Advani, moment, nation

Does he have a political or economic blueprint for a changing India?

What is the best way to understand the Advani-Modi controversy? Can the matter be reduced entirely to a clash of personalities, or to political ambition?

One ought to begin with the note that ironies and paradoxes have repeatedly marked Lal Krishna Advani's political life. There has always been a mismatch between the contribution he has made to his organisation and the rewards he has received. Such discrepancy is often a source of his enigmatic conduct.

For four decades after Independence, the BJP and its predecessor, the Jan Sangh, were marginal players in Indian politics. With the exception of the 1967 elections, when the Jan Sangh got 9.4 per cent of the national vote, the Hindu nationalist vote share rarely went above 7.5 per cent. The Hindu nationalists were — substantially, not wholly — an organisation of urban traders, some Maharashtrian Brahmin communities and Hindu migrants from Pakistan.

The Ayodhya movement, led by Advani, changed all that. It brought the BJP to India's centrestage. In 1989, the BJP got 11.5 per cent of the national vote; in 1991, 20.1 per cent; in 1996, 20.3 per cent; and in 1998, garnering 25.6 per cent of the national vote, it nearly equalled the vote share of the Congress party, something entirely inconceivable even in the late 1980s. After Ayodhya, the BJP developed a fairly broad social base, moving downward and outward, attracting a substantial OBC vote and also penetrating rural India.

No non-Congress political leader of independent India achieved such a national broadening in his lifetime: not Ambedkar, not Narendra Dev, not Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, not Lohia, not Namboodiripad. All great expansions of social base have been regional: led by the DMK, AIADMK, TDP, CPM, Akalis and National Conference before Ayodhya; and by the SP, BSP, JD(U), TMC, Shiv Sena and BJD after that. None of these was national in scope.

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