Five Times When LK Advani Let India's Democracy Down
After Lal Krishna Advani was sent out of Bharatiya Janta Party’s (BJP) campaign for the 2019 General Elections – and denied a ticket to contest elections by the party – a lot of sympathy has been hurled on, the Grand Old Hindutvavadi (Hindu majoritarian) from various liberal sections. The longest running President of the right wing, ruling BJP fell out of favour with the new dispensation of Prime Minister Modi who has clearly gained absolute control over the party. Mr. Advani’s relationship with the Sangh Parivar – the ideological parent of the BJP – is much more strained, if not non-existent. He has repeatedly been snubbed by Narendra Modi on stage and in ceremonies, bringing to the surface the tension that has existed between both of them for decades.
However, Mr. Advani’s fate should not be a matter for concern, let alone worthy of sympathy from any of those who oppose Hindutva politics. He is, undoubtedly, a “senior leader” within the BJP and an important figure in India’s postcolonial history. However, his legacy is not one worth fighting for. He holds more responsibility than any other leader for the way things are today in the country. In other words, Modi is only a product of the years of polarisation that Mr. Advani oversaw. So here are 5 times when Mr. Advani seriously hampered India’s postcolonial project of liberal democracy.
In 1993, Mr. Advani and the BJP launched the Janadesh Yatra (Movement for People’s Opinion) to oppose legislation aimed at restricting the entry of religion into public life and relegating it to the private sphere. The then Congress Government of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao had introduced two bills in the Parliament; the Constitution 80th Amendment Bill; and, the Representation of People (Amendment) Bill. Both these amendments were termed as attempts at “minority appeasement” and “vote-bank politics” by the BJP. Mr. Advani said in Parliament, “We strongly object to religion being translated as dharma... for the average Indian, irrespective of whether he is a Hindu, or a Muslim or a Christian, his respective religion is for him an inspiration for righteous conduct. By ousting religion politics, we will only be weakening the moral base of public life... politics should be cleansed of adharma, not dharma.” For both Mr. Advani and the BJP, morality was born exclusively out of religion, and nothing else. Much to the loss of India’s polity, the bills could never translate into law. If these bills had translated into law, India’s public culture in the 21st century could have been radically more rational and scientific.
It was under Mr. Advani that the BJP pioneered the concept of pseudo-secularism – a slur intended against dominant understanding of secularism in vouge since 1950s. This was used at multiple occasions, within and outside the Parliament with the aim of creating distrust in secular politics by linking the separation between church and state to political convenience of the Left and Congress Party – the dominant political forces of the time. It not only created space for Hindutva to step into the mainstream, but also prepared the grounds for questioning the very essence of secularism itself. Although he did not openly reject secularism as a term, he reiterated that secularism does not mean the absence of religion, and that each religion is to be treated equally. This seemingly progressive idea of equity was in fact a rhetorical move towards arguing against positive discrimination towards religious minorities. This is a phenomenon that is often found in Hindutva speeches and texts to stop any discussion on questions of inequality and exploitation, caste, region, community, race etc.
Mr. Advani lied about the BJP-RSS’s role in 1984 riots in Delhi. In his address as the President of the BJP on May 9, 1986 at the Plenary session in New Delhi, he stated that the BJP and RSS activists were engaged in peace-keeping and rehabilitation of the victims of the anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi during 1984. However, over the years, many reports have surfaced of RSS members being involved in the 1984 pogrom, accused for killings and the violence that engulfed the national capital for three days after former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was killed.
The hallmarks of Mr. Advani’s political success also coincides with one of the darkest moments of India’s constitutional history – the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. Mr. Advani pioneered, implemented, and oversaw the Ayodhya Rath Yatra that culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and riots across the country. Since the Babri Masjid Demolition on December 6, 1992, the issue has become one of the most polarizing subject in the country. It was perhaps, the biggest attack on secularism and the rule of law, and marks the moment when communal Hindutva arrived at the mainstay of Indian politics – Mr. Advani was at the head of it all. With no evidence that the site of the Babri Masjid was in fact the place where Rama was born, for weeks he traveled through India on a Rath (that was essentially an air-conditioned SUV with cardboard and graffiti) giving out hateful speeches and mobilising vulnerable (mostly upper caste) men for demolishing the Masjid. Under the garb of “sentiments and faith of the majority community”, the movement Mr. Advani led was perhaps the final nail in the coffin of Indian politics’ endeavour towards cleaving religion from the ambit of electoral politics. The demolition immediately led to communal riots across the country and a souring of relationships amongst Hindus and Muslims everywhere. The 1992 bombings in Bombay were a direct result of this movement.
Perhaps more troubling than all these transgressions is the fact that Mr. Advani ignored the heap of evidence – despite India’s notorious prosecutorial efficiency – and defended the accused in the Malegaon blast and Samjhauta Express blast, purely for political ends. In November 2008, while leader of the opposition and the then PM-in-anticipation Mr. Advani, was extremely vocal about his mistrust of the ATS (Anti-Terrorism Squad), and the then ATS Chief Late Mr. Hemant Karkare (he was martyred during the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks). He accused the ATS of being politically motivated and selectively targeting ‘saints’ like Pragya Thakur, Dayanand Pandey, and Aseemanand in the Malegaon and Samjhauta blast investigations. In the post-2014 BJP regime, most of these accused are either out on bail or have been acquitted on technical grounds as the NIA (National Investigation Agency) has systematically undermined its own previous investigation. Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, although released on bail on grounds of illness, is fighting in high spirits to become a Member of Parliament from the state of Madhya Pradesh on a BJP ticket. The BJP, following up on Mr. Advani’s lead, leaves no stone unturned to claim that Hindus were framed by the previous Congress regime – conveniently ignoring that Ms. Pragya was first arrested by a BJP state government – and portray Ms. Pragya as a victim.
While Mr. Advani may today be in his nineties, facing an eviction from the very movement he led from the front for decades, however, one must be considerably more miserly in lending him condolences and absolving him for his role in dismantling the project of inclusive and rational politics in India – a goal in which he has probably succeeded, given today’s circumstances.
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About the Author
Saarang Narayan is an academic of the left. He holds a Master's from Oxford University in Modern Asian Studies and is a graduate in History from Hansraj College. A closet cricketer, a home-based music producer and sound engineer, and a session guitarist, he is on his path to academic glory in the field of History.