Bharat Ratna for a seminal political voice

Bharat Ratna for a seminal political voice

Few politicians of the post-Emergency era can match LK Advani’s impact on Indian politics. The Bharat Ratna recognises his long and remarkable years in public affairs. Arriving in Delhi in the wake of Partition, he started his political career in the rough and tumble of the city’s municipal politics and worked his way up to become the deputy PM and the principal ideologue of Right-wing politics in India. The Bharat Ratna, coming in the wake of the pran pratishtha of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, is also an acknowledgement of Advani’s seminal role in the making of the temple.

LK Advani addresses a rally in February 1986. That year, the BJP elected Advani as its president. He served till 1991, got a second term as president between 1993 and 1998 and a third term in 2004-2005. Advani is credited with reviving a party that won just two seats in the 1984 general elections by galvanising support for the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. (Santosh Kumar Gupta / HT Archive)

While he was active in the resistance against the Emergency and became a minister in the Janata Party cabinet, Advani emerged as a leader on his own in the 1980s when he succeeded AB Vajpayee as the president of a young BJP. He pitchforked the BJP from the margins of Indian politics to centre stage by introducing ideological rigour and adding mobilisational capabilities. The Ayodhya Movement gained national traction because of his rath yatra. Though deeply polarising, it gave a new focus to the BJP and led to the making of a pan-Indian Hindu vote. He abandoned the Gandhian socialism of Vajpayee and turned the BJP into a Savarkarite outfit by making the latter’s ideological vision, Hindutva, central to the BJP’s idea of nationhood. The party’s powerful cadre base and ideological appeal stand on the foundation he laid. However, Advani’s attempt to reconcile his party with the idea of Pakistan and his description of Jinnah as a secular leader saw him lose ground within the BJP. The Bharat Ratna moment is a time to revisit the unfinished debate, whose origins are in the troubling relationship Hindutva has with the idea of secular nationalism.

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