Bloodied road to Delhi
The imagery of a sad, old man who has been betrayed by his protégé and is now, in the winter of his life, nursing his wounds forgotten and discarded is a compelling one.
One feels sorry for this humiliation at the fag end of a man’s life, that too a man who did so much and so selflessly to build up his organisation; to be now discarded and told that he is just not wanted anymore must hurt.
But, for all those who lived through the terrible days of the rath yatra in 1990 and saw the chain of violence throughout the country, it is difficult to feel sorry for L.K. Advani. To those who may have not been born or have short memories or worse, convenient memories that have no room for unpleasant truths, one can only say — go back and read your history. You don’t have to dig into books or access newspaper archives. The Internet has sufficient resources that will tell you the whole gruesome saga of a planned campaign to polarise the country on the basis of religion for political gains.
As Mr Advani’s rath yatra wended its way through the land, it left behind death and destruction in its wake. Everywhere he went, there were riots and mayhem. The fervour that was built up inevitably led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid two years later, a seminal moment in India’s history.
Mr Advani called the yatra “an exhilarating period in my life.” The Bharatiya Janata Party upped its parliamentary numbers from 85 to 120 in the next elections and eight years later, came to power. Political pundits therefore call
Mr Advani as the “man who built up the BJP.”
That the architect of that bloody strategy is now considered an avuncular and inclusive figure, much more preferable to his protégé Narendra Modi is one of those great ironies of this nation, which seems to be determined to ignore its own history. What has happened in the BJP is nothing but a churning, as old gives way to the new;
Mr Advani was given two chances but he muffed them. His colleagues are therefore telling him that his days are over and a younger, more vigorous and even more clear-eyed leader needs to take over. The programme has not changed, only the personalities.
Which is also why it is difficult to be enthused by Mr Modi, much as his rabid fan club tries to tell us that he is now all about economic development. The media has gone berserk over Mr Modi’s “anointment” and in all the coverage in the newspapers and on television there is no mention of the brutality of the pogrom of 2002 that happened under his watch. Over the last few years, the national conversation — which is really for and by the middle class — has moved towards “economic growth” to the complete disregard of any other issue.
Mr Modi and his advisers, to say nothing of his backers, have figured out that as long as the narrative of him as a no-nonsense man who can cut through the red tape and promote industrialisation is kept centrestage, people will gradually forget about what happened all those years ago, when hundreds of people were brutally killed. And that is exactly how it has played out. (That even the growth argument is open to challenge is another matter.) In a country now obsessed with “Breaking News” rather than perspective, who recalls or cares about the events of 2002?
But we cannot forget. Real people are involved here. Their lives were destroyed and even today the survivors live in abject conditions. Justice is far away and though some perpetrators (such as Maya Kodnani, rewarded with a ministership) have been convicted, others have not been brought to book. Those who bring up such inconvenient truths can be shouted down on television channels and bombarded with abusive tweets, but this is a reality that will not disappear. Nor is this just an obsession with a few NGOs, as smooth talking “independent” pundits sometimes say in panel discussions. Who knows what the voters are thinking?
Much coverage has been devoted to the political implications of Mr Modi’s nomination. Words like polarisation, votebanks, allies are being thrown about. The many failures of the United Progressive Alliance and the relative merits of BJP state governments are discussed and numbers calculated. It is as if politics operates in a social vacuum, where people and their lives don’t matter; they are just voters who are to be manipulated in any which way, even if sometimes the methods are a bit bloody.
But just like the road to Delhi was paved with the corpses of many innocent victims, this time, too, any success will be built on the one of the worst communal killings in independent India’s history. You may choose to ignore any reference to Gujarat 2002, you may rationalise it by saying that economic development trumps everything else, you may even claim that Mr Modi is a changed man, who genuinely feels pain even at the accidental death of a “kutte ka pilla” and, therefore, deserves a chance. Perhaps, given the vagaries of the Indian electoral system, he may even get a chance. After all, there is no denying that millions of people, including young, highly educated, aspirational and globalised Indians do support him. That momentum may see him reach Delhi in the next few months. Yet, we cannot feel sorry for Mr Advani for his predicament and we cannot feel joy at the prospect of his one-time protégé becoming the Prime Minister of India.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org