Brand Advani: Perils of Rebranding
[It is for the first time in his nearly five year old tenure as PM that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a stinging attack on L. K. Advani – PM in waiting as far as the Sangh Parivar is concerned. Prime Minister was candid enough to remind about the “prominent role” played by Mr Advani in the Babri Masjid demolition, or how he presided over Gujarat riots and failed to prevent terror attacks on Parliament and Red Fort as Home Minister.]
L.K. Advani, the ‘Swayamsevak’ from across the border, the hawk of the nineties or the rediscoverer of Jinnah wants to do a makeover. Not a day passes when we are presented with a new look of the old man who has already crossed eighties. Sudheendra Kulkarni, his speechwriter shared the understanding behind LKA’s rebranding mission. ‘Man of Eighties, Vision of Twenties’. If one day he is presented as an emotional patriarch who has no qualms in shading tears after seeing a movie the next day he is packaged as the man in his energetic twenties and shown raising dumbells at a gymnasium or the next day he is with a family in hospital which tried to committ suicide because of financial problems.
Taking a leaf out of Obama’s campaign ads calling for Advani as P.M. have been even flashed in more than 2,000 websites which are frequented by Indians. There was a day when the PM in waiting even ‘chatted’ with his fans supposedly to show his cybersavvy. It is being said that team Advani wants to leave no stone unturned to establish his new brand image.
Much on the lines of Obama, Advani also wrote his biography which was marketed in a planned manner. NDTV, a leading channel which has been famous for taking up a very critical stance towards Gujarat 2002 developments was also roped in the recent efforts which promptly conferred its Lifetime achievement Award on him. Apart from stray journalists nobody tried to ask some crucial questions on this ‘award’.
Question naturally arises is it possible to ‘rebrand’ a hawk as a dove ? Or is it possible that the Mr Advani can erase his past and turn over a new leaf.
Any sensible person would entertain doubts about this such type of wishful thinking.
Past can never be considered a different country.
And it is for everyone to see that Advani’s past is slowly catching up with him.
Interestingly leading journalist and human rights activist Siddharth Varadrajan in his writeup on his blog (Reality, One Bite at a Time) immediately after the NDTV award to Mr Advani had elaborated on the theme. (22 January 2009) and tried to convince him to see reason. According to the author here’s a brief list of what Mr Advani presided over or singlehandedly achieved :
1. Demolition of Babri Masjid (contribution to conspiracy thereof) 1992
2. Hijacking of IC 814 and release of deadly terrorists like Masood Azhar, 1999
3. Massacre of Sikhs by terrorists at Chittisinghpora, 2000
4. Massacre of Kashmiri Pandits at Nadimarg, March 2003
5. First-ever terrorist attack on Amarnath yatris, 1999
6. Terrorist attack on Parliament, December 2001
7. Godhra and the Gujarat massacre of Muslims, 2002
8. Terrorist attack on Akshardham and Raghunath temples in 2002
9. Harassment of media from Tehelka to Iftikhar Gilani
10 Failure to take any decision on dozens of death row mercy petitions pending before him from 1998 to 2004 and now demanding the Congress government move swiftly on the mercy petition of Afzal.
Whether one may agree or not one notices that people are discussing the huge gap between the projected image of Advani and the actual man as he exists in public imagination.
Releasing his party’s election manifesto Dr Manmohan Singh revisited the issue and discussed what he thinks to be the ‘contributions’ of L.K. Advani to public life.According to a newspaper report (Indian Express, 25 th March 2009)
While recounting Advani’s record as the Home Minister, Singh said “the country must decide whether this person (Advani) is fit to be the Prime Minister.”
The Prime Minister said Advani had played a “prominent role in destruction of Babri Mosque.”
“What else has he (Advani) contributed to the national welfare? When he was the Home Minister, attack on Parliament took place, troops were mobilised for 12 months (on the border) and withdrawn without any reason resulting in losses to the tune of crores of rupees, Red Fort was attacked, plane was hijacked and terrorists were rewarded,” the Prime Minister recalled.
Singh also said that Advani, as Home Minister, had “presided over massacres in Gujarat (in 2002).”
The Prime Minister said while Advani “led the communal forces, he was opportunist enough when he visited Pakistan and suddenly discovered new virtues of Jinnah that he was a secular man.”
Singh took a dig at Advani for what he faced from his party on his return from Pakistan. “The party disowned him at the behest of masters in RSS when he came back. So whether Advani is strong man or weak man, let the records speak for themselves,” he added.
