Not long ago, Narendra Modi could do no wrong for L K Advani
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From staying away from the party's national executive meeting in Goa in June where Modi was named the 2014 poll campaign panel chief, following it up by quitting key party posts, and again going into a sulk earlier this month and not endorsing the decision to name Modi the PM candidate, Advani has all but said it in black and white that Modi is not the right choice. But it was not always like that.
While those tracking the BJP and the two leaders have known for years that they shared a mentor-protégé relationship, Advani's own views about Modi were always effusively positive and even doting at times.
And nowhere does this come across more clearly than in Advani's memoirs My Country My Life, published barely five years back.
Advani describes Modi variously as "fresh and young", "promising young leader" and "capable leader from the younger generation" across the book. In fact, he takes credit for bringing in fresh and young blood into his team of office bearers when he was party chief and names Modi alongside Pramod Mahajan, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and K N Govindacharya.
Recalling the start of his Ayodhya Rath Yatra from Somnath in Gujarat in September 1990 on page 375, Advani writes that he offered prayers at the Somnath temple accompanied by Mahajan and Modi — "another promising young leader of the party who has now become Gujarat's dynamic chief minister".
But Advani's most articulate backing of Modi is reserved for the weeks and months after the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat, a time when the then number two in the NDA government saved Modi's job as CM, and possibly his political career.
In the chapter 'Communal Violence in Gujarat: Propaganda versus Reality', Advani has a section titled 'Narendra Modi: A victim of vilification campaign' from page 758 to 760.
Here, Advani writes how he is often criticised for "stoutly rejecting" the calls for Modi's resignation as CM after riots and goes on to recall events, his role in defending Modi and explaining the reasons.
"There has been a sustained campaign against him, which is not correct," Advani cites from a May 2002 speech he made in the Rajya Sabha.
"I also resisted proposals for Modi's resignation made inside party forums. I am happy that my confidence in him has been fully vindicated by subsequent developments," Advani goes on to add. "His chief ministership, between 2002-07, was characterised by the fact that there was not a single communal riot in Gujarat, not a single incident of terrorism, and not a single hour of curfew imposed in the state. "Gujarat made spectacular progress in many areas of social and economic progress during this period... But what has given me special satisfaction is that Modi has brought down political and bureaucratic corruption in a way that even his critics have applauded," Advani wrote.
In fact, some of Advani's observations even sound prescient considering the party, and even Modi, have taken a similar line recently.
Talking about the BJP's victory in Gujarat in 2007, Advani wrote: "Modi's re-election has highlighted several lessons which are relevant not only for Gujarat but for the whole country. He has disproved the conventional wisdom that focus on good governance does not make good politics. He has dispelled the notion that elections cannot be won on a development plank."
Advani said he cannot "think of any other leader in Indian politics in the past sixty years who was as viciously, consistently and persistently maligned, both nationally and internationally, as Modi has been since 2002".
Reiterating the point later, Advani wrote that the 2007 victory under Modi "signalled the triumph of good governance, development and security over the politics of vote-banks. This is a welcome development for India".
Elsewhere, dealing with the relationship he had with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the Modi factor that came into play in 2002, Advani wrote: "I was convinced, after talking to a large number of people belonging to various sections of society in Gujarat, that Modi was being unfairly targeted. He was, in my opinion, more sinned against than sinning."
And holding forth on a political philosophy that ironically seems to have come to haunt him in the way the BJP has pressed with its choice of Modi, Advani had written that "Politics often entails making difficult choices".
"The difficulty lies in the very complexity of the issues and situations that one is called upon to deal with. A tough choice is sometimes an unpalatable one. But I believe that, when one is convinced about the merits of one's decision, one must not hesitate to stand by it. History has indeed vindicated the party's decision not to ask Modi to resign."
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