Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2009 > April 2009 > Fighters for a Great Yesterday! Brand Advani: Perils of Rebranding!!

Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 18, April 18, 2009

Fighters for a Great Yesterday! Brand Advani: Perils of Rebranding!!

Saturday 18 April 2009, by Subhash Gatade

[It is for the first time in his nearly five-year-old tenure as the PM that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a stinging attack on L.K. Advani—the PM-in-waiting as far as the Sangh Parivar is concerned. The Prime Minister was candid enough to remind about the “prominent role” played by Advani in the Babri Masjid demolition, or how he presided over the Gujarat riots and failed to prevent terror attacks on Parliament and Red Fort as the Union Home Minister.]

I

L.K. Advani, the ‘swayamsevak’ from across the border, the hawk of the nineties or the rediscoverer of Jinnah, wants to do a makeover. Not a day passes when we are presented with a new look of the old man who has already crossed the eighties. Sudheendra Kulkarni, his speechwriter, shared the understanding behind LKA’s rebranding mission: ‘Man of Eighties, Vision of Twenties’. If one day he is presented as an emotional patriarch who has no qualms in shading tears after seeing a movie, the next day he is packaged as the man in his energetic twenties and shown raising dumbells at a gymnasium, or the following day he is with a family in hospital which tried to commit suicide because of financial problems.

Taking a leaf out of Obama’s campaign ads calling for Advani as the PM has been even flashed in more than 2000 websites which are frequented by Indians. There was a day when the PM-in-waiting even ‘chatted’ with his fans supposedly to show his cybersavvy modernity. It is being said that team Advani wants to leave no stone unturned to establish his new brand image.

Much on the lines of Obama, Advani also wrote his biography which was marketed in a planned manner. NDTV, a leading channel which has been famous for taking up a very critical stance towards the Gujarat 2002 developments, was also roped in the recent efforts which promptly conferred its Lifetime Achievement Award on him. Apart from stray journalists nobody tried to ask some crucial questions on this ‘award’.

A question naturally arises: is it possible to ‘rebrand’ a hawk as a dove? Or is it possible that the Mr Advani can erase his past and turn over a new leaf?

Any sensible person would entertain doubts about this type of wishful thinking.

The past can never be considered a different country.

And it is for everyone to see that Advani’s past is slowly catching up with him.

II

Interestingly, leading journalist and human rights activist Siddharth Varadarajan, in his write-up on his blog (Reality, One Bite at a Time) immediately after the NDTV award to Advani, had elaborated on the theme (January 22, 2009); and tried to convince him to see reason. According to the author, here’s a brief list of what Advani presided over or singlehandedly achieved:

1. Demolition of the Babri Masjid (contribution to conspiracy thereof), 1992

2. Hijacking of IC-814 and release of deadly terrorists like Masood Azhar, 1999

3. Massacre of Sikhs by terrorists at Chittisinghpora, 2000

4. Massacre of Kashmiri Pandits at Nadimarg, March 2003

5. First-ever terrorist attack on Amarnath yatris, 1999

6. Terrorist attack on Parliament, December 2001

7. Godhra and the Gujarat massacre of Muslims, 2002

8. Terrorist attack on Akshardham and Raghunath temples in 2002

9. Harassment of the media from Tehelka to Iftikhar Gilani

10 Failure to take any decision on dozens of death row mercy petitions pending before him from 1998 to 2004 and now demanding the Congress Government move swiftly on the mercy petition of Afzal.

Whether one agrees or not, one notices that people are discussing the huge gap between the projected image of Advani and the actual man as he exists in public imagination.

Releasing his party’s election manifesto Dr Manmohan Singh revisited the issue and discussed what he thinks to be the ‘contributions’ of L.K. Advani to public life.According to a newspaper report,

While recounting Advani’s record as the Home Minister, Singh said: “The country must decide whether this person (Advani) is fit to be the Prime Minister.”

The Prime Minister said Advani had played a “prominent role in the destruction of the Babri mosque”.

“What else has he (Advani) contributed to the national welfare? When he was the Home Minister, the attack on Parliament took place, troops were mobilised for 12 months (on the border) and withdrawn without any reason resulting in losses to the tune of crores of rupees, the Red Fort was attacked, a plane was hijacked and terrorists were rewarded,” the Prime Minister recalled.

Singh also said that Advani, as the Home Minister, had “presided over the massacres in Gujarat (in 2002)”.

The Prime Minister said while Advani “led the communal forces, he was opportunist enough when he visited Pakistan and suddenly discovered new virtues of Jinnah that he was a secular man”.

Singh took a dig at Advani for what he faced from his party on his return from Pakistan. “The party disowned him at the behest of the masters in the RSS when he came back. So whether Advani is a strong man or a weak man, let the records speak for themselves,” he added.