(Express, 25 th March 2009)
One of the most shameful incidents of his career as home minister could be said to be the release of terrorists like Masood Azhar after the hijacking of the IC 814 plane, where the then foreign minister Jaswant Singh had accompanied the terrorists to Kandahar supposedly for the ‘safe release of passengers’. Any layperson can see that Mr Advani must have been party to this important decision by the then Vajpayee government or should have the audacity to accept the decision as part of the collective responsibility of the cabinet. Since this incident looks at variance with the supposed ‘strong image’ of Mr Advani, he had no qualms in dissociating himself from this decision after the release of his biography. Veerappa Moily, senior leader of the Congress raised a valid point regarding the volteface by Mr Advani ” It just shows that even his party colleagues did not believe in him.”
Leading journalist Khushwant Singh had raised an important question while discussing Mr Advani’s biography ‘ The importance of Advani’s memoirs is not in their literary quality but in the possibility of the author becoming India’s man of destiny. Either we remain a secular state envisaged by Gandhi and Nehru or we succumb to Advani’s interpretation of it and become the Hindu Secular Socialist Republic of Bharatvarsha. Perish the thought.’.
It was late eighties when one was witness to the growing surge of the ‘biggest movement in independent India’ led by the Sangh Parivar which ultimately resulted in the demolition of Babri mosque. One still remembers one’s naivete where one sincerely felt that whatever might be the claims by the Hindutva brigade, they would not dare touch the five hundred year old mosque.
All that is passe now.
It has been more than sixteen years that the mosque was demolished and the people of India went through riots on an all India scale.As things unfold in this part of the world, officially we are still far from the truth about the whole episode, although unofficially we very well know that it was the grand culmination of the dangerous mix of the Hard Hindutva practised by the Sangh Parivar with the soft Hindutva of the Congress.Many senior leaders of the Parivar stand accused in the case, but till date criminal proceedings against them have not moved a bit. Apart from Advani, the accused leaders are former Union ministers Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Ashok Singhal, Giriraj Kishore, Vishnu Hari Dalmia, Vinay Katiyar and Sadhvi Ritambhara.They face the charges of rioting, unlawful assembly, promoting enmity between groups and making statements to cause public mischief – but not of conspiracy unlike the kar sevaks.
It is an irony of sorts that Justice Lieberhans commission which was appointed to enquire into the ‘conspiracy’ to destroy the mosque has recently got its 47 th extension. One can very well imagine that it is going to make a record of sorts in the annals of different enquiry commissions which were constituted in the sixty year old trajectory of independent India.
Ayodhya, which remained a symbol of our composite heritage for centuries together, is slowly erasing all shreds of evidence about its shared history from even minds of the people.
I was a resident of Varanasi in those days when one of the ‘lunatic fringe’ of the Sangh Parivar had given a call for lighting a mashaal (torchlight) at a particular time in the evening. One was supposed to raise it from top of one’s house to protest government’s inaction on this issue to underline one’s support for the Ram temple movement. It was a frightening scene to see for oneself that ours was the only house which had not lit a mashaal in our sprawling neighbourhood.
To be very frank, this particular image of ordinary people raising provocative slogans in unison, still stays with me. Few of my neighbours had also gone to participate in one such trip to Ayodhya, supposedly to demolish the ‘age old symbol of slavery’. No one who is even remotedly concerned about issues of peace, justice and progress and a more inclusive world would vouch that there has been a qualitative improvement in the situation. On the contrary, it would not be incorrect to say that ‘right’ has become the new ‘centre’ now. It was inconceivable then that an exclucivist formation like Sangh Parivar would be able to instal one of its Swayamsevaks to the top post of the republic and a section of the secular fraternity would have no qualms in signing paens to the idea of ‘one nation, one people, one culture’.
The percentage of votes garnered by the BJP during the last two decades have definitely been on the rise with minor hiccups here and there. From 11.5 per cent in 1989 it moved on to 20 per cent in 1991 and 1996 which shot to 25.5 per cent in 1998. It dropped to 23.7 in 1999 and 22.1 in 2004.
Today as we are approaching the next round of elections to the parliament the shock defeat faced by the Hindutva brigade in the last elections (2004) is not a big issue. We are finding metamorphosis of a different kind where Nero of Gujarat – who received condemnation from all quarters for his connivance in the genocide of innocents in 2002 is being repackaged as the new ‘development man’ and is being projected as the next big leader of the saffron combine.
