In the Hindu way of life, old age entails exile from home and hearth. As the Manu Smriti says, when a man sees “his skin wrinkled and his hair gray and when he sees the son of his son, then he should resort to the forest”. Narendra Modi seems to be following this precept for the elderly in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), at least in terms of political ostracism though not in the form of banishment from the material comforts of life.
While some senior citizens have been compensated for keeping their faith in the party through good times and bad times by their nomination to gubernatorial posts, others, including the more ambitious ones, have been kept waiting in the wings.
Among them are the old war horses – L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi – who had once sent shivers down secular spines by venturing forth in a ‘rath’ (chariot) to “liberate” holy shrines from Muslim possession, or rewriting history to bring it in line with the saffron interpretations of the past.
Of the two, Advani’s fate can make one ponder over the vagaries of life. Two decades ago, he was the undisputed No. 2 in the BJP if only because his fiery rhetoric as a chariot-rider was considered a disadvantage where leading a multicultural nation was concerned. So, the job of prime minister went to the man who was seen to be more in sync with India’s pluralist ethos, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
As a believer in astrology, like most people in the saffron clan, Advani must wonder what concatenation of heavenly bodies ensured that the coveted prize, from which he thought he was just one step away, would elude him forever. In politics, as in life, “there is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries”. In Advani’s case, his present marginalization reflects this waning of the tide.
True, he may be made the president after Pranab Mukherjee’s term is over. But it is possible that the pomp and circumstance of the ceremonial post will not make up for the adrenalin rush of real power which the prime minister wields.
As he contemplates what might have been, Advani will probably wonder about the mysterious ways of providence which enabled someone, who was a marginal figure when he was riding high on his Somnath-to-Ayodhya rath in 1990, to ascend to the PM’s position with widespread acclaim as he sulked in the background.
Advani can at least have the limited satisfaction of having been allowed by Modi to contest from his old seat of Gandhinagar. But this courtesy was not extended to Joshi who was unceremoniously hustled out of his Varanasi seat before the parliamentary polls to accommodate Modi. It was the same with another veteran Lalji Tandon in the Lucknow constituency which he had to vacate for then BJP president Rajnath Singh, who had joined Arun Jaitley in being one of Modi’s acolytes.
These bulldozing tactics involving some of the old faithful not only herald the dawn of a new era in the BJP but also signal the end of old-world civility for the sake of cold political calculations.
However, politics may have been supplanted by personal pique in Rajasthan where another veteran, Jaswant Singh, was turfed out of his family’s pocket borough of Barmer by a Congress interloper, Colonel Sonaram, who had joined the BJP shortly before the elections because Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s equations with the former union finance and external affairs minister were said to be not very cordial.
If Joshi’s marginalization was because the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had found others for carrying on the saffronization of education, notably Y. Sudershan Rao, an obscure “historian” who has been made chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research, and Dina Nath Batra, known for trashing books on Hinduism written by non-Hindus, Advani has seemingly paid the price for his peevish opposition to Modi’s ascent.
From long before the time when Advani wanted the anointment of Modi to be put off till after the assembly elections in December were over, the octogenarian has made no secret of his own desire to be the PM although he cannot have been unaware that he had little support within the party since his candidature for the post in 2009 had no impact on the BJP’s dismal status at the time.
Although Sushma Swaraj, too, made it abundantly clear that she is not an ardent fan of Modi, she was never as petulant as Advani who even stayed away from the meeting where Modi’s nomination as the PM candidate was announced.
Advani’s future, therefore, is uncertain. One cannot be too sure that Modi will let him become the president. Sushma, however, has apparently been forgiven. But if she has been chosen for the external affairs minister’s position, the probable reason is the paucity of talent in the BJP – which has led to Arun Jaitley being saddled with the two “heavy” portfolios of finance and defence – rather than a show of magnanimity by Modi.