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L K Advani: Organiser to primary member

He charted the BJP's growth from bit player to ruling party.

Written by Pradeep Kaushal | New Delhi |
June 11, 2013 3:14:52 am

He charted the BJP’s growth from bit player to ruling party. Along the way,he also sought a makeover in image from hardliner to moderate

As the RSS mentored the growth and expansion of the Jana Sangh,two people stood out for their fluency in English: Lal Krishna Advani and K R Malkani. The Sangh nurtured both. Malkani,who wrote well,ended up being the editor of the party newspaper,The Motherland. Advani,erudite,articulate and gifted with extraordinary organisational skills,became president of the party. Related: Enter Narendra Modi,exit L K Advani

Using those skills,Advani gradually acquired a complete RSS mandate to run and control first the Jana Sangh,and later its more liberal reincarnation,the BJP. It was a task he accomplished with a remarkable sense of ability. He built the organisation,took it to the farthest ends of the country,gave it a distinct ideological profile and firmly established it as a second pole opposite the Congress in the Indian polity. The credit for building the BJP into the second largest party — from two Lok Sabha seats to 182 in 1999 — goes entirely to Advani,agree those who have worked with him.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani between themselves provided a dual leadership,which came to be known as the Atal-Advani jodi in BJP folklore. Vajpayee,however,generally showed very little interest in organisational affairs and left that part to Advani. Though seen as rivals,the two worked mostly in tandem,with Advani faithfully playing a slight second to former prime minister Vajpayee. There was no room for a third person at the top. If anyone did showed any such ambition,as Murli Manohar Joshi did,they would get together to cut him to size.

Advani,85,has fought many political battles since 1947 when he,barely 20,became the secretary of the Karachi unit of the RSS. He never lacked in ideas or the guts to slug it out. When V P Singh tried to outmanoeuvre his adversaries by implementing the Mandal report,Advani took him on with his counter-mass mobilisation movement through the Ram Rath Yatra. If he saw the BJP fall short of a majority even under Vajpayee,he cobbled together an alliance,the NDA,even if it forced the party to put its key ideological issues on the backburner.

Today,a leader cast in such a mould has resigned all party posts,choosing to staying as a primary member of the party. The provocation is not just the appointment of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the chairman of the party’s campaign committee for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Advani had given his consent to the move when party chief Rajnath Singh had met him ahead of the Goa national executive.

Advani had suggested to Rajnath that he “give some responsibility” — such as the election management committee — to Nitin Gadkari,something which Rajnath apparently was not keen on.

Among various things understood to have put Advani off,one is the way Modi works. A feeling has gained ground in the BJP ranks that Modi would now use his new post to muscle his way through and style himself as the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP,with or without the approval of senior party leaders,or the endorsement of NDA partners. This is essentially Advani’s last battle to hold the line. The feeling is that while he seems to have given up,Advani is actually fighting on.

In the wake of Modi’s rise and Advani’s apparent sidelining,several critics believe the latter is reaping what he had himself sown. It was his Ram Rath Yatra,they point out,that had stoked the communal fires that went on to provide the backdrop for the Gujarat riots of 2002.

Advani,meanwhile,had been using the successful NDA experiment to try turning a new leaf,an effort highlighted by his comments on Mohd Ali Jinnah in the course of his tour of Pakistan in 2005. His description of Jinnah as a secular leader during a visit to his mausoleum misfired and a livid RSS punished him by ousting him from the party presidency. The Sangh,however,got over this and finally agreed to his projection as the prime ministerial candidate in 2009. But this time,the outcome went against him.

Most politicians tend to get out of the scene at Advani’s age,either due to illness or irrelevance. Advani does not suffer from either drawback. “The only health problem I have is it is very good,” Advani once said. Compared to the younger BJP leaders,who are all in their early sixties,Advani does not need pills to control his blood pressure or sugar levels.

And as the tallest leader in their ranks,he remains the most acceptable to coalition partners. His presence continues to make the more ambitious BJP leaders fidgety that he might finally emerge the first choice of NDA partners,both present and future,for the prime ministerial candidacy — hence the impatience with him.

