L.K. Advani‘s memoirs My Country, My Life is a remarkable literary effort, more remarkable than literary.
Its timing, on the eve of an election for which he is a prime ministerial candidate, is intended to air-brush his legacy and keep him in the mind’s-eye of voters, like the tell-all tomes of American presidential hopefuls. Its size is intended to show how different he is from others of his ilk, that they don’t make them like him any more. And its economy with the truth, even at the risk of alienating friends and colleagues, suggests a serious desire to pull a halo over his head, come hell or high water or both.
From a media perspective, though, two things stand out. One, the ease with which the 80-year-old Loh Purush allowed his eyes to well up for the benefit of the (pseudo-secular) English news channel cameras. And two, the extraordinary reverence with which (pseudo-secular) English interviewers and reviewers have treated him, as if they have been handed a tablet from the high heavens. Ram bhakt (as Atal Behari Vajpayee used to call Advani) may think that having reshaped the grammar of India’s politics, he has now earned his right to be looked upon as a “statesman”.
But do the titans of television have to wear kid gloves while jostling with a glowering giant?
Does every MP elected from Gandhinagar necessarily get blessed with the attributes of the man after whom the City and the constituency are named? Merely because he gives convoluted answers while meaningfully rubbing his palms to even simple questions, can Advani wipe away a trail littered with the blood stains of innocent Indians slaughtered at the altar of majority communalism? Can he divorce himself from his seminal role in the institutionalisation of hate—the demonisation of the other—as the dominant feature of the discourse?
Can the emperor’s new clothes (stitched by a ghost with enormous stamina to last 986 pages) blind us to the fact that he was naked in the hamaam not too long ago?
It takes 95-year-old Khushwant Singh to call the bluff on the “man who sowed the dragon seeds of hatred”. In the latest issue of Outlook, the “dirty old man of Indian journalism”, who signed Advani’s nomination papers after the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 but fell out with him after the Ayodhya movement in early 1990s, provides some much-needed perspective:
# My disenchantment began after he launched his rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya. When he was Union home minister, I said on his face, “Mr Advani, you sowed the dragon seeds of hatred in this country….” In his address, he said he would answer my charges at a more appropriate time. I hoped to find them in his autobiography; they are not there.
# I turned the pages to see what he had to say about Mahatma Gandhi who remains the national touchstone to test political and moral decisions. He tells us that the RSS held Gandhi in high esteem and he, in turn, praised its military discipline. When Gandhi heard that cadres of the RSS were also involved in communal riots and took on Muslim hoodlums in street battles which erupted periodically, he sent for the sarsanghchalak.
The latter explained, “If we object to the conduct of some Muslims in our society, it is not because they follow Islam but rather because of their lack of loyalty to India. The partition of India has proven us right. Therefore to call the RSS anti-secular is to show one’s ignorance of what secularism stands for and what the RSS stands for.” Advani adds: “This was my first lesson in secularism. I was twenty-one then.”…
If the RSS is secular, how many Muslims and Christians does it have on its rolls?
# Advani was 14 years old when he enrolled himself as a worker of the RSS in Karachi. His views on secularism are naive beyond belief. He tries to equate Gandhi’s concept of Ram rajya in which all religions will be treated with equal respect—sarva dharma samabhava—with the RSS concept of Hindutva, “a noble concept,” according to him. The RSS was suspect in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. His assassin had been a member of the organisation. Advani tells us that on Gandhi’s murder the RSS was ordered to observe 13 days of mourning.
# He, more than anyone else, sensed that Islamophobia was deeply ingrained in the minds of millions of Hindus and it only needed a spark to set it ablaze…. Advani claims that breaking the [Babri] mosque was not on his agenda and he actually sent Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati from the dais to plead with the breakers to desist. If that is so, why were the two seen embracing each other and rejoicing when the nefarious task was completed?
Advani records the jubilation that followed at the site and along his triumphal return to Delhi. Repercussions were felt over the world: Hindu and Sikh temples were targeted by irate Muslims from Bangladesh to UK. Relations between Hindus and Muslims have never been the same in India. There were communal confrontations in different parts of the country: the serial blasts in Bombay, the attack on Sabarmati Express in Godhra and the massacre of innocent Muslims in Gujarat can all be traced back to the fall of the Babri Masjid.
# Advani has quite a lot to say about Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat. He exonerates him from the charge of allowing the massacre of innocent Muslims following the attack on the Sabarmati Express at Godhra. It is a symbiotic relationship: Modi helps Advani win elections from Gandhinagar in Gujarat; Advani stands by Modi whenever his conduct comes under question from the higher echelons of the BJP.
# Either we remain a secular state envisaged by Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru or we succumb to Advani’s interpretation of it and become the Hindu Secular Socialist Republic of Bharatvarsha. Perish the thought.
Read the full review: Ghost burial that wasn’t to be
Photograph: courtesy NDTV