This Article is From Sep 28, 2015

BJP Journeys On, Forgets Yatri Advani

At a government function on Friday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley moved the late Deen Dayal Upadhyay, founder of the BJP's former avatar the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, from the pantheon of those who built the party to the ranks of those who built India. The function to mark his 99th birth anniversary saw a bastion collapse. An RSS man was honoured at the Nehru Memorial.

A few kilometres away at an Eid Milan organised by the BJP's Shahnawaz Hussain, party patriarch  L K Advani sat beside his daughter Pratibha, accepting greetings. There were not many BJP leaders jostling to greet him. But for Mr Advani, groomed by Deen Dayal Upadhyay, September 25 held more significance. Exactly 25 years ago, he had set off on a journey that would transform the national political landscape. Forever.

On September 25, 1990, Mr Advani was on a saffron rath at Somnath in Gujarat. Surrounded by a sea of saffron flags and lakhs of supporters. He couldn't hear his own voice - such was the din. He was starting the Ram Janambhoomi Rath Yatra.

At the Eid Milan I asked Advani, now 87, "Can a yatra succeed now like your first one did?" He looked up. With a faint smile and a twinkle in his eye he said, "Yes it can. Depends on what the subject is."

Politics can be a cruel space. 25 years ago no one could have predicted that on 25 September today he would be sitting alone at an Eid Milan. His party rules the country with a majority. His one-time protégé; and RSS pracharak Narendra Modi, the man who organised his 1990 Rath Yatra, is the prime minister. Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Anant Kumar and others groomed by him are shaping the Bharatiya Janata Party.

In 2014, when the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo took charge of the party, Mr Advani was excluded from the party's decision making bodies and consigned to a "Margdarshak mandal" or guidance committee. The committee has never met.

After his Somnath to Ayodhya yatra, the BJP rose dramatically. From a dismal two seats in the Lok Sabha in 1984, to 85 in 1989, 120 in 1991 and 161 in 1996. In 2014, the party won over 280 seats, coming to power a fourth time. But today, the structure built over Mr Advani's yatra doesn't visibly recognise him as the foundation.

BJP old-timers recall that in 1990, Narendra Modi as the party's Organization Secretary in Gujarat, had held a crucial briefing about Mr Advani's rath yatra about 10 days before it began. That was Modi's first brush with the national political stage. The rath yatra opened the doors to Delhi for him. The association grew. After the 2002 Gujarat riots, then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee wanted Chief Minister Modi to resign. But Mr Advani used his clout and shielded him.

The BJP's Ram temple drive started with its Palampur resolution in 1984. Just before the 1989 national election, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi succumbed to pressure from Hindutva elements. And allowed the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to perform "shilanyas" at Ayodhya on November 9 1989. Communal passions flared. Over 800 people were killed in the riots that followed. The Congress lost the election and the BJP established itself winning 88 seats. This was a telling moment of transition.

V P Singh became prime minister with the BJP support. But within the coalition there was disquiet. The PM knew the BJP was using Mandir or "kamandal" politics to consolidate the gains of 1989 but hurting the minority vote bank of his party and other allies. To counter the "kamandal" threat VP Singh unleashed the Mandal commission report.

The BJP needed the backward castes, it couldn't oppose reservations. It had to build a Hindu monolith to defeat the tyranny of caste fragmentation. Advani's yatra did just that.

A complex chain of political events during or after the Yatra started the Congress' slide. The BJP was supporting VP Singh in Delhi and Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh.  On October 23, 1990, Advani was arrested in Bihar's Samastipur by Mandalite Chief Minister Lalu Yadav.

The BJP withdrew support to the VP Singh government. Lakhs of kar sewaks or volunteers were waiting for Mr Advani in Ayodhya. In a significant political move, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh ordered firing on the kar sewaks. The BJP withdrew its support to the Mulayam government in UP.

The Congress rushed in to support Mulayam. The BJP became the champion of the Hindus in UP. Mulayam had won over minority voters. The Congress lost chunks of both. Today, it is number 4 in the UP assembly. And has two parliamentarians from UP.

In November 1990, the BJP was on a roll. The Congress' Rajiv Gandhi supported Chandrashekhar to become PM in order to avert a mid-term poll.

Mr Advani's yatra and its political dividend also changed the power equations between the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. Advani emerged taller, the BJP stronger. For the first time the RSS partially handed the party's command systems to the BJP.

Today, the charioteer is steering nothing. He gets the rare invite for a public meeting, no more. He sits alone at his 30 Prithviraj Road residence in Delhi.

His praise for the founder of Pakistan's M A Jinnah in 2005 was a turning point. His opposition to Narendra Modi as PM in 2013 was another. The BJP on Friday forgot the turning point that Mr Advani scripted for the party in 1990.

(Rahul Shrivastava is Senior Editor, Political Affairs NDTV 24x7)

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