The decision of the Central government to confer the prestigious Bharat Ratna award to BJP patriarch Lal Krishan Advani has come at the right time, though many of his admirers would still say, a little late. Advani was in real terms, the original architect of the BJP, though his senior colleague and former Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, became the beneficiary of his intense efforts. Along with Vajpayee and Murali Manohar Joshi, Advani laid the foundations of the party after the failed Janata Party experiment and transformed the organization through his cleaver strategic moves. Narendra Modi, who later took the BJP to new heights, was always inspired by him and though Advani like Joshi was consigned to the Marg Darshak Mandal, he has left his mark in more ways than one on the current Prime Minister. It was Advani who inspired Modi to cultivate his hardliner and hawk type image, though for reasons which proved detrimental to him, he himself tried to acquire the dove image, hoping that like Vajpayee, this would help him in becoming the Prime Minister and make him more acceptable amongst the allies.
This was his undoing in all probability and Modi not only filled the hardliner vacuum, but went many steps further to perfect the narrative. If Modi has turned the election campaign style to that which is akin to the presidential form of government, it is largely because, Advani had visualized such a thing way back in early 1991 when he spoke about the Presidential form of government in India. It is another matter that his views did not get much publicity since the Gulf War broke out and the focus changed. Advani was the one who perfected the art of creating an image for himself and for that he utilized the services of multiple journalists and intellectuals.
Advani’s image building exercise was inspired by Ayn Rand’s “Fountainhead’’ and he accordingly manipulated opinion by having his favourites create a narrative in the media. It would surprise many political analysts that on many issues, the journalists covering the BJP, had identical perspectives. The short point is that Advani was far ahead of his times and had introduced new skills in the political system which were not there earlier. This also reflected his preparedness though he was never destined to become the head of the government, something which he deserved, but went out of his reach due to the political circumstances and situations that followed. The exceptional thing about Advani in his prime was that he used to read and bring into play many of the thoughts which had been articulated by his seniors in the past, but had never got the kind of exposure as they should have. This virtue has also been acquired to some degree by Subramanium Swamy. When I was covering the BJP for The Hindu, I was a witness to an interview Advani gave to a BBC journalist in his Parliament House office. The Late JP Mathur, who was extremely close to him and Rajinder Sharma, a key functionary of the party were also present. Asked whether he was trying to convert India into a Hindu country, Advani replied in his own characteristic manner. He said that India was a Hindu country in the same manner as England was a Christian Nation. Like in England, people of any faith could practice their religion, the same was the case in India.
Then he hastened to add that if India was a democracy today, it was because it was largely a Hindu country. His clarity was there for everyone to see. Advani has often stated that he was inspired by the RSS and Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, while he was in the Jana Sangh. This was true though Advani was never a stickler for ideology and believed in pragmatic politics instead. Deen Dayal Upadhyaya had on the recommendation of the late Balraj Madhok included him the Jana Sangh Working Committee, largely because of his exceptional drafting skills. In his early years, Advani ensured that he did not get into the electoral arena and was happy to be in the Rajya Sabha, thanks to his proximity to Vajpayee. However, after he took over the reins of the BJP, and after the culmination of the Somnath to Ayodhya Rath Yatra, he contested his maiden Lok Sabha election from New Delhi and Gandhi Nagar. He managed to barely scrape past Rajesh Khanna from New Delhi in 1991 and decided to shift his electoral activity to Gujarat subsequently. Advani’s contribution in highlighting and bringing the Ram Janambhoomi issue to be an electoral plank has been not only significant but something which changed the political narrative. There is an interesting story on why he was not able to be the Prime Minister because of a deep-rooted Brahminical conspiracy which saw Vajpayee succeeding PV Narasimha Rao. There is no doubt amongst those who have followed the evolution of the BJP, that it was Advani alone who to begin with laid its foundation.
Advani was also a great believer in the sanctity of the system, even if he had definite views on the advantages of the Presidential form of government in the Indian context. He would always follow the norms of Parliament and ensure that this was done by his colleagues as well. Advani is a well deserving recipient of the Bharat Ratna though his critics may blame him for divisive politics. The speculation now is that Modi has conferred the Highest award on Vajpayee, Nanaji Deshmukh and Advani and would this list in the near future also include Murali Manohar Joshi, also one of his mentors.