If media reports are to be believed, Lal Krishna Advani, is looking for a safe seat to contest from, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The Gandhinagar Lok Sabha seat in Guajarat from which Advani is currently a member of parliament (MP) is no longer deemed to be safe as it falls in the land of Narendra Modi.
As Coomi Kapoor writes in The Indian Express “Because of the bad vibes between Narendra Modi and Advani on the leadership issue, the latter does not want to put himself at Modi’s mercy by standing again from the Gandhinagar seat.”
Advani it seems has been advised to contest from Lucknow. This would mean latching onto the legacy of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The other reason here could be the fact that Samajwadi Party chieftain Mulayam Singh Yadav has had nice things to say about Advani in the recent past.
AsIftikhar Gilani writes in the Daily News and Analysis “Advani’s advisors initially wanted him to contest the 2014 election from Lucknow, a seat once represented by former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However, with the fast-changing loyalties within the BJP, Modi has laid a claim on both Gandhinagar and Lucknow constituencies to in an attempt to showcase his national acceptance.”
Hence with Modi eyeing to contest from Lucknow as well as Gandhinagar, Advani now plans to contest from a safe seat in Madhya Pradesh. “Advani has reportedly set his sights on the Bhopal constituency since Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is a friend who can be relied upon. An advance team has already gone to Bhopal to make an assessment of the constituency,” writes Kapoor in The Indian Express. (Another DNA report suggests that Modi wants to contest from Lucknow whereas his trusted lieutenant Amit Shah wants to contest from Gandhinagar).
What is ironical here that it was Modi who first suggested to Advani to contest from Gandhinagar more than two decades back. Advani was looking for a safe Lok Sabha seat to contest from in the 1991 Lok Sabha elections. As Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay writes in Narendra Modi – The Man. The Times “He (i.e. Advani)…relied on Modi to play a crucial role in “giving” him a new political home, Gandhinagar in Gujarat. Advani’s decision to move to Gujarat was because the Congress in 1991 sprang a surprise by nominating the popular film actor, the late Rajesh Khanna, to contest against Advani from New Delhi which had traditionally been a tricky seat owing to comparatively less number of voters (just 4.5 lakh) and a low turnout (in 1991 it was 47.86%). In any case, Advani contested from both New Delhi and Gandhinagar and this proved to be providential as the BJP strongman barely scraped through in the capital by less than 1600 votes.”
Advani has represented Gandhinagar in the Lok Sabha since then, except in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections which he did not contest because he was facing charges of money laundering in the Hawala scam.
A report in The Times of India in 2011 suggested something similar. “In 1991, it was Modi who suggested to Advani that he should contest for Lok Sabha from Gandhinagar…Gandhinagar was until then represented by Modi’s peerturned-foe Shankersinh Vaghela . It was a masterstroke as BJP cadres got charged up in the state and Vaghela was relegated to the fringes . The relationship grew with Advani frequently visiting Gujarat after becoming an MP from the state,” the report pointed out.
The relationship between Advani and Modi did not start in 1991, but a few years before that. Modi was the second pracharak from the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh (RSS) to be deputed to its political affiliate the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). The first being K N Govindacharya. Those were the days when Modi went around Ahmedabad in an ash coloured Bajaj Chetak scooter.
Modi’s deputation to the BJP took place sometime in 1987-88. This was around the time when Lal Krishna Advani was rebuilding the BJP after the debacle of the 1984 Lok Sabha elections in which the party had won only two seats. Among other things Advani decided to revive the post of organising secretary in the state units of BJP. In the erstwhile Jana Sangh (BJP’s earlier avatar before it merged with other parties to form the Janata Party in 1977) the post was held by RSS pracharaks. Modi was made the organising secretary of the Gujarat unit of the party. “From the beginning it was evident that Modi was Advani’s personal choice and he was keen to strengthen the unit in Gujarat because the state was identified as a potential citadel in the future,” writes Mukhopadhyay.
Modi would soon rise to national prominence when he would play a part in organising Advani’s famed rath yatra which yielded huge political dividends for the BJP. As Mukhopadhyay points out “Modi came into the national spotlight for the first time when he helped organise Advani’s Rath Yatra in September-October 1990…Modi coordinated the arrangements during the Gujarat leg and travelled up to Mumbai and it was a huge success in Gujarat – both in terms of seamless arrangements and public support.”
