The decision to confer the Bharat Ratna on Shri Lal Krishna Advani, former Deputy Prime Minister of India and one of the founder members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is undoubtedly a recognition of his multi-faceted personality, and outstanding service to the country, spanning over eight decades. There is another noteworthy dimension to this award, put succinctly by the nonagenarian leader in his thank you note, “It is not only an honour for me as a person, but also for the ideals and principles that I strove to serve throughout my life to the best of my ability”.
It’s an open secret that Advaniji’s life, like millions of others, was shaped by Rashtriya Syawam Sevak Sangh (RSS). He in turn (along with Atalji and several others) nurtured the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) from its infancy and helped it grow to a predominant level, through his organisational acumen and by providing it with ideological sinews.
There is little doubt that Advani Ji has been instrumental in reshaping the contours of Indian politics. But how could he do it? In his autobiography, ‘My Country, My Life’, he answers, “There is always one moment in childhood, it is said, when the door opens and lets the future in. In my case, that moment of stepping into the future came, unexpectedly at a playful moment, when I joined the RSS. I was only fourteen years and a few months old then.”
Living up to his self-effacing nature, he adds in his autobiography – a seminal work on India’s post-independence journey – “I am immensely proud of my active association with RSS.… I am what I am today principally because of the samskaras (values and traditions) that I acquired from this nationalist organisation”.
Advani Ji would always be remembered for two of his major contributions to the chequered political history of independent India. He established a new standard of probity in Indian political life and successfully challenged the so-called ‘Nehruvian Consensus’ on various national issues— particularly ‘secularism’–with incontrovertible logic and irrefutable facts.
Most of the present opposition parties, particularly Congress, swear by the legacy of Gandhiji. However, they conveniently forget that in public life, he consistently stressed on the need for probity and abhorred nepotism in politics. He never promoted his children. Harilal (born 1888), his eldest son, died within a few months after Gandhiji’s assassination (January 30, 1948), in a public hospital in Mumbai, penniless. The wayward son had fallen out with his father because Gandhiji didn’t allow him to use (misuse) his status in public life. Advaniji is surely one of the very few politicians of post-independence India who effortlessly rose to the bar set by Gandhiji.
The litmus test for Advani Ji came in January 1996 when wily Narasimha Rao, the then Congress Prime Minister, used the infamous ‘Jain Dairy’ to settle scores with his political opponents within his own party and in opposition. Advaniji’s name was included as one of the recipients of the Hawala funds. Advaniji’s response to this baseless charge was unprecedented and left, both his admirers and adversaries shell-shocked. He resigned from Lok Sabha with immediate effect, and declared that he would not participate in electoral politics till his name was not cleared by the judiciary. Given the fact of how slow the Indian judicial system works, it appeared he had opted for the death of his parliamentary career.
In his own words, “I was not only guilty of ordinary corruption demanding and accepting illegal gratification – rupees twenty-five lakhs when I was an MP and an additional rupee thirty-five lakhs when I was not an MP – but also of `criminal conspiracy’ in league with the Jains and others. The `hawala’ case went on for sixteen months in the Delhi High Court. Finally, on 8 April 1997, Justice Mohammad Shamim delivered the verdict quashing the charge of corruption against me. As it turned out, my name did not appear in any of the meticulously maintained daily khatas, the monthly diaries, the periodic ledgers, and not even in the `mother diary’, which the CBI had confiscated from the Jains in May 1991 but on a loose and apparently interpolated sheet of paper”.
The current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, too has followed into Advaniji’s footsteps. When questioned by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed by the Supreme Court to inquire into the 2002 Gujarat riots during his tenure as the then Chief Minister, Modi voluntarily appeared before the SIT office in Gandhinagar in 2010. He participated in the questioning until late at night, lasting for nine hours over two sessions. It’s in sharp contrast to the behaviour of present-day political leaders, who when faced with serious allegations of corruption, resort to all sorts of tactics to escape investigations.
