Why Advani must sometimes wish that he was a Nehru-Gandhi

lk advani

Lal Krishna Advani in his dreams must sometimes wish that he should have belonged to the Nehru-Gandhi family. Irrespective of what happens to the political fortunes of the Congress, the Nehru-Gandhis remain at the top.
Even when the party is not under the control of a Nehru-Gandhi, the Congress politicians keep conspiring endlessly till they have managed to install a Nehru-Gandhi at the helm of affairs. This was clearly the case between 1991-1996, after Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated and his widow Sonia refused to take over. Nevertheless the Congress installed Sonia as the president of the party as soon as she was ready.
As Rasheed Kidwai writes in
Sonia – A Biography “Throughout the Narsimha Rao regime, 10 Janpath[where Sonia continues to stay] served as an alternative power centre or listening post against him.” In December 1997, Sonia Gandhi indicated that she wanted to play a more active role in Congress politics. It took the party less than three months to throw out Sitaram Kesri, the then President of the party and put Sonia in charge in his place.
Advani has not been anywhere as lucky as Sonia. In fact, he has constantly been sidelined in the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) over the last five years. And unlike Sonia, who continues to enjoy the spoils of the hard-work of her husband’s ancestors, Advani built the BJP right from scratch.
The final nail in the coffin for Advani was the decision by the newly appointed BJP president Amit Shah to drop him from the 12-member Parliamentary Board of the Party. Advani though has been included in the newly created
margadarshak mandal, where he is unlikely to have any decision-making powers.
In fact,
Advani had to recently go through the ignominy of his nameplate being removed from his room in Parliament (the nameplate was put back later). This after being denied the post of the Lok Sabha Speaker, which he wanted. All this must be too much to handle for a man who is BJP’s senior most active leader, and refuses to retire.
The BJP was formed on April 5-6, 1980, after it broke away from the Janata Party. The Janata Party had been formed a few years earlier in 1977, with the merger of Congress O, Bhartiya Lok Dal, the Socialist Party and the Jana Sangh (the BJP’s earlier avatar), with the idea of taking on Indira Gandhi and her Congress party in the 1977 Lok Sabha elections.
The Janata Party won 295 seats in the elections, with 93 MPs coming from the erstwhile Jana Sangh. But trouble soon broke out and different constituents of the party could not get along with each other. This experiment against the Congress ended in 1980, and the BJP was formed. Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the president of the BJP, and Advani was its general secretary.
Interestingly, the party chose “Gandhian socialism” as its credo. Kingshuk Nag writes in
The Saffron Tide—The Rise of the BJP that a “consensus emerged…on Gandhian socialism being the credo of the new party; in other words, it would fashion itself like the Janata Party.”
Advani explains this in his autobiography
My Country, My Life: “The stress from the beginning was not on harking back to our Jana Sangh past but on making a new beginning.” The new beginning happened primarily because both Vajpayee and Advani had been influenced a lot by Jaiprakash Narayan, who was the main architect behind the Janata Party.
Also, what did not help was the fact that Indira Gandhi in her second avatar as the Prime Minister had in a way hijacked the “Hindutva” agenda, which the Jan Sangha had stood for. “Indira Gandhi had become religious with vengeance after coming to power in 1980 and began visiting temples with fervour. In public imagination, the impression created was that of a Hindu lady seeking the benefaction of the Gods. The policies in her tenure were also interpreted as being pro Hindu,” writes Nag.
This newly discovered “Gandhian socialism” did not work for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections that happened in December 1984, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her bodyguard. The party won just two seats in this election. A committee was formed to try and understand the reasons for the electoral debacle.
As Nag writes “The committee…found a lot of lacunae in the working of the BJP. The committee also commented on the lack of political training of workers on political, economic, idealogical and organizational matters.” Or as a BJP insider told Nag “Basically, the committee politely said the party was going nowhere.”
Vajpayee resigned in the aftermath of the debacle and Advani took over as the president of the party. With Advani at the helm, the relations with the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh(RSS) also improved significantly. In the years to come, the BJP went back to Hindutva and gradually junked “Gandhian Socialism” as its main credo. In fact, in 1990, Advani launched a
rath yatra in which he wanted to travel in a motorized van from Somanth in Gujarat to Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.
