What Is Up With Old Men Of The BJP?
Party veterans LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi seem to be talking in a different tenor.
Something seems to be happening in the BJP. On April 4, the patriarch of the party, LK Advani, wrote a blog. In it, he emphasised that the party has always stood for freedom of choice and it does not believe in branding people as “anti-national” just because they hold a different opinion. Titled Nation First, Party Next, Self Last, it seem to completely fly against the dominant narrative built up by the party just ahead of the general elections and has taken many people by surprise.
The blog comes just days after the BJP decided not the field the 91-year-old from Gandhinagar in Gujarat, a constituency he had represented in the outgoing Lok Sabha. The seat will be represented by BJP national president Amit Shah instead. Advani, thus, for all practical purposes, has been retired.
“The essence of Indian democracy is respect for diversity and freedom of expression. Right from its inception, the BJP has never regarded those who disagree with us politically as our “enemies”, but only as our adversaries. Similarly, in our conception of Indian nationalism, we have never regarded those who disagree with us politically as “anti-national”. The party has been committed to freedom of choice of every citizen at personal as well as political level,” Advani wrote in blog.
“Defense of democracy and democratic traditions, both within the Party and in the larger national setting, has been the proud hallmark of the BJP. Therefore, BJP has always been in the forefront of demanding protection of independence, integrity, fairness and robustness of all our democratic institutions, including the media (sic),” he went on to elaborate. He ended the blog with a call for honest introspection.
So, what to make of Advani’s blog? Has he found a conscience, a voice? Perhaps. Moreover, he is not the only BJP ‘elder’ who seems to have found a voice. So has veteran Murli Manohar Joshi. After apparently being snubbed by the BJP in the upcoming polls, Joshi wrote an open letter to the electorate of Kanpur, the constituency he represented in the outgoing Lok Sabha. In the letter, he said that the BJP asked him to not contest the election, much to the embarrassment of the party. He had vacated the Varanasi seat, which he had won in 2009, for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. Now, speculation is rife that he might contest against Modi in Varanasi as a joint opposition candidate.
The blog also found support from Modi, who praised it. “Advani ji perfectly sums up the true essence of BJP, most notably the guiding mantra of 'Nation First, Party Next, Self Last'. Proud to be a BJP karyakarta [BJP worker] and proud that great leaders like LK Advani ji have strengthened it (sic)," he said. But does that mean he agrees with him? Maybe not. After all, he had agreed with former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee as well, after he was publically restrained by his “raj dharam” speech following the Gujarat riots in 2002, when he was the chief minister of the state.
The blog seems to fly against the logic that has been built up over the past five years the BJP has been in power. In this period, a toxic blend of rhetoric has painted anyone who questioned anything about the government in general and Modi in particular, as “anti-national”, “urban naxal” and many such terms. This has created an atmosphere where people who think differently feel like they are under siege. It has sought to polarize society in an ‘us vs them’ binary mentality, all for political gain.
The question to be asked here is, has the old guard of the BJP raised the banner of revolt? But even if that has happened, it may be too little too late. The veterans have been side-lined in the party for a while now, restricted to the largely ceremonial margdarshak committee. How much sway they have over the party is debatable but it may not be much, recast as it has been in Modi’s image. Maybe Advani is feeling a deep sense of irony. Following Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, Advani famously told journalists, “You were asked only to bend, but you crawled.” The view from the other side may not be so good.