In the years to come the relationship between Modi and Advani went from strength to strength, with Modi emerging as the super Chief Minister in the BJP government in Gujarat in the mid 1990s. As The Times of India report quoted above points out “It was with Advani’s blessings that Modi emerged as a ‘super CM’ even as he ran the government from the back seat.”
Advani’s fondness for Modi became very well known in the BJP circles. “Throughout the 1990s and even after Modi became chief minister, Advani’s special fondness for Modi has been well known by both party insiders and observers. In 2002, when Modi was under attack for the role of the state administration in Gujarat riots, it was due to Advani’s protection that the BJP leadership gave him a fresh lease of life. Earlier Advani had played a crucial role in the making of Modi as chief minister replacing Keshubhai Patel in October 2001,” writes Mukhopadhyay.
The relationship started to sour after Advani on a visit to Pakistan in June 2005 had good things to say about Mohammed Ali Jinnah. As Advani wrote in the Visitors’ Book at the Jinnah Mausoleum: “There are many people who leave an inerasable stamp on history…But there are very few who actually create history. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah was one such rare individual.”
Advani obviously was trying to get rid of his tag of being the posterboy of Hindutva. But saying nice things about Jinnah went against the entire idea of Akhand Bharat which the RSS believes in. Around this time, Modi started to distance himself from his mentor. Advani had to pay for this statement and had to quit as the BJP party president in late 2005.
And this created space for Modi for a bigger role. As Mukhopadhyay writes “The original poster boy of Hindutva ceased to be and yielded space to the much younger Modi as the mascot of the aggressive Hindu face. At times it appeared that the guru-shishya relationship of yore had been replaced by intense rivalry,” writes Mukhopadhyay.
This rivalry has now come to the fore with Advani looking for a safe seat outside Gujarat to contest from. Modi is trying to inherit the political legacy of both Vajpayee and Advani by wanting to contest the next Lok Sabha elections from both Lucknow as well as Gandhinagar.
The trouble is Advani hasn’t given up as yet his aspirations of becoming the Prime Minister of India. Modi has his supporters within the BJP. As BJP President Rajnath Singh recently told the Open magazine “Narendra Modi is the most popular BJP leader in the country.” But then so does Advani. In an interview to The Economic Times, Yashwant Sinha, a senior BJP leader said “Advaniji is the senior-most, most respected leader and if he is available to lead the party and government, then that should end all discussion. Everyone should fall in line and work together for the party under his leadership. But the call will have to be taken first by Advaniji himself, secondly by the party and finally by NDA (National Democratic Alliance) .” Cine actor Shatrughan Sinha also wants BJP to fight elections under the leadership of Advani.
A factor working in favour of Advani is that he is acceptable to BJP allies like Janata Dal (United). Narendra Modi clearly is not. As the Open Magazine points out “JD-U leader Devesh Chandra Thakur was even more open on the question of Advani’s candidacy for the PM’s post. “The NDA contested under the leadership of LK Advani [in 2009]. I do not think there should be a problem for any NDA faction to go to polls under his leadership. Advani will definitely be more acceptable to most factions of the NDA,” he said after the party’s national executive meeting. “What further indication can Nitish Kumar give?” asks another JD-U leader considered close to the Bihar CM.”
L K Advani, the original posterboy of Hindutva is deemed secular enough to head the NDA. Narendra Modi is not. As Kingshuk Nag writes in The NaMo Story: A Political Life “The ghosts of Gujarat 2002 are likely to haunt Narendra Modi till his last days.”
Advani had to play second fiddle to Vajpayee in the 1990s after building the BJP from scratch. This happened because with Vajpayee at the helm BJP would have been able to attract more allies, which it eventually did. Nearly two decades later Advani might find himself in a similar situation where he(like Vajpayee was) is more acceptable to the potential allies than Narendra Modi is. It is safe to say that no one has served the BJP more than Advani. His contribution to building BJP as a national party is even greater than that of Vajpayee.
Let me conclude this piece with an old bhojpuri saying: “Chela Cheeni Ban Gella, Guru Gud Rah Gella (which loosely translated means the student has become sugar, whereas the teacher continues to be jaggery).” Whether this comes to be true in the context of Advani and Modi, we will find out over the course of the next one year.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on April 27,2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)