But before he could enter Uttar Pradesh, Lalu Prasad Yadav got Advani arrested in Bihar. As Advani recounts in his autobiography “My 
yatra was scheduled to enter Deoria in Uttar Pradesh on 24 October. However, as I had anticipated, it was stopped at Samastipur in Bihar on 23 October and I was arrested by the Janata Dal government in the state then headed by Laloo Prasad Yadav (sic). I was taken to an inspection bungalow of the irrigation department at a place called Massanjore near Dumka on the Bihar-Bengal border [Dumka now comes under the state of Jharkhand].”
Even though Advani could not complete the
yatra it was a huge success and Advani was greeted by huge crowds wherever he went. “At some places, charged-up followers applied tilak to the Ram rath while at other places, those moved by the movement smeared dust from the path of the rath on their forehead,” writes Nag.
Advani went around building the party on the ideology of hardcore 
Hindutva, taking the number of seats that the party had in the Lok Sabha to 85 in 1989 and 120 in the 1991. This fast rise of the party was built on slogans like “saugandh Ram ki khaate hain mandir wohin (i.e. Ayodhya) banayenge” and “ye to kewal jhanki hai Kashi Mathura baaki hai”. As Advani went about his job, Vajpayee took a back-seat for a while.
Nevertheless, Advani soon realized that temple and Hindutva politics could only get the party to a certain level. He also realized that he was looked at as a Hindu hardliner and as long as he led the party, it would never be in a position to form the government. Hence, in November 1995, at the end of his presidential address at the BJP national council meet held in Mumbai, he announced that “We will fight the next elections under the leadership of A.B.Vajpayee and he will be our candiate for a prime minister…For many years, not only our party leaders but also the common people have been chanting the slogan, “
Agli baari, Atal Bihari”.”
This was a political master stroke. At the same time it needs to be said that not many people would have been able to make the decision that Advani did, if they had been in his position. It is never easy to build an organisation right from scratch and then hand it over to someone else, to lead it.
With Vajpayee at the helm, other poltical parties were ready to ally with the BJP. The BJP led National Democratic Alliance first came to power in 1998. They were in power till 2004, when they lost the Lok Sabha elections. After the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Vajpayee gradually faded from the limelight.
In these years, the spin-doctors of Advani had managed to tone down his image as a Hindu hardliner. This can be very gauged from the fact that Nitish Kumar had no problem with being in alliance with an Advani led BJP, but he wasn’t ready to work with a Narendra Modi led BJP.
The NDA fought the 2009 Lok Sabha elections under the leadership of Advani and lost. And from then on, the stock of Advani has constantly fallen in the BJP. The decision to drop him from the Parliamentary Board of the party, as mentioned earlier, is probably the last nail in the coffin of his political career.
Interestingly, Narendra Modi was also handpicked by Advani to play a greater role in the BJP. As Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay writes in 
Narendra Modi – The Man. The Times “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.”
Advani also mentored Modi during his early days in politics. “It was Advani who mentored Modi when he virtually handpicked him into his team of state apparatchiks after recommendations from a few trusted peers in the late 1980s. Advani also gave Modi early lessons in how to convert the mosque-temple dispute into one of national identity,” writes Mukhopadhyay.
But in the recent years while Advani’s stock within the BJP and the RSS has fallen dramatically, Modi’s stock has been on a bull run. The
shishya has become the guru. The trouble is that the guru does not want to retire, and is probably still itching for a one-last-fight.
But there is not much that he can do about it. Advani’s side-lining is an excellent lesson of what happens when one overstays one’s welcome in politics as well as life. There is a time to work. And there is time to retire and move on.
To conclude, Advani’s one remaining political ambition would have been to become the prime minister of India. But that somehow did not happen. As Salamn Rushdie aptly put in
Midnight’s Children “This is not what I had planned; but perhaps the story you finish is never the one you begin.”
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on August 29, 2014

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

Advani versus Modi: The shishya who wanted to be guru

India's main opposition BJP leader Advani and Gujarat's Chief Minister Modi gesture during their party's election campaign in AhmedabadVivek Kaul
The patriarch of the Bhartiya Janata Party, India’s main opposition party, used the nuclear option today.
Or as the old Hindi film dialogue goes “
hum to doobenge sanam, par tumko bhi le doobenge.”
Lal Krishna Advani, a former film critic, who built the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) right from scratch, today quit from the three main fora of the party, the National Executive, the Parliamentary Board and the Election Committee.