Liquor scandal, in Delhi runs into hundreds of crores. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has repeatedly shown utter disregard for the Enforcement Directorate (ED) summons. Far from offering to resign in case of his arrest, he has announced, that he would continue to run the government from jail. When Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi were questioned in the National Herald case, by the law enforcing agencies there were demonstrations outside ED office, to brow-beat the investigating officials. RJD convicted leader Laloo Prasad Yadav, continues to lead his party from front and is a poster boy of the `secular coalition’ against BJP.
After the establishment of the Bharatiya Janata Party, in 1980, Advani challenged the prevailing concept of ‘secularism’, an unabashed euphemism for overt and covert support for Islamic fundamentalism. This skewed approach was a logical consequence of the `Nehruvian’ perspective – marketed as the ‘Nehruvian consensus’. When the Supreme Court pronounced the historic decision to provide alimony to Shah Bano, after her divorce in 1985, the orthodox sections of the Muslim society were agitated. In several parts of the country, thousands of Muslims protested with slogans like ‘Islam is in danger’ and ‘Save Sharia.’ The court’s decision was a crucial step towards liberating Muslim women from medieval practices.
However, the then-Rajiv Gandhi government capitulated to Islamic fundamentalists. Leveraging a massive majority in Parliament, it overturned the Supreme Court’s decision in the Shah Bano case. This acquiescence by the Indian establishment convinced the Islamic Muslim mindset that it could bend the Indian system to their will through threat of violence. Later, in 1988, the Rajiv Gandhi government banned Salman Rushdie’s novel ‘The Satanic Verses’, pandering to feeling of the Indian Muslim community, though none in India had read the book. The same fate awaited Taslima Nasreen’s ‘Lajja.’
In subsequent years, the Congress-led UPA government attempted the fraudulent narrative of ‘Hindu/Saffron terrorism,’ repeatedly tried to pass the anti-Hindu ‘Communal Violence Bill’, pushed for unconstitutional ‘Muslim Reservation,’ and in 2007, declared in the Supreme Court through an affidavit that the existence of Lord Rama was fictional. Advaniji aptly named such moves as `pseudo-secularism’ – a term which has since gained a wide traction in the public discourse.
Advaniji successfully challenged all these distortions in Indian public life. The Rath Yatra undertaken by him in September-October 1990, helped to connect ordinary Hindus with the Ramjanambhumi movement and electrified the atmosphere. In 1987, in an interview to a Hindi magazine, Advaniji said, “for any section of Indian Muslims to identify themselves with Babur is like the Christians of Delhi picking up a quarrel over the replacement of a statue of George V with that of Mahatma Gandhi on the ground that George V was a Christian. Now, Gandhiji may have been a Hindu by faith, but he belongs to this country and George V does not. Similarly, Ram belongs to this country whether you call him a mythical hero or a historical personage. Even on the issue of history and culture, I would plead with the Muslim leadership of this country that if the Muslims in Indonesia can feel proud about Ram and Ramayana, why cannot the Indian Muslims?”
In this pithy comment, Advaniji managed to bring under focus all that ails Hindu-Muslim ties. The truth is that a segment of Indian Muslim society still considers invaders like Ghazni, Ghauri, Babar, Khilji, Abdali, Aurangzeb and Tipu Sultan as their heroes, who attempted to establish Islamic dominance by trampling upon the cultural identity of this land.
Advaniji always prioritized the nation first. When he was at the pinnacle of politics with his Rath Yatra for the Ram Janmabhoomi issue, he announced Atal Ji as the party’s prime ministerial candidate at the BJP national convention in Mumbai in 1995. Explaining this, Advaniji said in his autobiography, “What I have done is not an act of sacrifice. It is the outcome of a rational assessment of what is right and what is in the best interest of the party and the nation”. These are the qualities that make Advaniji a ‘Bharat Ratna’.