In the end the Bhishma Pitamah of India’s right wing movement, eased himself into irrelevance. L.K. Advani is like the old soldier we all love but no longer need. He’s been a permanent fixture on the political firmament for ever since most of us can remember. Rarely though has he been the Generalissimo.

Felled by the arrows of his own creation, his exit is cause for nostalgia tinged with sorrow, but not regret. Advani’s agenda-setting Rath Yatra in 1990 contributed enormously to the BJP’s subsequent electoral gains eventually leading to the party’s first full term in power. Yet for a while now, “the man who couldn’t be king" has rendered himself increasingly redundant in terms of political strategy or even poll tactics. Lacking the charisma and mass appeal of the towering Atal Behari Vajpayee, Advani’s value to his party has always been that of a back room strategist. That hasn’t been evident in some years leading to a leadership vacuum which Narendra Modi is seeking now to fill.

Advani’s opposition to Modi and worse, the alternatives he proposed in the form of a Nitin Gadkari or Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, flew in the face of logic. Even more, they were a clear affront to a majority of the party’s workers as well as supporters. In fact, his churlishness in accepting the choice of a demonstrably more popular leader to lead the party at the hustings, is a reminder of the Congress practice of foisting people down the throat of the electorate.

The film critic-turned political leader would have done his reputation far more good and lived up to his standing as a man of integrity, had he articulated clearly his reasons for not supporting Modi’s elevation. While he did issue a statement condemning the Gujarat riots when they happened, it is difficult to understand his more recent anathema for the man. In his role as home minister of the country in 2002 he could legitimately have demanded answers from Modi, even putting his own position as deputy prime minister on the line. That he didn’t, and the fact that he has over these years flip-flopped on the matter, sometime calling it a huge “blot" on the NDA rule and at other times defending Modi as having been “wronged", dilutes his status as the man who could cut through the miasma of political-speak.

Advani’s bull-headedness is a reminder of Gandhi’s opposition to the far more popular Subhash Bose when he became Congress president for a second term in 1939 defeating the relatively unknown Pattabhi Sitaramayya who had been backed by Gandhi. Displeased by the turn of events the Mahatma commented “Subhash’s victory is my defeat." Subsequently, Bose, fed up of the opposition to his win, resigned from his post and later quit the party to embark on his brave but futile future course.

Advani of course, is no Gandhi and having overplayed his hand, he has done the most honourable thing possible by choosing to resign from all party posts. With this, the succession process in the BJP is well in play and while at 62, Narendra Modi is no spring chicken, he might as well be removed two generations as far as his aggression and brashness is concerned.

L.K. Advani had the opportunity and the political space to set an example by voluntarily giving up power, by being forthright in his utterances and by showing his own party a new path. That he chose not to, diminishes him of course. But it diminishes our political system as well.

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