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August 24, 2012

Fall Of The Fanatic: Is Advani The New Rakhi Sawant Of Indian Politics?

[From my column OBVIOUSLY OPAQUE in the UTS VOICE, 16-31 August, 2012. Republished in the Counter CurrentsThe Kashmir Monitor and The Milli Gazette]


‘You should write a political marsia for L.K. Advani’, suggested a friend of mine last Friday. ‘A political marsia’, he repeated, ‘Arabic for elegy, a dirge or a funeral song.’

I was stunned and uncertain. This was an uncertainty caused by not knowing what shocked me more: the request of writing one for someone whose ideas and deeds I find sickening, or with the term itself – as one does not, generally, talk badly of someone who has already gone.
‘He has not yet retired yet’, was all that I could manage as a response.

He gets all over the news every once in a while’, was my feeble follow-up volley.

'So does Rakhi Sawant’, pat came the retort. ‘Does it make her a good actress, or a name to reckon with in whatever else she does? If not, then how does Advani’s being in news, every once in a while, make him any better?’

L.K. Advani was, once, a toughie’, he continued, ‘a rabble rouser who stirred the passions of impoverished masses and never thought twice about letting them loose on equally, or, often more, impoverished ones. Creating chaos came naturally to him. It was bound to. He came from that part of pre-partition India that is now Pakistan, the land of chaos, after all. Being born in Karachi in those communally charged times was reason enough in itself to become a fanatic, and then this one joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – that fountainhead of sectarian hatred. What else can you expect of someone born out of such a heady, explosive concoction?’

‘Yet, he was political unlike many of his protégés.’

Hearing this from my friend, who has despised the man and his party as much as I do, was a shocker. His rath-yatra left a trail of blood and gore perhaps worse than the one Narendra Modi orchestrated and administered on Muslim minorities in his state in 2002. Yet, my friend continued, almost condescendingly ignoring the disbelief written all over my face.

The man has a politics, however regressive, but still politics. With all his active support to the politics of violence, it was never the end for him’, he noted. ‘The end was something more sinister, yet something far less violent, in terms of physical violence that is. It is the only thing that explains his later acceptability in the National Democratic Alliance. No doubt, NDA was very hesitant, unlike the insider's treatment that Atal Behari Vajpayee got. Yet, he was not loathed, as Narendra Modi was by the likes of Nitish Kumar. Why? Because, he had a politics unlike the later ones, who believed in violence for the sake of violence, and engaged in massacres for the sake of massacres.

Now, being the last politician standing, amongst the thugs espousing Hindutva in the country, he deserves a political obituary, doesn't he?’ was the question put to me.

We were sitting in a house 5000 kilometers away from where Advani was. The beautiful evening, which would herald us into a much awaited weekend, had started on a promising note: with me lustily staring at the wine bottle. To top it, the living room was huge, almost palatial, in a city that has taken the idea of being cramped to altogether new heights, literally. Palatial here, by the way, means 700 square feet for a full apartment.

What is more, we had agreed to refrain from discussing all that is ugly in the big bad world out there as we get more than enough of that in our professional lives as human rights defenders. Hunger, death, corruption, extra-judicial killings, massacres – our lives, and desks, are so full of doing our bit in dealing with them five days a week, fifty weeks a year!

The ambience was surreal. Lazing around, with nothing much to talk, we had decided not to talk about negatives. But, positive things get exhausted so quickly. This was a magical silence, one that helped us get enchanted with late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s voice seeping out of player. Baba, as we fondly call him, is our constant companion, the redeemer of redemption of our voice in a city whose language often renders us into silence.

Bliss it was.

And, then I made the blunder of switching the television on. Gosh, there he was. Shouting and apologizing alternatively. That is how Advani infiltrated our blissful evening. That is how he jolted us out of a lazy Friday. It was the moment of revelation: good things really do not last long.

‘This Advani, will he ever retire?’ It was the first question to commemorate this unwanted intrusion. ‘What he is up to now’, was the second one. Rapid fire rants continued with an assertion: ‘He must have said something dirty and then taken it back, apologizing.

This was bang on target, as we were to learn later. The veteran, toughie that he once was, has shot himself in the foot, yet again. And, that too, on a day he was supposed to lead Bhartiya Janata Party’s charge against a government already cornered inside and outside parliament. It was a perfect setting, a perfect launch pad for the agitator’s comeback.

The government was under one of the most vicious attacks it has ever endured since the 2G days. With several of his deadlines for bringing the black money back expiring unattended, Baba Ramdev had decided to march to the Parliament. Ramdev, one has to concede, for his pet cause, had got the address of black money right. Unlike Team Anna, he had quite a few supporters cheering him. Adding to the woes of government was the popular anger against the regime's failure to arrest the violence in Assam, a state ruled by Congress itself.

