Retreat from Karachi

Retreat from Karachi
By H.K. Dua

Mr Lal Krishan Advani went to Karachi for a makeover, but has returned home to see his image badly bruised, his leadership questioned by his own parivar and popularity ratings perhaps lowest in recent times. It was a well-designed mission to graduate from a politician, who liberally used religion for politics, to a statesman with a wider view of the sub-continent. The attempt was clumsy and the results a disaster for his so-called teflon image and his party. Whatever the explanations, it will take Mr Advani and his party a long time to recover from it.

Mr Advani went to Pakistan to convey that if President Musharraf could deal with Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr Manmohan Singh, he could do so with him also. His yatra would have helped the country if he, like Mr Vajpayee and Dr Manmohan Singh, committed himself to peace on the sub-continent, but he chose to go beyond the call of his mission which was essentially to wipe off his reputation as a hawk who scuttled the Agra summit.

Mr Vajpayee visited Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore to underscore the BJP’s acceptance of the reality of Pakistan; Mr Advani trekked to Jinnah’s tomb, but avoidably went beyond this and as is his wont he chose to make a selective use of history to give testimonials to Jinnah. In his keenness to leave a quotable quote behind in the distinguished visitors’ book he forgot all what he himself and his party had been advocating during most of their political careers. Howsoever well-meant the intentions were, his mission to Pakistan, described as historic by Advani faithfuls, lies in tatters and it will take quite a while for him to gather pieces.

Mr Advani should be now feeling relieved that he has been retained as party President and Leader of the Opposition, but he must be wondering why not one of the second-line leaders he had been grooming and who are prone to issuing statements at a jiffy came out with a soundbyte to pull him out of the jam he had landed in. They were clearly afraid not of abusive Parveen Togadias and Ashok Singhals but of the controlling authorities of the RSS. Causing annoyance to them would have jeopardised their future chances.

The RSS asserted it would not accept any departure from the parivar’s position that Jinnah was responsible for the partition of India and did not merit the spin Mr Advani had chosen to give to him simply to gain popularity in Pakistan or acceptance with the Muslims in India. The resolution or the statement that ultimately brought about the end of the turmoil in the party required greater drafting skill than the Indo-Pakistan joint statement Mr Jaswant Singh had worked on at the Agra summit scuttled by none else than Mr Advani and his men. The phraseology which helped the party retain Mr Advani in position and restore peace has not, however, ended the crisis that has been hurting the BJP ever since the fall of the Vajpayee government.

The RSS wants the Hindutva to remain the BJP’s line for regaining power; Mr Advani, who has been its ardent advocate all along tried to make a mild attempt to change tack but he chose a wrong place and used the wrong words to do so. In the process, he fell flat on the face.

Mr Advani has never picked up the courage to take on the hardliners – not even Mr Narendra Modi. It remains to be seen whether he will at all choose to make some attempt ever to come out with another idea without getting a prior sanction from the RSS headquarters.

This clearly means this is not the end of the story. The BJP’s electoral compulsions demand change in the old mindset, and acceptance of the concept of plural society; the RSS wants the BJP to stick to Hindutva. Mr Advani and his men—victims of discipline, as they are—are unlikely to cross the Lakshman Rekha drawn by the RSS, whatever the consequences.