(The Indian Express, March 25, 2009)

One of the most shameful incidents of his career as the Home Minister could be said to be the release of terrorists like Masood Azhar after the hijacking of the IC-814 plane, wherein the then Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, had accompanied the terrorists to Kandahar supposedly for the ‘safe release of passengers’. To any layperson it is quite evident that Advani must have been party to this important decision by the then Vajpayee Government and hence he should have accepted the decision as part of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet. But since this incident punctures the supposed ‘strong image’ of Advani, he had no qualms in dissociating himself from this decision after the release of his biography. Veerappa Moily, the senior leader of the Congress, raised a valid point regarding the volteface by Advani: “It just shows that even his party colleagues did not believe him.”

Veteran journalist Khushwant Singh had raised an important question while discussing Advani’s biography:

The importance of Advani’s memoirs is not in their literary quality but in the possibility of the author becoming India’s man of destiny. Either we remain a secular state envisaged by Gandhi and Nehru or we succumb to Advani’s interpretation of it and become the Hindu Secular Socialist Republic of Bharatvarsha. Perish the thought.

III

It was in the late eighties that one was witness to the growing surge of the ‘biggest movement in independent India’ led by the Sangh Parivar that ultimately resulted in the demolition of Babri mosque. One still remembers one’s naïveté when one sincerely felt that whatever might be the claims by the Hindutva brigade, they would not dare touch the five hundred-year-old mosque.

All that is passé now.

It has been more than sixteen years that the mosque was demolished and the people of India went through riots on an all-India scale.As things unfold in this part of the world, officially we are still far from the truth about the whole episode, although unofficially we very well know that it was the grand culmination of the dangerous mix of the hard Hindutva practised by the Sangh Parivar with the soft Hindutva of the Congress. Many senior leaders of the Parivar stand accused in the case, but till date criminal proceedings against them have not moved a bit. Apart from Advani, the accused leaders are former Union Ministers Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Ashok Singhal, Giriraj Kishore, Vishnu Hari Dalmia, Vinay Katiyar and Sadhvi Ritam-bhara.They face charges of rioting, unlawful assembly, promoting enmity between groups and making statements to cause public mischief—but not of conspiracy unlike the kar sevaks.

It is an irony of sorts that the Justice Lieberhans Commission, which was appointed to enquire into the ‘conspiracy’ to destroy the mosque, has recently got its 47th extension. One can very well imagine that it is going to make a record of sorts in the annals of different enquiry commissions which were constituted in the sixty-year-old trajectory of inde-pendent India.

Ayodhya, which remained a symbol of our composite heritage for centuries together, is slowly erasing all shreds of evidence about its shared history from even the minds of the people.

I was a resident of Varanasi in those days when one of the ‘lunatic fringes’ of the Sangh Parivar had given a call for lighting a mashaal (torchlight) at a particular time in the evening. One was supposed to raise it from the top of one’s house to protest the government’s inaction on this issue to underline one’s support for the Ram temple movement. It was a frightening scene to see for oneself that ours was the only house which had not lit a mashaal in our sprawling neighbourhood.

To be very frank, this particular image of ordinary people raising provocative slogans in unison, still stays with me. A few of my neighbours had also gone to participate in one such trip to Ayodhya, supposedly to demolish the ‘age-old symbol of slavery’. No one, who is even remotedly concerned about issues of peace, justice and progress and a more inclusive world, would vouch that there has been a qualitative improvement in the situation. On the contrary, it would not be incorrect to say that the ‘Right’ has become the new ‘Centre’ now. It was inconceivable then that an exclusivist formation like the Sangh Parivar would be able to install one of its Swayamsevaks to the top post of the Republic and a section of the secular fraternity would have no qualms in singing paens to the idea of ‘one nation, one people, one culture’.

The percentage of votes garnered by the BJP during the last two decades has definitely been on the rise with minor hiccups here and there. From 11.5 per cent in 1989 it moved on to 20 per cent in 1991 and 1996, shot up to 25.5 per cent in 1998. It dropped to 23.7 in 1999 and 22.1 in 2004.

Today as we are approaching the next round of elections to Parliament, the shock defeat faced by the Hindutva brigade in the last elections (2004) is not a big issue. We are finding a metamorphosis of a different kind where the Nero of Gujarat—who received condemnation from all quarters for his connivance in the genocide of innocents in 2002—is being repackaged as the new ‘development man’ and projected as the next big leader of the saffron combine.