In his resignation letter Advani said that for sometime he had been finding it difficult to reconcile with the current functioning of the party as well as the direction in which it was going. “I no longer have the feeling that this is the same idealistic party created by Dr (Shyama Prasad)Mookerji, Pandit Deendayalji (Sharma), Nanaji (Deshmukh) and (Atal Bihari) Vajpayeeji, whose sole concern was the country, and its people. Most leaders of ours are now concerned just with their personal agenda,” he write.
This came from a man under whose leadership the BJP went from two seats in the 1984 Lok Sabha election to 182 seats in the 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections. Though when it came to leading the government Advani had to make way for the more acceptable and the softer face of the party, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Nearly 15 years later, in 2013, Advani thought that finally his time had come. His time to lead the country. Something he had always wanted to do, but never gotten around to. It was the last throw of the dice for him. A nice farewell into the sunset. But that was not to be.
He was upstaged by a man who was once very close to him. Someone who Advani taught a lot about politics. And someone whom he promoted as well as protected on different occasions. The man they call Narendra Damodardas Modi.
A son of a tea shop owner from Vadnagar in Gujarat, who rose first through the ranks of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS) and later the BJP, and grew so tall, that he finally managed to upstage his guru Advani as well. And this is something that Advani could not digest, which in turn led to the nuclear option, which now threatens to create huge problems for the BJP.
Narendra Modi started working for the RSS at a young age of six. He joined the RSS formally as a pracharak at the age of 21, in 1971. He was the second pracharak to be deputed by the RSS to BJP, its political affiliate. This happened sometime in 1987-88, during the days when Modi used to go around Ahemdabad in an ash coloured Bajaj Chetak.
This was also the time when Advani was looking to rebuild the BJP, after its disastrous performance in the 1984 Lok Sabha election, where the party had won just two seats. Among other things Advani decided to revive the post of the 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 BJP.
As Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay writes in 
Narendra Modi – The Man. The Times “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.”
Advani also mentored Modi during his early days in politics. “It was Advani who mentored Modi when he virtually handpicked him into his team of state apparatchiks after recommendations from a few trusted peers in the late 1980s. Advani also gave Modi early lessons in how to convert the mosque-temple dispute into one of national identity and political blackmail,” 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.”
After the 
Rath Yatra he also helped organise Murli Manohar Joshi’s Ekta Yatra. Given the finesse with which he organised these yatras, for a while he was referred to as the poor man’s Pramod Mahajan. The late Pramod Mahajan was the man BJP turned to when it had organise big events.
In 1991, when it was getting risky for Advani to contest from the New Delhi Lok Sabha constituency given the low turn out that it had in elections, it was Modi who suggested that Advani move to the safe seat of Gandhinagar in Gujarat. A seat that Advani has represented since then except in 1996 when he had to resign due to the allegations of money laundering made against him in the 
hawala scam.
In the years to come the relationship between Modi and Advani went from strength to strength, with Modi emerging as the super Chief Minister of the first BJP government in Gujarat in the mid 1990s.
As Advani’s fondness for Modi grew, so did Modi’s stature within the BJP. “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… Advani had played a crucial role in the making of Modi as chief minister (of Gujarat) replacing Keshubhai Patel in October 2001.”
Within months of becoming the chief minister of Gujarat, Modi had a big problem on his hand. The bogey number S6 of the Sabarmati Express caught fire on February 27,2002, on the outskirts of the Godhra railway station. Fifty eight people died in the fire. The bogey had kar sevaks returning from a yagna n Ayodhya.
As Ramachandra Guha points out in 
India After Gandhi “On their way back home by train , these kar sevaks got into a fight with Muslim vendors at the Godhra railway station…Words of the altercation spread; young men from the Muslim neighbourhood outside the station joined in. The kar sevaks clambered back into the train, which started moving as stones were being thrown. However, the train stopped on the outskirts of the station, when a fire broke out in one of its coaches. Fifty eight people perished in the conflagration…Word that a group of kar sevaks had been burnt to death at Godhra quickly spread through Gujarat. A wave of retributory violence followed.”
After the riots there was immense pressure on Modi to resign. When prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee came to Gujarat after the riots, he suggested the same. As Mukhopadhyay writes “Vajpayee visited the state capital (of Gujarat) on 4 April 2002 and was apologetic – among other issues – for not paying a visit earlier. He called the events a blot on India and made no secret of his displeasure at the Modi government’s handling of the situation. The denouement came at the end of the day-long visit when he advised Modi to follow the 
Raj Dharma when the prime minister was specifically queried if he had any message for Modi.”
