In sharp contrast to the Opposition chorus on L K Advani’s interview to The Indian Express, leaders of his party and the RSS were either silent or claimed his remarks were not meant for them.
Advani had said that forces that can “crush democracy” are stronger and that he doesn’t have the confidence to say that the Emergency cannot happen again. He added there were “deficiencies” in the (political) leadership and that’s why he was apprehensive. For the Opposition, this was a reference, very thinly veiled, to the Narendra Modi government, the first majority government in 30 years.
For BJP spokesperson M J Akbar, however, Advani’s comments were not aimed at individuals but at institutions.
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“I think Advaniji was referring to institutions rather than to individuals. I respect his views but I personally don’t see Emergency, any chance of any Emergency, being reimposed in the country. I think that age is over, Indian democracy is too strong, much stronger now,” he said.
Asked if the message was meant for Modi, RSS ideologue M G Vaidya said: “I don’t feel anything like that. He (Advani) is quite senior in age and experience. So he can talk to Modi. He is in the Margdarshak Mandal of BJP. I don’t think he has an intention of sending a message to Modi through this interview.”
Party general secretary P Muralidhar Rao, too, echoed this. “I do not think he has taken BJP leadership in view when he made the remarks. His comments, I think, are on the political parties in our country and their values in governance. It can’t be a take on either BJP or Communist parties. To say it was a comment on BJP will be stretching the imagination too far. He doesn’t have any doubt regarding internal democracy in the BJP and its commitment to its ideology,” Rao said.
H Raja, national secretary of BJP said he did not agree with Advani’s observations. “By saying that the ‘forces that can crush democracy, notwithstanding the constitutional and legal safeguards, are stronger,’ he must have been talking about forces such as terrorists and Naxalites who are increasingly pose a threat to Indian democracy. Otherwise, there is no threat to Indian democracy under the rule of Narendra Modi as he himself is a great democrat. As long as Modiji is there, nobody can make an attempt to crush democracy and we are all sure that Modiji will never take such a step suspending democracy and civil liberties like happened four decades ago,” he said.
When asked about Advani’s remark on political leadership (Today, I do not say that the political leadership is not mature. But kamiyon ke karan, vishwas nahin hota (I don’t have faith because of its weaknesses), Raja said the present political leadership of the country and the BJP are much stronger than ever.
“Present leadership of BJP is strong enough to protect democracy and this will continue as long as Modiji rules the nation,” he said.
“The context in which he made those comments must be seen. I’m sure these were not aimed at the Narendra Modi government.
Advaniji’s comments are being blown out of proportion. He has seen and borne the brunt of the Emergency. He would never want the Emergency era to return,” said Maharashtra BJP chief Raosaheb Danve Tamilisai Soundararajan, BJP state president in Tamil Nadu, said Advani was one of the leaders who fought against the Emergency.
“As a schoolgoing girl, I remember the days of Emergency when my father, who belonged to a Congress faction that opposed Emergency, was arrested and imprisoned for around two months. And such a situation curtailing and suspending democracy and civil liberties will never happen under the rule of Narendra Modi. Modiji may be assertive and take strong steps to get things done. As he himself is a democrat and he believes in it, his actions will only help to strengthen democracy. He cannot be a dictator. And there is no need for a doubt about the strength of political leadership too,” she said.
Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Sangh’s General Secretary Prabhakar Kelkar, who had been in jail for 16 months during Emergency, said that Advani’s comments have nothing to do with the style of functioning of the present government or the leadership of BJP. But he said, “Enough safeguards must be there to stop the imposition of emergency or the situation like that. Those (Emergency days) were very bad days for the country and democracy.”
Another senior RSS pracharak from the Kisan Sangh said that Advani, through his interview, may have “advised” the “full-majority BJP government” that it should further amend the Constitution to “protect democracy.”
Another pracharak, however, called for a more pragmatic reception. “The current leadership of the government and that of the BJP should not dismiss but try to understand Advani’s comments.”