Advani messed it all up. He started with the roar of a lion, calling UPA illegitimate, and soon ended up in a meow, explaining what he had meant and what he had not. The aggression followed by the hasty retreat had achieved something as rare as Sonia Gandhi leading the counter-attack from the front. Additionally, it was not a reluctant defense, like the one she had to put after the no-holds-barred misogynist attack on her person by Pramod Mahajan, when he compared her to Monika Lewinski

As an aside: misogyny is hardwired into the very structure of RSS/BJP, in fact, and keeps oozing out of the statements of its tallest leaders like Atal Behari Vajpayee, who once taunted Sonia Gandhi for being a 'widow' as if she 'chose' it and then completing the insult by reminding her that he too was a 'bachelor.' Whether he was eligible or not, he chose not to elaborate, much to the relief of a disgusted citizenry. Judging by his statements, Advani comes up, surprisingly, as less of a misogynist than many members of his partly, including Sushma Swaraj of the I-will-live-like-a-widow-if-Sonia-becomes-Prime-Minister fame. But, that is, counting his speeches and not his worldview, of course.

Returning to Advani’s meow: Sonia sprang into a thunderous rebuttal on the allegation of ‘illegitimacy’, terming it 'as an insult to the electorate.' This was a lightening assault, pushing the veteran on the back-foot. With the counter-attack, premised on insult of the mandate, Advani found himself fumbling. He had managed to add yet another feather to his cap: that of making another non-performer perform – quite like Indian bowlers are notorious for doing: providing immense opportunities for out of form batsmen to score centuries and find form.

This follows Advani’s miraculous feat of bringing the best ever statement, out of the otherwise always do-nothing-say-nothing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has dubbed him 'Permanent Prime Minister in waiting'.

Advani's meow had an interesting outcome. It was now the BJP in a totally defensive mode, on a day the pain should have been that of the Congress. The Congress party had survived yet another day that it should not have and did not deserve to; and the credit went not to its worthless fire-fighter, but the general of the opposition camp. The glee on the faces in Congress camp was for all to see, as was the gloom in the BJP benches.

Ominously, for him and his party, this was not the first time Advani had committed a self-goal. He seems to have put in a lot of effort to become an expert at self-goals. Even the apology to Sonia was nothing new. He had done the same earlier. He had, on an earlier occasion, named Sonia Gandhi as one who has stashed black money in tax havens abroad, only to retreat into an apology as soon as Sonia hit back. He has done it at Mohammad Ali Zinna's mausoleum, calling him secular, and, in the process, unwittingly taken a little venom out of his party's tireless campaign against minorities.

He has done it on his blog
, predicting the ascent to power of a non-Congress-non-NDA alliance in the 2014 polls, and invited the wrath of the ever-vitriolic Bal Thackeray. As if calling him a 'losing' general was not enough, Thackeray rubbed salt onto his wounds by offering his 'learned' counsel to clear Advani's doubts and boost his morale. Think of the gravity of a Hindutva minnow teaching its chief architect. One can feel the pain this insult must have caused Advani.

Advani, evidently, has lost the plot. Worse, even for him, is that he has no clue where or how he lost it in the first place. The politics he has decided to be part of stands defeated by the very ones he has handpicked as his successors, especially Narendra Modi, the chosen one. No one stands for the ideals – i.e. if you can call a belief in subjugating women, dalits, minorities and all others as ideals – he has so painstakingly tried to inflict on the body-politic of the nation. He does not find a taker of his idea of a 'Hindu nation' in his own party, though there are a thousand squabbling for the coveted post of the Prime Minister, which has eluded him all along.

He is a defeated man – defeated, not by the enemy, but by his own self-goals and the realities of his own camp – defeated, not by a realization about how venomous the politics he has espoused all his life was, but, by all the sex, sleaze, and subversions his heirs use to make it succeed. He might have been political, as my friend suggests, but his politics was a regressive and reprehensible one. His rath, the chariot he rode to power, has left a trail of blood behind it.

That he did not pay the price, but enjoyed the power that emanated out of all the blood on his hands is a failure of the system we live in, and not his success. He might have never been convicted.
Yet, his role in causing all that mayhem is clear to me.

He was responsible for 1990. And for 2002.

He might have lost his personal battle. The poison he has infused in the veins of nation is yet to be purged. It is going to be a hard task, but, I would much rather be part of that.
Let him live with this ignominious defeat of his. I will never write a marsia, political or otherwise for him. Period.

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