Modi continued to be the chief minister of Gujarat and that was primarily because of the blessings of Advani. Even though Vajpayee was the prime minister, the party was still run by Advani. As Mukhopadhyay points out “Once again in 2002, it was Advani who acted as a buffer between Modi and a section of the party which was baying for his blood as a symbolic atonement for the 2002 riots.”
Modi continued to live to fight another day and continued to rise within the BJP, applying the tricks of the trade that he had learnt from Advani.
On a visit to Pakistan in June 2005, tried to become the statesman that Vajpayee was by saying nice things 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.”
With this statement, Advani probably wanted to get rid of the tag of the original posterboy of Hindutva. But that did not work. And saying nice things about Jinnah did not go down well with RSS, which still believes in the idea of 
Akhand Bharat. Advani had to quit as the president of the BJP as a result of this faux pas.
The relations between Advani and Modi started turning sour after this. 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.”
In the time that has followed the rivalry only grown. The final nail in the coffin came yesterday when the BJP decided to appoint Modi as the Chairman of the of the campaign committee of the BJP for the 2014 Lok Sabha election. This was essentially a signal that Modi was the tallest leader in the party and not Advani.
shishya had finally arrived.
The son of a tea shop owner had risen through the ranks and been chosen the leader among the leaders of the BJP.
This was very unlike the Congress which chose it leader on June 19, 1970, the day Rahul Gandhi was born.
The only problem was that the 
guru still wanted to be the guru.
His last ambition still hadn’t been fulfilled.
And given this, how could the 
shishya takeover?
And if the 
shishya had decided to takeover, what would the guru do in the party anyway.
But for a man who has fought his fights as well as Advani has, how could he go down into the textbooks of history without one last fight.
The masterstroke by Advani has caught everybody off guard. The boxer in him is still alive. Advani ‘Rocky’ Balboa may not be as quick as once he was, but when he hits them, they hurt.
What will the 
shishya do now?
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on June 10, 2013

 (Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

Babri Masjid: 20 saal baad, what has changed, what hasn't!

Vivek Kaul
My standard tenth exams got over on March 12, 1993. It was late evening, around 6pm, and I was having a vanilla ice-cream (or was it chocolate I don’t remember) in a cone along with some of my friends standing outside Firayalal, the premier shopping destination for clothes in the city of Ranchi, where I grew up.
A small kid started pestering me to buy a copy of Sandhya Ranchi Express, an evening newspaper that had been recently launched. I tried to shoo him away. He wouldn’t go and was determined to sell the last copy that he had.
The trouble was I did not have a single rupee in my pocket. My parents never came around to the idea of giving me pocket money, being forever bothered that I would use it to buy the music cassette of the latest Hindi film, which was one of the two interests I had at that point of time. The other one being religiously listening to Cibaca Sangeet Mala, a countdown show of Hindi film songs hosted by the one and only Ameen Sayani every Monday on the government owned radio channel Vividh Bharti (He started with Radio Ceylon and during the later years moved to Vividh Bharti).
My friend Anshuman, who had also paid for the ice-cream (if I remember correctly), first gave me a stare and then a one rupee coin. I bought the newspaper. A small piece of news which seemed to have been inserted at the last moment as the paper went to press talked about bomb blasts in Bombay (now Mumbai).
Those were the days when evening newspapers were not meant to be taken seriously. They usually had their share of masala and gossip. I thought the news about the blast was not true and would have just been put in to hopefully sell a few copies more.
In fact I was sure of this primarily because all kinds of news that appeared in the local newspapers. A few days after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, a local newspaper had even gone to the extent of reporting that he was alive, living in the United States of America (USA) and having fun there.
The news about the blasts in Bombay turned out to be true. By the time I reached home, people had tuned into BBC Radio on the short wave and confirmed the same. Those were the days when people did not believe in anything unless they had heard it on the BBC (and if not them, someone else they knew had because it was not always easy to tune into the right frequency).
The evening news on Doordarshan, first in Hindi and then in English, also reported on the blasts. I went to sleep peacefully that night, the first time since January 29, when I had started preparing for my tenth standard exams, on the day Vinod Ganpat Kambli made his test debut and batted ahead of his schoolmate Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. The blasts in what was a ‘far away’ Bombay did not effect a small town boy who was just happy that his exams were done and out of the way.