IV

There is no denying the fact that decades of communal propaganda, accompanied by systematic and planned violence against the ‘others’, has helped create a certain set of attitudes about the manner in which things should be run and what constitutes a ‘nation’. These have gained wide currency and acceptability in the minds of the people. The Congress, which deftly unseated the BJP in the 2004 elections by stitching together a ‘secular coalition’, has definitely not taken any serious steps in this direction nor has it attempted to take the ‘anti-communal struggle’ beyond the Sarva Dharma Samabhava discourse. In fact instead of adopting an uncompromising position on the issue of secularism to defang the hard Hindutva of the Sangh Parivar, it has had no qualms in redisco-vering the virtues of soft Hindutva. It is for everyone to see that the communal and majoritarian construction of society and polity could not be brought on the agenda in this interregnum.

And it would not be then any surprise that whether the BJP is able to cobble together a coalition to reach the citadels of power after the elections or is forced to sit in the Opposition, there is not going to be any perceptible change in the ‘majoritarian middle ground’ in Indian politics. Analysing the election results of 2004 which had seen the surprise defeat of the BJP, the author (Suhas Palshikar, EPW, December 18, 2004) had in fact discerned the following aspects of this middle ground: popularity of the majoritarian viewpoint, high expression of religiosity, emphasis on maintaining group boundaries, lack of awareness about blatantly communal events, less approval of minority interests etc.

An added complexity to the whole scenario seems to be the absence of any one-to-one correspondence between the voting percentage garnered by the Rightwing formation and the societal impact it carries. In fact with a minority share of votes in their kitty, such forces are able to unleash processes, institutionalise mechanisms or create situations which can force the powers that be to acquiese to their demands. Here we find a strange commonality between the South Asian subcontinent’s two anti-human forces, the political project of Hindutva and that of the Taliban. Mapping the trajectory of such forces would throw some light on yet unexplored dimensions of their growth and provide answers to a few unanswered questions.

In fact despite a thoroughgoing and indepth analysis of the rise and spread of communal fascism in the country, a few points which appear inconse-quential at the surface level have largely missed the attention of activists as well as scholars. Take the case of many pioneers or stalwarts—ranging from the Savarkars, Hedgewars, Golwalkars to the likes of Deoras and Thakres in recent times—of the movement for a Hindu Rashtra. Can it be called a mere coincidence that all of them belong to the western geographical terrain of the country, namely Maharashtra? Or, has it to do with the typical social make-up of the area and the long history of social movements which posed tremendous challenges before Brahminism and patriarchy?

Why such an area which has witnessed one of the first successful challenges to the Mughal rule, where the population of Muslims has never crossed the ten per cent mark, could become a ‘lighthouse’ to the anti-minority project? Perhaps one needs to look into the cultural revolt led by Mahatma Phule in the nineteenth century which was taken forward by Shahu Maharaj, Ambedkar and many others. In fact, this glorious movement which unleashed hitherto dominated subaltern classes proved to be the biggest challenge before the stranglehold of the Brahminical forces on the local elite. Hedgewar, the founder-member of the RSS, in his ‘official’ biography (Sanghvriksha Ke Beej—by C.P. Bhishikar) categorically gave two reasons for founding the RSS: one, the ‘menace of minorities’ and two, the non-Brahmin movement which had created dissensions in society. It may be noted that after the death of Mahatma Phule and Savitribai Phule, the movement metamorphosed into a non-Brahmin movement.

Time and again, the leaders of the Hindutva project have exhibited their love and preference for the Brahminical mode of governance as laid down in the Manusmriti. In fact, when the Constitutent Assembly was engaged in making a Constitution for independent India based on one wo/man one vote and was keen to do away with the graded hierarchy inherent in Manu’s code, these leaders had no qualms in putting it bluntly that inde-pendent India should be in accordance with the Manusmriti itself.

It is a tragedy of our times that the anti-communal struggle in our country has not taken into account this important aspect of the Brahminical counter-revolution couched in the language of Hindutva. It would not be an exaggeration to say that till date the strategy to combat communalism has suffered from this lacuna.

As Braj Ranjan Mani rightly puts it,

The Hindutva of the RSS-BJP is predominantly hegemonistic, it is more social than political, and the so-called Hindu backlash against the past humiliations supposedly heaped on it by Islam and Christianity is a shrewd tactic to arrest the democratic upsurge of the hitherto excluded and marginalised majority. Earlier, the Hindu brahminic forces treated the toiling majority as the mlecchas. Now, dalit-subalterns are being co-opted into Hindu politics as tools against religious minorities. (Debrahminising History, Manohar, 2008, page 26)

A close look at the manner in which the Ram temple movement unfolded in our times makes it abundantly clear how the affirmative action programme for the other backward classes was cleverly used to bring the politics of religious symbolism to the national centre-stage. It thus helped polarise Hindus on the one side and Muslims and Christians on the other and proved successful in keeping the people disunited. It logically followed that they could not confront the ruling classes on the issues of mass poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and unemployment and the central issue of making collective producers collective appropriators.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62 Privacy Policy Notice Addressed to Online Readers of Mainstream Weekly in view of European data privacy regulations (GDPR)