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Autumn of the patriarch

After a prolific career as a politician, LK Advani has been pushed to the sidelines by the party he helped rise to power

This time around, Lal Krishna Advani is not a candidate of the BJP, the party he founded with Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Being a nonagenarian, he is fairly healthy for his age, but age is slowly catching up. Many believe that it’s best that he has not taken another plunge in electoral politics. But that decision should have come from him, argues one of the incumbent cabinet ministers who was also Advani’s cabinet colleague in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government. “It’s very sad,” he sums up.

Advani’s residence in the leafy Lutyens Delhi —30, Prithviraj Road — bears a deserted look, dry leaves flying in the warm breeze. Not long ago, it was a venue of political hyper-activity — one of the most powerful political address, almost at par with 10, Janpath where Sonia Gandhi resides. But that’s all in the past. The present is grim and solitary. Despite the election season, there are no visitors here, not even party workers. Standing outside the gate, one can hear mynas singing.

The guards on duty wouldn’t want to comment. But they agree that it’s lonely for the patriarch. “Some central ministers come to see him as they are friends,” says one of them, “Advani prefers the comfort of his home.” Important visitors do drop by, but mostly in the night — during the off hours. Some might think that this is because no one wants to jeopardise their political prospects by being seen in strong association with the patriarch.

Advani’s cabinet colleagues in the Vajpayee government have got a raw deal. The incumbent Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, is not going contesting, it’s a personal decision; but Murli Manohar Joshi has also been denied a ticket. Rajnath Singh and Ravi Shankar Prasad are contesting, perhaps, because the age is on their side. But it truly is passing of an era.

A senior security functionary is with his colleagues, who are all dressed in grey safari suits, waiting outside the bungalow under the shade of a tree. There’s no movement today. Five cars of Advani’s cavalcade are parked outside and the security personnel are playing games on their cell phones.  Advani still has Z plus security cover for once he was the pet target of terror groups as the deputy prime minister in charge of the home ministry.

Many would agree that Advani had become a figure of hate — it was his 1990 rath yatra to push for the Ayodhya temple that triggered off a chain of events that culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid. This one event transformed the fate of the BJP, polarising Hindu votes in its favour. At that time, it was speculated that Vajpayee will become the Prime Minister within six years.

All this now seems a fairy tale. Even the security guards sympathise with the patriarch. “PM Narendra Modi is in control. BJP only means business and is mean-spirited to older leaders — treats them as a liability,” says a senior security personnel of Advani on condition of anonymity, adding, “He is gentleman, but he looks dejected and lonely nowadays. He also lost his wife a few years ago..

“There was a time when Modi wouldn’t even dare sit before him. Amit Shah (BJP President) couldn’t muster the courage to talk in front of him,” one of them recalls. “Modi is what he’s become because of Advani,” they say as they warm up to the conversation.

That’s a fact. It was Advani who persuaded Vajpayee not to act against Modi, the then chief minister of Gujarat, in the aftermath of the 2002 riots, according to Jaswant Singh, who heard this conversation and was also a cabinet colleague of Advani.

Advani’s Gandhinagar seat has now gone to Amit Shah who asserts that he will take “Advani’s legacy forward,” though there was not a single poster of Advani in the latter’s recent mega rally at Naranpura. Advani is a silent spectator to being dispatched to political oblivion by his own mentee. There’s not a whisper from him, which is so unlike him.

In 2014 — just five years ago — for instance, before the last General Elections, when BJP under the presidentship of Rajnath Singh declared Modi the prime ministerial candidate, Advani expressed “pain” and “disappointment”. As a sign of protest, he didn’t even attend the parliamentary board meeting that was to anoint Modi as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.

In a letter to Rajnath Singh, Advani said categorically, “I had told you I was upset… best I don’t attend the meeting.” Advani remained incommunicado for more than a week. Senior BJP leaders and Rashtriya Swayam-sevak Sangh (RSS) functionaries couldn’t get Advani to support Modi as BJP’s PM candidate.

The patriarch didn’t relent, instead he laid conditions for his support to Modi — Modi should resign as the CM of Gujarat and shift to Delhi; secondly, Sushma Swaraj instead of Modi be made  chief of the campaign committee. None of the conditions were met, and Advani had to toe the line.

Has he given up or given in? A word from him still carries weight. If he decides to go against Modi, it may cause the latter some lateral damage. Opposition is waiting for such an opportunity. Remember how Rahul Gandhi last year at a function to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the attack on Parliament, had held Advani’s hand to lead him to the front row as Modi looked on. Advani’s proposed meeting with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also created so much political storm that Advani had to cancel it.

Why is Advani so quiet? A senior BJP leader who has got a ticket to contest from western Uttar Pradesh informs that his daughter, Pratibha Advani, has political ambitions and, therefore, they don’t want to burn bridges. But she too hasn’t got the ticket.

On the back seat of one of the white Maruti Ertiga cars, a security guard stretches his legs,
“I will take a nap. He has nowhere to go.”