Investigations soon revealed that the blasts were carried out on the orders of the much feared Dawood Ibrahim, the mafia don who ruled what was then Bombay. By the time the news of his involvement came out, Ibrahim had left the country , never to come back. It is said that Ibrahim carried out the blasts to revenge the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the riots that followed against the Muslim population in the city of Bombay.
Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was demolished on December 6, 1992, twenty years to this day. I clearly remember that rumours were abuzz in the colony that we lived in, about the Masjid having been brought down. The rumour mongers used the usual ploy of saying “BBC par bol diya hai (they have said it on the BBC)” to give a kind of an authenticity to what they were trying to spread.
But cable television had already arrived by then. We had got a connection on February 22, 1992, on the day India lost to England in Benson and Hedges cricket World Cup being played in Australia and New Zealand.
Earlier on the same day the New Zealand captain Martin Crowe had surprised the entire cricket fraternity by asking the off spinner Dipak Patel to open the bowling in the match against Australia. Something like this had never happened before.
And it was on cable TV we got some confirmation of the Babri Masjid having been brought down. The BBC (television and not radio) showed some kar sevaks getting on the dome of the Babri Masjid and starting to hit it with rods and hammers.
Lal Krishna Advani of the Bhartiya Janata Party and Ashok Singhal of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad could be seen rushing towards the disputed structure and asking kar sevaks to stop what they were doing. Whether they really meant it or not is something even they won’t be able to tell.
Those were the only visuals of that were broadcast on the BBC. In fact from what I remember it was not BBC’s original footage and they were broadcasting a tape that was put together by news agency ANI. The media was thrown out soon after the kar sevaks starting demolishing the Masjid and those are the only visuals that anyone ever got of the Masjid being brought down.
The only other news show was on Doordarshan and nobody of course believed what they were reporting. So people would tune into BBC on their cable television and waited with a baited breath to hear something being reported on the scene in Ayodhya and the riots that had broken out in different parts of the country in the aftermath of the Masjid being brought down. Given that a lot of people did not have cable television, they waited with a baited breath in homes of people who had it.
Schools, colleges and offices had been closed down and a curfew had been imposed on the city of Ranchi. Shoot at sight orders had also been given. But we were safe inside the confines of the CMPDI colony. I was advised to start preparing for my tenth standard exams which were due in less than three months time. I remember studying some Chemistry or at least pretending to, just to ensure that my mother did not bother me too much. And I was really kicked to know that the word Oxygen is an oxymoron. But being the news junkie that I was, I was more interested in all the rumours that were going around rather than studying for my tenth standard exams.
Most of the people around me were happy at what had happened. “Advani ji ne kar dikhaya (Advani ji has got it done),” was an oft repeated phrase. People also talked about the time when Advani had come visiting us in October 1990.
Advani was on his Rath Yatra across the country starting from the Somnath Temple in Gujarat on September 25, 1990. He arrived late one night to stay “overnight” in the guest house in our colony primarily because there wasn’t a hotel good enough for him in the city of Ranchi. At least, that’s what the rumour was.
In fact, in the years to come I saw a spate of BJP leaders from Atal Behari Vajpayee (who was sitting in the front seat of a Maruti Omni), Murli Manohar Joshi and the late Pramod Mahajan, all stopping overnight at the guest house.
Early next morning, before Advani was supposed to leave, a small crowd, which included me, had gathered in front of the guest house. He came out and was requested to speak a few words. I don’t remember anything of what he said except the last line, which was “Saugandh Ram ki khaate hain, mandir wohin banayenge”.
He was out of the place in five minutes. But the crowd that had gathered continued to mingle. Some were happy to have seen him. Some were amazed to know that his so called rath wasn’t actually one. Some women spoke about the glow Advani ji had on his face. Some others said “kam bole par bahut acha bole. (he spoke less but spoke very well).”
And some others who thought they were worried about the state of the nation asked “mandir banega ki nahi? (Will the temple be made or not?)”. With the Babri Masjid out of the way the first step towards the making of the temple had been made.
The slogan going around was “ye to kewal jhanki hai, kaashi mathura baaki hai (This was a just a trailer, Kashi and Mathura are still remaining).” Ranchi was a hardcore BJP constituency returning its candidate Ram Tahal Choudhary to the Lok Sabha four times in a row between 1991 and 2004.
