LK Advani: Always the Bridesmaid


LK Advani: Always the Bridesmaid

Illustration: Palak Bansal

Idon’t personally know Lal Krishna Advani, but I imagine that he is mighty disappointed today. The grand Ram Mandir ceremony is taking place in Ayodhya and once again he is far from the limelight. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has forced Advani, now 92, to attend the bhoomi pujan virtually, even as Narendra Modi gets to wear the crown, literally. A lot like haath ko aya muh na laga.

The story of LK Advani, once the evil “lomdi”, now actually cuts a fairly tragicomic figure; one who somehow has gone from raising crowds and communal tension while riding an audacious air-conditioned van dressed up as chariot through India, to someone pushed so far to the sidelines that he’s been made a spectator to his own life.

Before Babri, let’s not forget that the BJP was a non-entity, getting as few as two seats in the Lok Sabha elections in 1984. Advani then scaled up the Ram Janmbhoomi movement in attempts to consolidate the Hindu vote for the BJP. In the following elections, the party won 86 seats, and Advani doubled down on the successful sentiment with the Rath Yatra, peaking as a political figure in 1992. BJP formed the government in ’96 and in ’99, but with the more moderate Atal Bihari Vajpayee as PM, thus beginning the decline of Advani.

LK Advani was BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate in 2009 with the now much-maligned “India Shining” plank, but having lost the “Hindu messiah” tag to Modi post-Godhra, he was trounced in the election. As Swati Chaturvedi states here, Advani actually led a revolt in the BJP when Vajpayee wanted to remove Modi after Godhra. Unfortunately for him, when Modi came to power, Advani was banished to the “Margdarshak Mandal,” which is like a geriatric club for the has-beens of Hindutva.

Along with the secular fabric of India, Advani ended up eviscerating his own legacy too.

I’m not making Advani sound like a martyr, just charting the course of a fairly impressive, and incredibly significant political career, which, in an ideologically free world, would make Advani a surprisingly sympathetic figure. Think of it as a job: You keep working toward a goal all your life, you are the company’s greatest asset, the company blows up big, but you never get your due, and in time, even your pension is scrapped.

Advani is that almost-comical figure kept around to be paraded to the courts, embarrassed in the media, all while the lawyers and judges in the case keep screaming “Tareekh pe tareekh!” A Supreme Court verdict that paved way for the Ram Mandir last year, was a big victory for Advani. Definitely on paper. But on the political front, it was too little too late. The senior BJP leader and his companion MM Joshi who gave Indian Hindus the Ram Mandir dream have been sidelined since Modi rose to power. The man who said, “Mandir wahin banayenge” is not the one being worshipped today.

The story of LK Advani reminds us of Icarus who flew too close to the sun. The Ram Mandir is now inevitable but it’s worth remembering that, along with the secular fabric of India, Advani ended up eviscerating his own legacy too. His chequered career has led him to the one situation a politician with any ambition never wants to be in: Irrelevance.

This is an updated version of a story published earlier.