The demonstration by a handful of Modi loyalists outside Advani’s home to make him give up his opposition to the latter’s ascendancy is symbolic of this feeling. “Was this tamasha the only thing left for us to see now?” a despondent aide of Advani said in response to telephone calls of senior BJP leaders from Goa. Advani himself never came on the line.

The RSS directive to the BJP is to persuade Advani to withdraw his resignation. But that is unlikely without the RSS itself stepping in and and tilting the scales either way. Or even keeping them level.



Elected as secretary of RSS in Karachi


Member of Bharatiya Jana Sangh,president in 1975


Jana Sangh merges into Janata Party,formed after Emergency. After polls,Advani becomes I&B minister in Morarji Desai government


Leaders with Jana Sangh roots quit Janata Party,which later disintegrates. BJP formed


Advani becomes BJP president


BJP helps V P Singh’s Janata Dal to power; Advani launches Ram Janmabhoomi movement


Advani’s rath yatra,followed by Babri structure demolition later that year


NDA in power; Advani made home minister,later deputy prime minister. This phase sees Kargil conflict as well as allegations of alleged payments through hawala brokers; Advani later discharged by Supreme Court


NDA loses,Advani becomes leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha. This phase sees rebellion by Uma Bharti and Madan Lal Khurana,besides criticism of Advani by Murli Manohar Joshi


Visit to Pakistan,praise for Jinnah. Opens up rift between Advani and RSS. Advani steps down as BJP president,Rajnath Singh takes over


Projected as BJP’s PM candidate


NDA loses,Advani steps aside for Sushma Swaraj to become leader of opposition in Lok Sabha

His yatras

Ram Rath Yatra

September-October 1990

Taken out amid the mandir-masjid dispute,it was meant to conclude at Ayodhya. It took off from Somnath on September 25,1990,but never completed its planned 10,000-km journey till October 30. Advani was arrested on October 23 in Bihar,while the UP government stopped the yatra.

Janadesh Yatras

September 11-25,1993

Four simultaneous yatras that converged in Bhopal,a campaign against two bills moved by the government. Advani led the yatra from Mysore,while the other three were led by Bhairon Singh Shekhawat from Jammu,Murli Manohar Joshi from Porbandar,and Kalyan Singh from Kolkata.

Swarna Jayanti Rath Yatra

May 18-July 15,1997

Advani crisscrossed the country on this yatra,held in celebration of 50 years of independence. A second objective of the yatra,according to an entry on Advani’s website,was that “I wanted to project the BJP as a party committed to good governance”.

Bharat Uday Yatra

March 10-April 14,2004

Held ahead of early elections called towards the end of the NDA regime,Advani’s 33-day,8,500-km yatra covered 121 Lok Sabha constituencies in two stages: Kanyakumari to Amritsar (March 10 to 25) and Rajkot to Jagannath Puri (March 30 to April 14).

Bharat Suraksha Yatras

April 6-May 10,2006

THE TWIN yatras took up a variety of issues including terror,“minority politics”,corruption and price rise. Advani took off from Dwaraka while Rajnath Singh,in his previous term as BJP president,travelled from Jagannath Puri. The two yatras converged in Delhi.

Jan Chetana


October 11-November 20,2011

Travelling through 22 states on a yatra that comprised a number of legs,Advani raised issues such as corruption,black money and price rise,while projecting the BJP as a party that would bring in good governance.


“The saddest day of my life”

About the Babri demolition of 1992; a statement he has repeated a number of times

“(Mohd Ali Jinnah’s) address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11,1947,is really a classic and a forceful espousal of a secular state… My respectful homage to this great man”

June 4,2005,entry in visitors’ book at Jinnah mausoleum

“Had I known how it would end,I wouldn’t have gone to Ayodhya… but I’d still have gone to Pakistan”

September 2010

“What the court has said today vindicates our demand that Hindus be allowed to build a temple at the birthplace of Lord Ram (but) doesn’t justify the demolition”

October 2010,after Allahabad HC verdict on Ayodhya

title suits

“One of the distinctive traits of Narendra Bhai’s leadership in Gujarat has been his imaginativeness”

November 2010

“I feel overwhelmed whenever I come to Madhya Pradesh and see Shivraj Singh Chouhan come up with new schemes and think this is how an ideal chief minister should be”

March 2013

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