People who had gone to Ayodhya from Ranchi as kar sevaks became minor celebrities once they came back. One of my older friends claimed to have met one such person who had told him “ke masjidwa ekbak hi gir gaya (The masjid fell rather suddenly with ekbak being the Ranchi lingo for suddenly)”.
So those were the days.
Its late in the night as I sit writing this and wonder about all that has changed since December 6, 1992.
Vinod Kambli now sports a weird hairstyle and recently had an angioplasty. He never fulfilled all the potential he showed in the early 1990s. He is probably the only test player to have played just 18 tests with a batting average of 54.
Captains now regularly use spin bowlers to open the bowling in T20s, one day internationals as well as test cricket. Ravichandran Ashwin, India’s latest spinning sensation is regarded as the best new ball spinner in the world. Talk about oxymorons!
Ranchi now has much better hotels. And it no longer votes for the BJP. Since 2004 its turned to the Congress and voted for Subodh Kant Sahay, who till very recently was a minister in the Union government but has since been dropped due to his role in the coalgate scam.
Nobody listens to the BBC Radio in India any more. Very few watch its World News Service on cable television. And Cibaca Sangeet Mala has been long gone.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee went onto become the Prime Minister of India and started travelling in bullet proof BMWs, with the days when a small town boy could catch a glimpse of him sitting in the front seat of a Maruti Omni being over.
Pramod Mahajan was murdered by his younger brother.
Ameen Sayani’s voice still continues to be strong. On the two occasions I have heard him live in the last two years I went back to the time two decades back when life was fun and simple.
The internet hindus who are highly educated, well paid and normally upper caste, have replaced the kar sevaks who largely belonged to the middle class and the lower classes.
Today we have mobile phones and the internet unlike two decades back. If an incident like this were to happen, the media would cover it in a more detailed manner. If they are thrown out like they had been 20 years back, the kar sevaks (or should we be saying the internet Hindus) would be recording the event on their mobile phones and uploading pictures on Facebook with messages like “I was there.”
But some things are still the same.
Dawood Ibrahim continues to be a free man.
Lal Krishna Advani still goes on rath yatras whenever he does get the time and still hopes to become the Prime Minister of this country some day.
Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar ironically continues to look like the best batsman we have.
And Rahul Gandhi is still a bachelor!

The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on December 6, 2012.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])

What the BJP can learn from Coca Cola?

Vivek Kaul

It was October 1990. I was thirteen. In a pre cable TV, multiplexes and mall era, just about the only thing that got a teenager in a small town excited, was the twice a week Chitrahar on Wednesdays and Fridays, broadcast by Delhi Doordarshan.
Unless of course there was a cricket match on! But cricket was not played as often as it is today. And not everything was broadcast on the state owned Doordarshan.
Hence it was very exciting when Lal Krishna Advani arrived late one night to stay “overnight” in the guest house in the colony I lived in. Advani, during those days, was going around the country as a part of what he and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) called the rath yatra.
Early next morning, before he was supposed to leave, a small crowd which included me had gathered in front of the guest house. He came out and was requested to speak a few words. I don’t remember anything of what he said except the last line, which was “saugandh Ram ki khaate hain, mandir wohin banayenge”.
He was out of the place in five minutes. But the crowd that had gathered continued to mingle around. Some were happy at having seen him. Some were amazed to know that his rath wasn’t actually one. Some women spoke about the glow Advani ji had on his face. And some others were worried. “Mandir banega ki nahi?” they asked.
I pretty much had the same feeling as everyone else, but what I was most happy about was the fact that I would be a minor celebrity in the school next day, having seen Advani when none of my classmates had.
Advani was arrested a few days later before the rath yatra could enter Uttar Pradesh. As he writes in his autobiography My Country My Life “My yatra was scheduled to enter Deoria in Uttar Pradesh on 24 October. However, as I had anticipated, it was stopped at Samastipur in Bihar on 23 October and I was arrested by the Janata Dal government in the state then headed by Laloo Prasad Yadav (sic). I was taken to an inspection bungalow of the irrigation department at a place called Massanjore near Dumka on the Bihar-Bengal border (Dumka now comes under the state of Jharkhand).”
We all know what happened in the aftermath of the rath yatra. But as I grew older, I kept asking myself, why did Advani say what he did? Why was it so important to build a temple there? Didn’t the country have bigger issues which needed to be sorted out first? And so on.
