OPINION: Decoding LK Advani’s ‘exceptional service of highest order’

The Modi government confers the Bharat Ratna on BJP stalwart and former Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani for setting an ‘exemplary standard in political ethics’ and ‘furthering national unity and cultural resurgence’.

ByV V P Sharma

Published Feb 03, 2024 | 4:44 PMUpdatedFeb 03, 2024 | 4:46 PM

PM Narendra Modi announced his government’s decision to confer Bharat Ratna on LK Advani, who led a Rath Yatra demanding Ram mandir in Ayodhya. (X)

Lalchand Kishenchand Advani is the 50th winner of the Bharat Ratna. The 96-year-old former Deputy Prime Minister, former Union Home Minister and former President of the Bharatiya Janata Party is also the most controversial recipient of India’s highest civilian award.

The BJP might hope the award is a consolation for the stalwart who launched the right-wing party’s movement for the construction of a Ram temple at the god’s birthplace in Ayodhya but was made to sit out the consecration ceremony on 22 January, 2024.

It probably represents the last time the nonagenarian will receive public adulation from his party’s government led by his once-upon-a-time protégé, Narendra Modi, who, chosen over mentor Advani as the prime ministerial candidate by the BJP in 2013, steered him out of party affairs and placed him in a council of elders called Margadarshak Mandal.

Within the Sangh Parivar, Advani is seen as the one who breathed political life into its Hindutva ideology, championing a communally disharmonious cause that eventually challenged India’s secular outlook by causing the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.

Outside of the right-wing fraternity, he is seen as the country’s most divisive politician. Author-journalist-satirist Khushwant Singh once wrote what he thought of him: “At an event at the IIC, I told Advani to his face, in front of an audience, ‘You have sowed the seeds of communal disharmony in the country, and we are paying the price for it’.”

Related: BJP leader LK Advani to receive Bharat Ratna – India’s highest civilian award

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, however, eulogized Advani in his post on X, which stands in stark contrast to the feelings of the man with malice towards one and all.

LK Advani. (Wikimedia Commons)

LK Advani. (Wikimedia Commons)

Modi recalled Advani’s “monumental” contributions but without going into specifics. Regarding is political and ideological roles, the prime minister wrote: “He has made unparalleled efforts towards furthering national unity and cultural resurgence.”

About Advani’s contributions in government, Modi wrote: “His is a life that started from working at the grassroots to serving the nation as our Deputy Prime Minister. He distinguished himself as our Home Minister…”

The “cultural resurgence” that Modi talks about must refer to what the RSS calls a cultural awakening, referring to the BJP being catapulted to power by a combined assertion of right-wing hypernationalism and Hindutva majoritarianism. That is the Advani’s singular contribution.

He launched the Rath Yatra in September 1990 from Somnath in Gujarat. The powerful religious symbolism swelled support for the yatra, which caused enough tensions to lead to violence in several parts of the country. It was eventually halted in Bihar at the orders of then Chief Minister Lalu Yadav, who got Advani arrested in Samastipur.

OPINION: The new reality in Ayodhya

Unfazed, Advani never left the cause of the Ram Janambhoomi Movement, which culminated in the destruction of the Babri Masjid on 6 December, 1992.

Babri Masjid: A 19th-century photo by Samuel Bourne. (Wikimedia Commons)

He was present in Ayodhya on that day, on a dais along with other BJP and VHP leaders, just at a short distance from the crumbling structure.

The CBI chargesheet in the case quoted a police officer who accompanied Advani as saying he made a spirited speech from the Ram Kathan Kunj Manch, repeatedly saying the temple would be constructed at the same site.

He never publicly admitted to even indirectly provoking the kar sewaks to demolish the masjid, but in 2000, his fellow traveller, Atal Behari Vajpayee, told a news channel: ‘”What happened in Ayodhya was very unfortunate. It should not have happened. We tried to prevent it, but we did not succeed. We are sorry for that.”

Vajpayee’s shrouded and delayed apology was no patch for the hardened statement by Advani in 2004: “I believe our relentless assault on what we called pseudo-secularism proved a much-needed corrective. It set the ground rules for an even-handed approach to issues affecting religious communities.”

The Rath Yatra never carried a message of peace. Along the route, the yatra supporters pasted posters about the “treachery” of Muslims and pictures showing Advani wielding a bow and arrow or a trishul.

Related: Ram Lalla consecrated at Ayodhya temple; ‘extraordinary moment’ says PM Modi

Advani was recorded saying: “I believe the phenomenal growth of the BJP between 1989 and 1996 owed a great deal to our support for the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. For us, Ayodhya will always remain a potent symbol of a national awakening.”

Years later, a court in Uttar Pradesh acquitted him and other accused, with the judge observing: “The accused tried to stop the demolition.” A provocative speech is not enough to prove guilt, he said.

Prime Minister Modi said Advani “distinguished” himself as the country’s Home Minister. The manner of dismissing the Rabri Devi government in Bihar in the late 1990s immediately comes to mind.

Gallery: Veteran BJP leader LK Advani during his visits to Karnataka

The then Vajpayee government, in October 1997, sent a Cabinet decision to then President KR Narayanan recommending President’s Rule in Bihar. Narayanan sent it back for reconsideration—the first time any Indian president took such a steep. He repeated his action in September 1998 when the government came to him a second time.

KR Narayanan, the 10th President of India. (Wikimedia Commons)

KR Narayanan, the 10th President of India. (Wikimedia Commons)

All decisions relating to the preparations for imposing Article 356 in Bihar were routed through the office of Advani, the Home Minister. He was on record saying: “The Bihar Government symbolises the most malignant and uncouth levels of functioning in Indian politics.”

In February 1999, the Centre finally dismissed the Rabri government and imposed President’s Rule after forward caste landlords killed a dozen Dalits in Jehanabad.

Prime Minister Vajpayee was out of the country then, attending the G-15 Summit in the West Indies. Advani, as Vajpayee’s deputy, chaired the Cabinet meeting that decided to impose the President’s Rule.

It is another matter that the NDA government’s machinations fell through, and it had to revoke the presidential proclamation because the government could not get it passed in the Rajya Sabha, where it was a minority.

That is not all. Over two decades after terrorists hijacked an Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar in 1999, it is still a secret how and by whom the decision was taken to send then Minister for External Affairs Jaswant Singh to accompany to Kandahar three terrorists, released in exchange for the hijacked passengers. Advani always denied being aware of the decision. And Singh, while saying Advani was in the Cabinet meeting, insisted it was his plan to go.

Reacting to the announcement of Advani getting the Bharat Ratna, BRS leader K Kavitha said, among other things: “It marks the fulfilment of the BJP’s agenda.” That says it all.