LK Advani might become prime minister next month. What kind of a leader will he make? Let us examine his qualifications. Born in 1927 to a rich family living in a Parsi neighbourhood of Karachi, Advani is from the Amil caste of merchants. In his autobiography, My Country My Life, he tells us “as far as I can remember, I stood first in every class till matriculation” and “when I completed my matriculation, I had just turned 14”.
Post-mortem: Do you want him as PM? Amit Dave/Bloomberg
But at DG National College, Hyderabad, Sindh, he fails to get a degree in five years. His Lok Sabha résumé mentions an LLB from Bombay University, but does not say when he got it. His autobiography’s 986 pages do not mention this degree, or his attending this college, at all.
Forced out by Partition, Advani becomes an RSS worker. He spends years in Rajasthan’s villages, where he is “scared of one thing: tapeworm”.
This is because, over the years, he sees many people with the painful exit wound this worm would make on its way out from their legs. He writes about this at length, showing that his fear, for himself and perhaps also for the villagers he served, was real. But he does no research, else he would have learnt that it was not tapeworm but guinea worm.
On a visit to Chittor fort, he is “pained to see thousands of idols of Hindu deities broken and defaced by intolerant Muslim invaders”. Such experiences “were bringing about a strange transformation within me”.
Then, for seven years, till 1967, Advani is a journalist at the RSS journal Organiser, where he writes film reviews.
His writing is lazy and he leans on clichés and stock phrases. He describes a criminal as “dreaded gangster”. He uses too many adjectives and likes hyperbole. He calls Indira Gandhi’s Emergency the “darkest period in Indian history”, but then reports its years wrong in three places (pages 259, 266 and 270).
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I edited newspapers for 10 years and I can place Advani as a journalist immediately. He would not have risen beyond middle rank.
He says Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People would “clearly rate as one of the five or six life-transforming books I have read so far”.
After a brief term in Delhi’s municipal council, because of his RSS connection, Advani is nominated to the Rajya Sabha. Jailed with other opposition leaders, Advani comes to power in 1977.
His life’s first executive job comes to him at 50 and he becomes minister of information and broadcasting.
This lasts two years.
In the 1980s, he finds his cause at Ayodhya. He begins a campaign, but does not understand the nature of India, and what his movement represents.
When his fired-up audience screams: “Jo Hindu hit ki baat karega, vahi desh pe raaj karega (Whoever promises to ensure the welfare of Hindus will form the government)”, Advani says he did his job by telling them they should instead say: “Jo Rashtra hit ki baat karega, vahi desh pe raj karega (Whoever promises to ensure the welfare of the country will form the government)”.
But how many of us remember this modified slogan?
As the procession rolls, riots flare across India. Advani is disturbed by references to “Advani’s blood yatra”. He is not responsible, he tells us, because “there were no riots at all along the Rath Yatra trail”. Six hundred Indians are killed.
The mosque falls on 6 December 1992. He calls this a “tragic happening” and the “saddest day of my life”. Having led the mob to its goal, he’s surprised by its behaviour. Three thousand Indians are killed. He does not understand that his movement is not positive, for the temple, but negative, against the mosque. And that is why the issue has died after the structure was flattened.
Advani’s second executive job comes at age 71, when he becomes home minister for six years (1998-2004). The three major events concerning his work during this period are at Kandahar, Kargil and Gujarat. Advani’s home ministry fails to immobilize the hijacked Indian Airlines flight when it lands at Amritsar. The BJP then surrenders to Jaish-e-Mohammed and releases the leader of the Deobandi warriors, Masood Azhar. He’s still doing terrorism.
At Kargil, Advani’s spies are unable to predict or detect infiltration. Over 400 Indian jawans are martyred. In Gujarat, 1,000 Indians are killed on the BJP’s watch. The prosecution is so bigoted, or incompetent, that the horrified Supreme Court transfers cases to Mumbai.
If Advani has such a poor record on security, why do his supporters refer to him as strong? Sadly, this image comes from his willingness to do violence to India’s Muslims.
Having had only eight years of executive experience, the same as the average 32-year-old, Advani has no long view. He does not understand strategy.
He thumps his chest and warns Pakistan to behave after taking India nuclear, but is taken aback when Pakistan’s generals immediately use this as an excuse to weaponize their own programme. This has destabilized South Asia for generations.
He opposes the Indo-US nuclear deal. Why? Because America does not treat India as “equals”. He views strategic policy through honour and emotion.
Of his autobiography’s 48 chapters, not one is on economics. Muslims, Kashmir, terrorism, Pakistan, Musharraf, Kargil, Shah Bano, Naxalism, Godhra, Assam, Ayodhya. These are his concerns. His passion is all about what other people should not do.
Under Advani, the BJP’s three policy thrusts were all negative: Muslims should not keep Babri Masjid; Muslims should not have polygamy; Kashmir should not have special status.
He offers nothing creative, even to Hindus, only resentment.
There is one brutally tough man in politics, but it is not Advani. This man is cold and emotionless when you observe him talk.
If power means the ability to influence change, he is the most powerful leader in the history of India.
His policies, 18 years old, cannot be bent, forget changed, by leaders who came after he wrote them.
He shamelessly laughs off the sneering accusation that he hides behind a woman, and cannot even get himself elected. He is ruthless enough to discard his allies and embrace his enemies when it suits him.
He is cold-blooded enough to ignore the corruption of his allied ministers, because he understands it’s unimportant in the long run.
He has risen in the world by merit alone. Born in the hamlet of Gah in West Punjab, he studied under kerosene lamps and walked miles to school. He never stopped walking. He went to Punjab University, Cambridge University (where he won the Wright’s Prize in 1955 and the Adam Smith prize in 1956). He went to Oxford University and wrote his DPhil thesis on “India’s export trends and prospects for self-sustained growth”. At 30, he understood the problem with Nehru’s economic model. At 59, he got the chance to set it right, and he did.
He is the most qualified man ever to hold office in India, and it would be difficult to find another as qualified across the world.
Like Harvard’s Obama, he has supped at the table with the world’s intellectual elite and absorbed their ideas. Now, facing a crisis, the world looks to Manmohan Singh for answers.
At the G-20 this month, London’s Financial Times put him on its masthead next to Obama and sent three editors to interview him. All Indians who are ashamed of the quality of our leaders must try to read this interview: www.ft.com/indepth/g20. First question: Do you agree with China on the failures of the global monetary regime and the case for a new reserve asset in place of the dollar?
It’s not the question they would ask of Advani.
Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media.
Write to Aakar at firstname.lastname@example.org