Political party as a brand
All my questions were answered the day I realised that every political party is a brand and a brand needs to stand for something. It needs a story that can be told to people, so that people can go buy the brand by supporting it and by voting for it.
In the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, the Congress Party had swept the Lok Sabha elections, with the BJP winning only two seats. Given the sorry performance the party needed to stand for something in the minds of the Indian voter.
Brand BJP was built on the war cry of “saugandh Ram ki khaate hain mandir wohin banayenge”. This ensured that the party was able to increase the number of seats in the Lok Sabha from 2 in 1984, to 88 in 1989 and 118 in 1991.
The party espoused for causes like making temples in Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura. It talked about banning cow slaughter, having a uniform civil code, and doing away with the Article 370, that gives special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. All this was music to the ears of voters across Northern and Western India and the party catapulted from being a political front of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to having an identity of its own.
BJP’s story was that it stood for the cause of Hindus and Hindutva. And it was not the only political party that came with a story attached to it. Almost every political party that has risen in India in the last three to four decades has had a story attached to it.
The Kanshi Ram story
Kanshi Ram launched the Dalit Soshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti or DS4 as it was more popularly called, with the war cry “Thakur, Brahmin, Bania Chhod, Baki Sab Hain DS4.” This left no doubt in anybody’s mind that Kanshi Ram and DS4 stood for everyone who wasn’t an upper caste.
Kanshi Ram probably realised the power of the slogan he had hit upon. He came up with another slogan along similar lines when he launched the Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP). “Tilak Tarazu aur Talwaar, inko maaro joote chaar” was the rallying cry of the BSP (with Tilak, Tarazu and Talwar being the representation of the Brahman, Bania and Thakur castes, the upper castes).
Or let’s take the case of Left Front in West Bengal. The front which comprised of various communist parties stood for what the Sonia Gandhi led UPA calls the aam aadmi. It positioned itself as being pro-poor and anti big business. When the Left Front first came to power, share croppers where handed over land after taking it over from wealthy landlords. Teak trees were planted in front of homes by Left Front members where a girl child was born, so that the tree could be cut when she was of marriageable age and money for the wedding expenses could be raised.
In the late seventies and early eighties the Left brand also stood for “trade unions” which bargained hard in the interest of the workers. This over the years ensured that most industrialists shut shop and left for other parts of the country. But this didn’t really have any impact on the voter base of the Left Front which remained committed because what the Front was doing was in line with the story it had sold to the voters.
Why the story is important
The story that a political party sells to its voters is very important and it should hold for a very long period of time. Take the case of Janata Dal which was formed by the merger of the various factions of the erstwhile Janata Party, which were the Lok Dal, Congress (S) and the VP Singh led Jan Morcha.
The story that the party successfully sold to the voters was that it would introduced 27.5% reservation for other backward classes (OBCs) in government jobs, as had been proposed by the Mandal Commission.
The story was lapped by the votes and the party won 142 seats in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections.
Despite student protests erupting all across the country, starting with Rajiv Goswami burning himself in front of Deshbandu College in New Delhi, reservations were introduced. No political party could be seen going against this legislation.
The trouble was once Mandal Commission became a reality what did the Janata Dal stand for in the mind of the voter? Nothing. This soon led to the regional satraps forming their own parties like the Mulayam Singh Yadav led Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, Lalu Prasad Yadav led Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar and the Nitish Kumar-George Fernandes led Samta Party also in Bihar.
The end of Janata Dal led to the coining of one of the most memorable though underrated slogans in Indian politics: “Thakur buddhi, Yadav bal, jhandu ho gaya Janta Dal.” (where thakur was in reference to VP Singh who was a rajput).
Hence a political party needs to stand for something in the mind of the voter. If it doesn’t it meets the fate of a party like Janata Dal.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it
Buddhadeb Bhattacharya became the Chief Minister of West Bengal in 2000, taking over after Jyoti Basu had been the Chief Minister for 23years. Bhattacharya tried to get big business to come back to Kolkata, so that jobs could be created.
But the trouble was Bengal was not a state used to the ways of professional business. If BPOs had to set shop then they had to work every day their foreign clients were working. So was the case with IT companies. But in a state where bandhs were way of life, how would that be possible?
