Media and the art of misreading LK Advani’s blogpost

Vivek Kaul

Sunday evenings are normally difficult days for newspaper editors. There is not much happening politically. Businesses are shut and so is the government.
So unless there is a rail mishap somewhere or India happens to win bronze medal at the Olympics, bringing out the Monday edition is a major challenge in comparison to most other days.
Unless, someone like LK Advani happens to write a blog which smells of the foot in the mouth disease, and can be read between the lines.
Newspapers have gone to town highlighting that Advani has conceded to the possibility of a non BJP-non Congress government emerging after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. “A non-Congress, non-BJP Prime Minister heading a government supported by one of these two principal parties is however feasible,” wrote Advani. This has become the headline point.
But the truth is a little more complicated than that. The word to mark in Advani’s statement is “however”. The context in which he uses the word however has been missed out by the newspapers while reporting on the blog.
Advani starts the blog with an informal chat he had had with two Senior Cabinet Ministers in the current United Progressive Alliance at a dinner hosted by the Prime Minister(PM) Manmohan Singh, for the outgoing President Pratibha Patil.
As he writes “In an informal chat with two senior Cabinet Ministers belonging to the Congress party before the formal dinner, I could clearly perceive an intense sense of concern weighing on the minds of both these Ministers. Their apprehensions were as follows: a) In the Sixteenth Elections to the Lok Sabha, neither the Congress nor the BJP may be able to forge an alliance which has a clear majority in the Lok Sabha. b) In 2013 or 2014, therefore, whenever the Lok Sabha elections take place, the Government likely to take shape can be that of the Third Front. This, according to the Congress Ministers would be extremely harmful not only for the stability of Indian politics but also for national interests.”
The blog then goes on to address the concerns of these Congress ministers. “My response to the anxiety voiced by these Congressmen was: I can understand your concern, but I do not share it. My own view is: i) The shape which national polity has acquired in the past two and a half decades makes it practically impossible for any government to be formed in New Delhi which does not have the support either of the Congress or of the BJP. A third Front Government, therefore, can be ruled out. ii) A non-Congress, non-BJP Prime Minister heading a government supported by one of these two principal parties is however feasible. This has happened in the past also. But, as the Prime Ministership of Ch. Charan Singh, Chandrashekharji, Deve Gowdaji and Inder Kumar ji Gujral (all supported by Congress) as also of Vishwanath Pratap Singhji (supported by BJP) have shown, such governments have never lasted long.”
Essentially Advani is saying three things in a very direct way. The first and foremost is that the Congress is worried after having been in power for nearly eight years at a stretch. The second thing is that he does not expect the third front to come to power, as a certain section of experts has been widely speculating. The third and the most important point is that no government in the country can be formed without the support of either the Congress or the BJP. Hence even if the Congress or the BJP do not form the government they will run the government. Given this, such a government is not expected to last long.
While Advani has said that a non-BJP non-Congress PM can emerge in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, he has also said that such a PM cannot last long as has been the case in the past. This is a very important point that has been missed out on by the media while reporting on the blog and thus creating an incomplete picture.
As expected the Congress leaders are shouting from the rooftops that Advani has already accepted defeat. “Advani has conceded defeat by saying that there can’t be a BJP prime minister in 2014. It means he has conceded defeat… After this blog, how will a BJP candidate win?” said ex journalist and now BCCI office bearer and Congress leader, Rajiv Shukla.
That feeling does not come out anywhere through a proper reading of the blog. In fact Advani clearly says that “it may be the first time when the Congress Party’s score sinks to just two digits, that is, less than one hundred!” Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but the statement does make it clear that Advani hasn’t accepted defeat in any sort of way.
Shukla’s statement should also be seen in light of the fact that Advani attacked the Gandhi family in his blog. As he wrote “The party’s (the Congress party) miserable performance in Rae Bareilly, Amethi etc. which have long been regarded as pocket-boroughs of the first family, in the U.P. Assembly polls held recently and its dismal record in the Corporation elections of Uttar Pradesh where as against the BJP’s score of ten out of twelve Corporations, the Congress drew a big blank are clear indices of the party’s collapsing fortunes.”
The main job of any spokesperson of the Congress party is to keep the flag flying for the Gandhi family and that’s what Shukla was basically doing.
Another cocktail party theory going around is that Advani has basically used the blog to make a veiled attack at his own party, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), and the senior leaders who are busy projecting Narendra Modi as the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2012 elections. The logic being that Narendra Modi cannot lead the BJP to a win in the Lok Sabha elections and so he (i.e. Advani) still remains the right candidate, his age notwithstanding.
Now that is something only Advani himself can throw light on and we can only make speculations on the same.
To conclude, let me throw in some lines from a popular reggae song called “Games People Play” first released in 1994 and sung by this group called Inner Circle. As the lines go:
All the games people play now,
Every night and every day now,
Never meaning what they say, yeah,
Never say what they mean.

Politicians are a tad like that.
(The article originally appeared on on August 6,2012.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])