communication with the RSS in this connection. No one has told me to soften my stand. We have not instructed our functionaries to celebrate...It is their free will. People of the state may be part of it too. (When asked if he had asked VHP activists in Gujarat to refrain from celebrating Advani’s resignation).

Acharya Giriraj Kishore, general secretary, VHP, of course indulged in what he knows best. Plain denial. Mr Togadia had never called Mr Advani a traitor, he said with a straight face. He only called those people a traitor who praised Jinnah. After that he was abruptly statesman like:

We welcome Advani’s decision to resign respecting the sentiments of the voters of his constituency and Hindu sentiments. He should stick to his decision. On who should replace Advani: Who should be the next BJP president is for the party to decide but he should be Hindutvavadi. The Hindus should not be humiliated. On whether Advani should step down as Leader of Opposition: It is not my job to comment on it. It is for the BJP to decide and depends whether his morality would allow him.

All this of course after there were reports that the Sanghsarchalak had had a long meeting with the VHP chief Ashok Singhal today, and the reports late last night that Mr Togadia had been told to mind his language by the RSS.

Apart from the parivar "loony fringe confined to Gujarat", there was also the ever reliable Shiv Sena mouthpiece, Saamna to rub it in again:

Jinnah was responsible for the bloody partition of India which resulted in Mahatma Gandhi’s killing. Now, it has claimed Advani, and it is clear that Jinnah’s ghost is very much alive. Sindh province in Pakistan is the birth place of refugees like Advani. The fact that the ’evil storm’ called Jinnah forced their migration to India is history and no one can change that. Neither the BJP, Sangh Parivar nor the country can afford the ideological confusion created by Advani’s praise of Jinnah. Such confusion damages both the party and the country.When Advani showered praise on Jinnah in Pakistan and returned to India, it was clear that people in his parent organisation, the Sangh parivar, will not allow him to live in peace and that is what happened.

Yes. No. Maybe.

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This was only on expected lines, and also on expected lines was the unconditional support extended by Mr Advani’s counterpart in Rajya Sabha, Jaswant Singh, leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, BJP, currently in Tel Aviv:

What he said is a historical fact. The creation of Pakistan and the address to the Constituent Assembly by the late Qaid-e-Azam cited by Advaniji are established facts of history. Advaniji continues to command the confidence of the party throughout the country and the respect of the people of India for his dedicated fifty years of service to the nation. I have conveyed the exactly the same to some of the other office bearers of the party over the phone, including Venkaiah Naidu.

As for the Congress, it was ironical that on a day when Mr Advani actually dropped by to brief the PM about his Pakistan visit, the Congress persisted in not rising above its party-politics. Consider the samples on offer during the course of the day:

Jayanthi Natarajan, spokesperson, Congress:

Advani’s visit to Pakistan has less to do with Indo-Pak peace process and more to do with the BJP, which not only has crisis of identity, ideology and leadership but also lack of direction. The peace process has survived despite all the mistakes made by the NDA government.

Digvijay Singh, general secretary, Congress:

It will not be surprising if Advani, pressured by RSS, withdraws his resignation. The controversy (over Advani’s statement about Jinnah) is an opportunity for the secular forces to understand RSS and BJP. This is a good indicator for them to strengthen themselves. Advani, like RSS and BJP, has been infamous for being double tongued, which is why he who had been criticising M A Jinnah all his life, changed his views while visiting Pakistan. It seems that due to inability of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to participate in active politics, Advani is attempting to find a liberal image.

Sriprakash Jaiswal, Minister of State for Home, Congress:

Since people have not accepted him as a Gandhian just for his saying that demolition of the Babri Masjid is a black day in history, how can people give him the certificate of secularism on glorifying Jinnah? It would actually be nice to hear from Dr Singh himself what he thinks of the role played by Mr Advani, as the commentators across the board seem to agree that he could not have asked for a better leader of opposition to take the peace process forward.

But the feeling of course is not just confined to the Congress. Its UPA allies, barring Ram Vilas Paswan as noted above, seem to share the perception:

Sharad Pawar, chief, NCP:

Advani was in a hurry to display his secular face. What Advani said shows to which level BJP can stoop down for power. What was the need for displaying loyalty to a person who insulted Mahatma Gandhi and was responsible for India’s partition?

Ajit Singh, president, Rashtriya Lok Dal: Advani:

After the reverses suffered by the BJP in the last general election, has been trying to dilute his hardliner image for which he even praised Jinnah in Pakistan recently... but he can never wash his hands off from the Babri demolition and the subsequent riots. Caste, creed, religion, terror, use of muscle and money power have become the mainstay of Indian politics today.

The same perception seems to be shared by a Hindustan Times-C Fore survey that polled 318 people in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad through random sampling to find the following:

- 56 per cent said Advani had "betrayed" his followers by praising Jinnah.
- 76 per cent said Jinnah was not secular
- 72 per cent said he was the main cause of the partition
- 53 per cent said he was right in resigning as BJP President.
- 43 per cent said he should step down as Leader of the Opposition as well
- 45 per cent felt he should not do so.
- 21 per cent said Advani is a hard liner
- 22 per cent said Advani is a moderate
- 57 per cent said Advani is just a politician.

But Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, of the Hurriyat, currently in Pakistan, has endorsed Mr Advani’s new image

The remarks by Advani during his recent visit to Pakistan was a clear indication of acceptance of Pakistan as a reality and reflected the change in the BJP’s thinking. The statements made by Advani which generated strong reactions showed that its leadership too is accepting change. He also spoke of involvement of the Kashmiris in efforts by India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue. Earlier this was only the demand of Pakistan which has apparently found the backing of some Indian leaders.

The parivar may not have much to agree with the Mirwaiz, but despite its bluster, it does seem to realise that insisting on the removal of Mr Advani at this time would only be detrimental to the BJP, particularly as the second-rung has neither acceptability nor impact among the voters or the allies. There is already talk that the Sarsanghchalak, not a spring chicken himself, who was earlier not in favour of the the old men leading the party, has been told to name his successor. Things might change slowly, but change sure seems to be in the offing. Whether it would be for the better or worse, only time will tell.

Meanwhile, the ball has been lobbed back in Advani’s court and it would be highly unlikely for him not to play.

See online : Outlook India

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