From two seats in 1984 to being the single largest party in 1996, the phenomenal rise of BJP in a very short period of time can, to a certain extent, be attributed to one man, LK Advani. As he celebrates his 91st birthday, let us have a look at the man and his legacy of turning the political discourse towards the right.
Political journey of Advani is filled with ups and downs. He began his political journey as a volunteer of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 1941 as a 14-year-old boy. He rose to the rank of pracharak (full-time worker) of the Karachi branch and was responsible for flourishing of several shakhas there. After the partition tragedy, Advani was anointed as a pracharak of Matsya-Alwar in Rajasthan. Until 1952, Advani worked in Alwar, Bharatpur, Kota, Bundi and Jhalawar districts.
Advani became a member of Jana Sangh. He was anointed as the secretary to S. S. Bhandari, then General Secretary of the Jana Sangh in Rajasthan. In 1957, he moved to Delhi to take care of the Parliamentary affairs. He soon rose to the rank of General Secretary and, later on became the President of the Delhi unit of the Jana Sangh. His rise in Jan Sangh and politics continued and later on he became member of the Rajya Sabha from Delhi for the six-year tenure from 1970.
There were two factions within the Jan Sangh. One was pro ex-RSS pracharak faction led by Vajpayee, the other faction was led by Late Balraj Madhok. When Advani became the President of Jana Sangh in its 1973 Kanpur session, the first decision which he took as the president of Jana Sangh was to expel founder member and veteran leader Late Balraj Madhok from primary membership of the party for three years for going against the party directives and performing acts against the interests of the party. Madhok abhorred both Late Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani, and condemned them. He didn’t even used to consider Advani as a leader. The rise of Advani in Indian politics proves how much wrong Madhok was in his opinion about Advani.
After this period, the country witnessed the darkest chapter of Indian democracy- Emergency (1975-77). Like thousands of brave men, Advani fought gallantly against the terror unleashed by the authoritarian and oppressive regime of Indira Gandhi. He spent nineteen months in jail during emergency. In prison, Advani authored a booklet titled ‘A Tale of Two Emergencies’. Advani said that the booklet was his contribution “to the underground literature for use by pro-democracy activists through the Lok Sangharsh Samiti formed by JP”. In the booklet, Advani drew parallel between what Adolf Hitler had done in Germany to what the Congress government under Indira Gandhi was doing in India during the Emergency. He authored five more pamphlets during his stint in jail, which were later compiled in a book called ‘A Prisoner’s Scrapbook’.
After the dawn arrived again in 1977, the Jan Sangh allied with the Janata Party to overthrow oppressive regime of Indira Gandhi in the 1977 elections. That was for the first time that India was without a Congress government at the Centre. LK Advani became the first non-Congress Information and Broadcasting minister and as I&B minister he gave an evergreen and brutally honest statement which makes Advani relevant every time the dark period of Emergency is recalled. To media and journalists, Advani had said, “You were asked only to bend, but you crawled.”
After three years in power, Janata government collapsed mainly due to ideological differences. In April 1980, shortly after the elections, the National Executive Council of the Janata Party banned its members from being ‘dual members’ of party and the RSS. In reaction to this, the former Jana Sangh members resigned to form a new political party, known as the Bharatiya Janata Party. Advani became an important and famous leader of newly born BJP and represented the party in Rajya Sabha for two terms commencing in 1982. Initially the new avatar of Jana Sangh i.e. BJP failed elecorally. In 1984 general elections, the party suffered humiliating defeat and it managed to win only two seats.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. It requires a tough man of action and Advani was that tough man. He played a key role in organizing the party after the shellacking in 1984 elections. In 1984, he was appointed as the president of the BJP. He did everything to boost the morale of party cadres and party leaders. Advani devised new strategies in order to strengthen the party. Advani stitched up alliance with Shiv Sena in order to gain clout in Maharashtra. He entered into an alliance with Janata dal in 1989 general elections to fight against a common enemy- Congress- despite knowing that V.P Singh will treat his party as pariah. His strategy paid off and BJP secured victory over 86 Lok Sabha seats in 1989 general elections. The tally made its support crucial for the survival of National Front government led by V.P. Singh.