There is no denying the fact that decades of communal propaganda, accompanied by systematic and planned violence against the ‘others’ has helped create certain set of attitudes about the manner in which things should be run and what constitutes a ‘nation’. These have gained wide currency and acceptability in the minds of the people. The Congress which deftly unseated the BJP in the 2004 elections by stitching together a ‘secular coalition’ has definitely not taken any serious steps in this direction nor it has attempted to take the ‘anti-communal struggle’ beyond the Sarva Dharma Sambhav discourse. In fact instead of adopting any uncompromising position on the issue of secularism to defang the hard Hindutva of the Sangh Parivar, it has had no qualms in rediscovering the virtues of soft Hindutva. It is for everyone to see that the communal and majoritarian construction of society and polity could not be brought on the agenda in this interregnum.
And it would not be then any surprise that whether the BJP is able to cobble together a coalition to reach the citadels of power after the elections or is forced to sit in the opposition, there is not going to be any perceptible change in the ‘majoritarian middle ground’ in Indian politics. Analysing the election results of 2004 which had seen the surprise defeat of BJP, the author ( Suhas Palshikar, EPW, Dec 18, 2004) had in fact discerned the following aspects of this middle ground : Popularity of majoritarian viewpoint, high expression of religiosity, emphasis on maintaining group boundaries, lack of awareness about blatantly communal events, less approval of minority interests etc.
An added complexity to the whole scenario seems to be the absence of any one to one correspondence between the voting percentage garnered by the rightwing formation and the societal impact it carries. In fact with a minority share of votes in their kitty, such forces are able to unleash processes, institutionalise mechanisms or create situations which can force the powers that be to acquiese to their demands. Here we find a strange commonality between South Asian subcontinent’s two anti-human forces, the political project of Hindutva and that of the Taliban. Mapping the trajectory of such forces would throw some light on yet unexplored dimensions of their growth and provide answers to a few unanswered questions.
In fact despite a thoroughgoing and an indepth analysis of the rise and spread of communal fascism in the country, few points which appear inconsequential at the surface level have largely missed attention of activists as well as scholars. Take the case of many pioneers or stalwarts – ranging from the Savarkars, Hedgewars, Golwalkars to the likes of Deoras and Thakres in recent times -of the movement for Hindu Rashtra. Can it be called a mere coincidence that all of them belong to the western geographical terrain of the country namely Maharashtra ? Or, it has to do with the typical social make up of the area and the long history of social movements which posed tremendous challenges before Brahminism and Patriarchy ?
Why such an area which has witnessed one of the first successful challenge to the Mughal rule, where the population of Muslims has never crossed the ten percent mark could become a ‘lighthouse’ to the anti-minority project ? Perhaps one need to look into the cultural revolt led by Mahatma Phule in the nineteenth century which was taken forward by Shahu Maharaj, Ambedkar and many others. In fact, this glorious movement which unleashed hitherto dominated subaltern classes proved to be the biggest challenge before the stranglehold of Brahminical forces on the local elite. Hedgewar, the founder-member of RSS, in his ‘official’ biography (Sanghvriksha Ke Beej – C.P. Bhishikar) categorically gave two reasons for founding RSS : One, ‘menace of minorities’ and two, the non-brahmin movement which had created dissensions in society. It may be noted that after the death of Mahatma Phule and Savitribai Phule, the movement metamorphosed into non-Brahmin movement.
Time and again, the leaders of the Hindutva project have exhibited their love and preference for Brahminical mode of governance as laid down in the Manusmriti. In fact, when the constitutent assembly was engaged in making a constitution for independent India based on one wo/man one vote and was keen to do away with the graded hierarchy inherent in Manu’s code, these leaders had no qualms in putting it bluntly that independent India should be run on Manusmriti itself.
It is tragedy of our times that the anti-communal struggle in our country has not taken into account this important aspect of the Brahminical counterrevolution couched in the language of Hindutva. It would not be an exaggeration to say that till date the strategy to combat communalism has suffered from this lacunae.
As Braj Ranjan Mani rightly puts it :
The Hindutva of the RSS-BJP is predominantly hegemonistic, it is more social than political, and the so-called Hindu backlash against the past humiliations supposedly heaped on it by Islam and Christianity is a shrewd tactic to arrest the democratic upsurge of the hitherto excluded and marginalised majority. Earlier, the Hindu brahminic forces treated the toiling majority as the mlecchas. Now, dalit-subalterns are being co-opted into Hindu politics as tools against religious minorities. (Page 26, Debrahminising History, Manohar, 2008)
A close look at the manner in which the Ram temple movement unfolded in our times makes it abundantly clear how the affirmative action programme for the other backward classes was cleverly used to bring politics of religious symbolism to the national centrestage. It thus helped polarise Hindus on the one side and Muslims and Christians on the other and proved successful in keeping people disunited. It logically followed that they could not confront the ruling classes on the issues of mass poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and unemployment and the central issue of making collective producers collective appropriators.