Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em’. Then there are those standing forever on the threshold of greatness, waiting for their moment of greatness. A child of history, a maker of history and betrayed by history Lal Krishna Advani is India’s only such leader of stature, gaze fixed on the Holy Grail of power that is his due. The prime ministership has always eluded him; it is now beyond his reach. The only remaining dream, which can redeem his relevance, is to occupy Rashtrapati Bhavan. The great Presidential race is on, and true to form, nobody knows the mind of Narendra Modi. If history is the mirror of consequences, Advani is unlikely to be the one.
The political journey of L K Advani is a story of lost milestones—a magnificent yatra that never reached its glorious pinnacle. It has often been said that Advani was the Lakshman to Vajpayee’s Ram. This is untrue. Advani has always been Ram. Vajpayee was Valmiki, who authored the Ramayana of the Hindu political gestalt, authoring its narrative from a distance—belonging to it, yet untouched by it. Advani’s relationship with Hindutva was up close and personal. Advani was Hindutva. It was he who rescued Hindutva with the Ram Rath Yatra in 1990.
For the first time, a faith-based political idea found a new general to rescue Ayodhya from the humiliation of history and reverse Babar’s transgression frozen in secular amber like a poisonous moth from another century. Starting from Somnath—the symbol of Hindu resurgence and temple rebirth—on September 25, 1990, Advani’s chariot passed through cities, towns, villages and hamlets, covering almost 300 kilometres a day. It was the largest mass movement since Independence, which firmly cemented Advani’s pre-eminent position in the Hindu pantheon. He was destined to be the prime minister when the saffron pennant flew against the skies over Indraprastha. But it was not to be.
Though the loyal pracharak created the BJP as Hinduism’s most powerful political force, he was its face, but not its form. The ethos in 1998 was captive to Nehruvian sensibility; the BJP needed the help of George Fernandes, Chandrababu Naidu, Karunanidhi and other secularists to form the government. Vajpayee was the BJP’s only Hindu Socialist; and hence the only acceptable resident for 7 Race Course Road. Hindutva denied Advani the crown he cherished and had fought for throughout his turbulent political life.
Today, at the sunset of his career, he faces criminal charges for alleged involvement in the Babri demolition, which was what ironically brought the BJP to power for the first time. It should have given Advani the front seat in the hagiography of Hindutva. But his irrelevance in the current political landscape has denied him the glory of even martyrdom. From being the portrait of Hindutva, he is just a selfie of history.
The Indian presidency will be the final vindication of Advani’s contribution to Hindutva. And it was no mean contribution. He laid the foundation for it to flourish a decade later. His disagreement with Modi rises from his complaint with the spirit of the times. Modi is the child of the age. Advani was its father. If the paterfamilial role of Indian democracy eludes Advani, it will be the end of an era which gave birth to modern Hindutva.