It was during this period that the BJP under the leadership of Adavni became the face of the Ram Janambhumi campaign. He became the star leader of the BJP who had caught the eye of media with his Rath Yatra and Ram Janambhumi movement. On September 25, 1990, Advani started his Rath Yatra from Somnath, Gujarat. The Rath Yatra gave BJP the identity of a strong Hindu party with solid support from middle class. With his Rath Yatra, he also checkmated Mandal politics of V.P. Singh. During the Yatra, his oratory skills were at its best and people in large number came to listen to Advani. In his speeches, he accused the government of appeasing Muslims and practicing “pseudo-secularism”. On October 23, Advani was arrested in Bihar’s Samastipur. Under the orders of the then Bihar CM, Lalu Prasad Yadav, he was placed under preventive detention. Later on, the BJP withdrew its support from National Front government at the Centre in which Lalu was also a partner and the government collapsed. In the political history of Independent India, his Rath Yatra is considered directly responsible for two outcomes—the demolition of Babri Mosque on 6 December 1992 and the rise of the BJP to power.
Riding on the momentum of the Rath Yatra, the rise of the BJP continued. In 1991 general elections, it emerged as the second largest party by winning 120 seats, and won a majority in Uttar Pradesh assembly and also formed government in three other states. On 6 December 1992, the Babri Mosque was demolished. At the time of Mosque demolition, Advani along with other BJP leaders was present in Ayodhya.
During the period of 1995-96 things were not going well in favor of Advani. His name appeared in Jain Hawala scandal. Advani’s name was found in the diary of Jain and he vowed not to enter parliament till he proved his innocence. That’s why Advani did not contest 1996 Lok Sabha elections. He fought elections again in 1998 only after his name got cleared. He declared his friend Vajpayee as BJP’s PM face in Mumbai in 1995. The combination of Advani-Vajpayee was like the combination of fire and ice.
After the 1996 general elections, the BJP emerged as the single largest part by winning 161 Lok Sabha seats. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in as the Prime Minister and he ran a short-lived government at the centre for 13 days.
After two years of political instability, the BJP led NDA came to power in 1998. Atal Bihari Vajpayee again became the PM. However, the Vajpayee government survived for only 13 several months until mid-1999. The NDA government collapsed after the AIADMK withdrew its support from the government and fresh elections were held.
Riding on the victory at Kargil, on 13 October 1999, the NDA, without the AIADMK, won 303 Lok Sabha seats. The BJP had its highest ever tally of 183 Lok Sabha seats. Vajpayee became the PM for the third time; Advani became Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister. This NDA government successfully completed its term of five-year, the only non-Congress government to do so.
During Advani’s tenure as Home Minister, India witnessed a series of internal disturbances. Incidents like Kandhar plane hijack, parliament attack and Godhra riots happened when Advani was serving as the Home Minister.
With the defeat of BJP in 2004 general elections, Vajpayee retired from active politics and Advani took the charge of the BJP. He became the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha from 2004 to 2009. This period saw the decline of the Advani as well as of the BJP. There were internal rebellions within the party. Uma Bharti, Madan Lal Khurana and Murali Manohar Joshi publicly spoke against him. In June 2005, his party members as well as the opposition launched blistering attack against Advani when he, while on a visit to the Jinnah Mausoleum at Karachi – his town of birth, endorsed Mohammad Ali Jinnah and described him a “secular” leader. RSS took strong objection and asked him to resign from his post of BJP president. The relationship between RSS and Advani deteriorated further when the latter’s chief K. S. Sudarshan opined that both Advani and Vajpayee give way to new leaders. Advani complied and stepped down. Rajnath Singh was made the party president.
Advani’s popularity was declining but despite this he was made PM face of the BJP in 2009 general elections and the BJP performed even worse than previous general elections and Advani’s popularity touched an all-time low. Following the humiliating defeat in elections, Sushama Swaraj was made the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha.
Advani resigned from all party posts in the BJP on 10 June 2013 following the appointment of Narendra Modi as the chief of Central Election Committee for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections on 9 June 2013. Ultimately, Advani withdrew his resignation on 11 June 2013. In 2014, Advani joined the Marg Darshak Mandal of the BJP.
Advani’s significance in Indian politics lies not only in his ability to prepare the ground for BJP and to make it what it is today, his more significant contribution to Indian polity is that he steered the Indian political discourse towards the right. Hitherto, the Hindu identity had been without a political anchor and Advani’s Rath Yatra became precisely that. The positive convergence of religion and politics which had been largely subsumed by minority appeasement couched as Nehruvian secularism so far, could not have been possible without the mass movement around Ayodhya that Advani steered.
Moreover, before Advani and BJP’s rise, politics was of the mind. It was the discourse Advani helped create around the larger Hindu identity, Ram Mandir, that politics became a matter of heart where Hindus could finally feel connected to a political movement, which gave them the voice they thought they had lost and ultimately which gave them a platform to assert their political rights and their long held grievances. In essence, it was Advani who erased the artificial binary between Rajneeti and Dharma. And for that, the India of today and the generations to come, owe a sense of gratitude to the leader.
Get real time updates about our posts directly on your device