A.G. Noorani, May 15, 2006, Hindustan Times
The fact that L.K. Advani called off the flop that was his yatra, citing terrible tragedy to save face, is no reason for not discussing the baleful consequences of his inherently divisive venture. One mentions only his ‘yatra’ because if the president of the BJP, Rajnath Singh, chooses to play Sancho Panza to his Don Quixote, it is not his yatra but his low self-esteem that calls for comment.
“My yatra is against minorityism,” L.K. Advani declared on April 11. For over a decade he has tirelessly denounced two phantoms of his own making, both inelegantly named — ‘minorityism’ and ‘pseudo-secularism’. ‘Minorityism’ was coined by Gopal Singh who headed a 10-member high power panel on minorities, scheduled castes and tribes and other weaker sections. Its report of June 14, 1983 said, ‘the sense of discrimination now prevailing among the minorities must be eliminated, root and branch, if we want the minorities to form an effective part of the mainstream. For this, two things are absolutely necessary. Wherever the government has to make appointments through nominations, as in the case of governing bodies of banks and other public undertakings, utmost care should be taken to have a fair number of the minorities representatives, especially at the decision-making levels. Similarly, every recruiting agency or services commission must have an adequate number of their representatives, so that the sense of discrimination now prevailing may end.’ Advani’s concept of ‘minorityism’ is of the Hindutva variety; not one that Gopal Singh had in mind.
The same is true for ‘pseudo-secularism’ which K.M. Munshi coined. Though sympathetic to the RSS, he could still denounce, as he did on August 15, 1948, ‘the Hindu anti-thesis’ to the Pakistani thesis, which distrusted, denounced ‘all Muslims of India’. In his view, ‘these extreme outposts of the Pakistan thesis and its anti-thesis are fanatical and form dangerous elements in our secular State.’ One would like to hear a similar censure from Advani. He lacks honesty and pride to stand on his own feet on Hindutva and borrows ideological crutches which do not help him one bit to stand on his own feet.
Yatras are undertaken to purify oneself. Advani undertakes them to spread communal hate. The 1990 yatra sought to bring the Ayodhya issue to a boil. The VHP and the Bajrang Dal provided the muscle. At Ujjain he was presented with weapons. As Richard H. Davis records, activists ‘often welcomed him by applying tilak of blood on his forehead’. Blood flowed freely in its aftermath.
The 1992 yatra undertaken with Murli Manohar Joshi was part of a ruse immediately prior to the demolition of the Babri masjid, as the Organiser gleefully revealed on December 13, 1992: ‘The game plan was not to allow the Centre to pre-empt the arrival of kar sevaks at Ayodhya… apprehending that this tactical move might be misconstrued by the rank and file’. Advani and Joshi ‘were asked to set out on yatras commencing from Varanasi and Mathura, respectively’. They met at Ayodhya a day before the demolition.
Home Minister S.B. Chavan told Parliament of Joshi’s yatra to Srinagar on January 22, 1992, “The tone and tenor of the speeches during the yatra have led to accentuating communal polarisation in some areas.” It had united the militants and efforts to contain them suffered a ‘setback’.
A yatra is but an elongated procession. India has a history of communal riots triggered off by processions; from the Ranchi riots of August 1967, the Ahmedabad riots of October 1969, the Bhiwandi riots in May 1970, the Jamshedpur riots in April 1979, right down to the Varanasi riots in November 1991. The pattern is clear. Provocative slogans are shouted calculatedly in particular localities leading to predictable outbreak of violence all over the town for which preparations had long been made.
Northern Ireland was set aflame by a yatra, called the Orange March, on August 12, 1969. The fires raged till 2005. The Orange March, like the Hindutva yatra, is a show of strength designed to spread a sectarian message, invoking false history.
Now, Advani has reverted to this strategy in sheer desperation. In 1995 he gave the Prime Minister’s crown to A.B. Vajpayee, belatedly and reluctantly on the eve of the polls. In 2005, he yielded the BJP’s presidentship to Rajnath Singh at the RSS’s behest. His yatra has three objectives — to revive its faith in him; his standing in the BJP and in the Hindutva constituency. The three together will ensure, at the minimum, that he cannot be put on the shelf; hopefully, he might regain lost sheen.
He has miscalculated hopelessly. Slights to Rajnath Singh were ill-received by the RSS as well as the BJP cadres.
It is said of Sylvio Berlusconi that he ‘prospered by treating politics as entertainment’ and George W. Bush, ‘by treating war as politics’. Lal Kishen Advani has prospered by arousing and exploiting communal feeling. It is not a game any politician, even the most skilful, can play for long. Advani’s skills, such as they were, evaporated. Only ambition survives. Indians have a healthy distrust for overly ambitious politicians.