New Delhi: Stepping down as leader of the main Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Lok Sabha, L.K. Advani on Friday made way for his deputy Sushma Swaraj.
Party leaders and analysts said the 82-year-old Advani’s resignation marked the BJP’s first step towards “generational change”. The move is expected to be followed by Rajnath Singh quitting as party president in the next few days.
Making way: L.K. Advani.Harikrishna Katragadda/Mint
Advani was simultaneously elected chairman of the BJP parliamentary party on Friday, a post created for him by amending the party constitution. While this was generally viewed as allowing him a graceful exit, the octogenarian leader reiterated he had not “quit politics”.
“My yatra (journey) is not over. I have not retired,” he said. “I feel this is a new beginning for me.”
A senior party leader said on condition of anonymity that Advani’s exit would pave the way for a “paradigm change” in the way the BJP functioned.
“The parliamentary and organizational functioning of the party would be clearly divided,” he said. “There will be greater stress on cadre building.”
The significance of Advani’s stepping down as the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha is obvious from the fact that he held the position for nine of the 20 years that he has been in the Lower House of Parliament.
The demand for his resignation began in the wake of the party’s second successive defeat in Lok Sabha polls earlier this year. Top party leaders such as Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie—cabinet colleagues of Advani when the BJP was in power from 1998 to 2004— openly demanded his resignation.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s ideological parent, also joined the clamour. Ironically, even though Advani has always been viewed as closer to the RSS’ Hindutva ideology than some other BJP leaders, this is the second time that the organization has succeeded in bringing him down.
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The first instance came in 2005, when the RSS forced him to quit as the BJP president after he made positive remarks about Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah during a visit to the neighbouring country.
That was Advani’s third tenure as BJP president, following earlier stints from 1986 to 1990 and 1992 to 1998.
“Advani’s career has two distinct parts. One is that of a popular Hindutva leader who brought the BJP to the centre stage of Indian politics in 1989. The second is that of a drifting politician after the 2004 Lok Sabha defeat,” said Vivek Kumar, associate professor at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Indeed, Advani’s reference to “my yatra” on Friday was a throwback to his 1989 rath yatra (chariot trip), during which he toured the nation to rouse Hindu sentiments for the creation of a temple in place of a 16th century mosque on a disputed site at Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh.
Riding on a popular wave, Advani—who had been in the Rajya Sabha since 1970—entered the Lok Sabha along with a slew of BJP MPs. Nine years later, the party formed a coalition government at the Centre, and Advani eventually became deputy prime minister.
But the tag of a Hindutva mascot came to haunt him in later years. Since 2004 in particular, he has struggled to shed this image in an effort to become prime minister, adds Kumar.
“Whereas Atalji (former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee) was seen as a liberal, I was labelled as a Hindu hardliner,” Advani writes in his autobiography My Country, My Life. “It hurt me initially, as I knew that the reality was entirely contrary to the image that I had come to acquire.”
Jyotirmaya Sharma, a professor of political science at University of Hyderabad, echoes Kumar in saying Advani’s legacy will be viewed as a mixed bag.
“He had a role to play in the removal of many leaders with a mass base from the party, such as Uma Bharti,” says Sharma. “Ultimately, he will also be known for having left the party in confusion, with the second line (of leadership) pitched against each other.”
Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar/Mint