Buddha Babu asked his party carder not to disturb BPO employees on their way to work on “bandh” days. This was the first dint to the Left brand. Then the heavy industry companies wanted to set shop, given that labour in Bengal was cheaper than other parts of the country and the government was ready to welcome them.
This was where all the trouble started. Almost all land in Bengal is agriculture land. And every time an industrialist wants to set shop it leads to some farmers being put out of job. Things escalated when the party carder in Nandigram resorted to violence against farmers who were protesting. The same was the case with Singur, where the Tata Nano plant was supposed to come up.
When a communist party (or rather parties) start beating up farmers, it need not be said that it does do any good to the identity and brand and the story they have carefully cultivated over the years.
This in no way means that industrialization is not important or should not have been pursued by the Left Front government, but it was definitely not done in the way it was. This of course went totally against the anti industry image that the Left Front carried in the minds of people. The same Left Front whose trade unions went cholbe na cholbe na against industries and industrialists was now catering to their demands, felt people of the state. Communists had become capitalists. The practitioners of all that Karl Marx had espoused for were now vouching for the principles of Adam Smith.
There was clearly a branding problem. The gap was filled by Mamata Banerjee who now stands for everything that the Left Front had stood for, warts and all.
India shining
The year was 2004 and I was travelling in a local bus in Hyderabad, excited about the new mobile phone I had bought. The phone suddenly buzzed and it was a Delhi number, the first call on my new mobile. I picked up the call and heard the voice on the other end say “main Atal Bihari Vajpayee bol raha hoon”.
It took me a few seconds to realize that it was an automated call in the voice of the Prime Minister of the country asking the voters to vote for the BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
The party had decided to abandon its soft-Hindutva branding and decided to go in for what it thought was a more mass market campaign of “India shining”.
The party lost the elections and has been in opposition ever since.
What BJP can learn from Coca Cola
Donald R Keough, a former president of the Coca-Cola Company, in his book The Ten Commandments for Business Failure elaborates on what happens when the story associated with a brand is changed.
A slew of research and consultants told the top brass at Coca-Cola that people were looking for more sweetness in the product. This led to the launch the ‘New Coke’.
What followed was a disaster that went totally against what the consultants had predicted. People did not like the tinkering. And some of them started to hoard old coke, before the stocks ran out..
One day an old woman called a Coke call centre. Here is how Keough recounts this touching story.
. “It was an eighty-five year woman who convinced me we had to do something more than stay course. She had called the company in tears from a retirement home in Covina, California. I happened to be visiting the call centre and took the call. “You’ve taken away my Coke,” she sobbed. “When was the last time you had Coke?” I asked. “Oh, I don’t know. About twenty, twenty-five years ago.” “Then why are you so upset?” I asked. “Young man, you are playing around with my youth and you should stop it right now. Don’t you have any idea what Coke means to me?”
This made the top brass at Coke realise that they are not dealing with a taste or a marketing issue, but the idea or the story behind Coca-Cola. It was the “real-thing” and the consumers did not want any fiddling around with it. Immediately a decision was made to bring back the old Coke as “Coca-Cola Classic”.
To conclude
As marketing guru Seth Godin writes in All Marketers are Liars “Great stories happen fast. They engage the consumer the moment the story clicks into place. First impressions are more powerful than we give them credit for.”
Given this getting rid of first impressions in the minds of the voter is very difficult. This does not apply for the Congress Party, which has been around for so long that it doesn’t really stand for anything and hence can change forms like a chameleon.
So if the BJP has to pose any sort of challenge to the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in the next Lok Sabha elections it needs to go back to what it has always stood for in the mind of the voter: Hindutva. Like Coca Cola, it has to go back to stand for what it used to in the mind of the voter.
What it needs to decide on is the degree of Hindutva? Does it want to follow the hard line approach that it did in the late 1980s and the early 1990s with slogans like “ye to kewal jhaanki hai, kaashi mathura baaki hai” or does it want to follow the soft Hindutva strategy that it did when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was at his peak.
Given this, there is no one better than leader than Narendra Modi who can project the attributes of the pro Hindutva line. The trouble of course with Modi is that he comes across as a hardliner. Hence it’s important for Modi and the BJP that the spin-doctors of the party get to work immediately trying to soften up his image, so that his acceptability goes up across sections he is not currently popular with.
(The article originally appeared at www.firstpost.com on June 6,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/politics/political-brands-what-the-bjp-can-learn-from-coca-cola-333964.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])