Advani presidential bid hangs by a thread after Babri case revived: Will BJP patriarch go gently into that good night?

Shubham Ghosh
Advani presidential bid hangs by a thread after Babri case revived: Will BJP patriarch go gently into that good night?

"Do not go gentle into that good night/Old age should burn and rave at close of day/Rage, rage against the dying of the light" – Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas, the famous Welsh poet, might not have known Lal Krishna Advani, the patriarch of Indian politics, but his poem is very relevant to the politician at this point in his life.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Thursday (April 6) pleaded in front of a Supreme Court bench that conspiracy charges against the former deputy prime minister and BJP president, LK Advani, and other leaders involved in the infamous Babri demolition case, be resurrected.

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The central investigative agency booked a number of top BJP leaders, including Advani, but they were freed by a Rae Bareli court. They received further relief from the Allahabad High Court in 2010.

The apex court, while indicating at a day-to-day hearing in the case, said it may transfer the trial to Lucknow. A month ago, the Supreme Court sought to examine the appeal against dropping criminal charges against Advani and others in connection to the demolition of the mosque in December 1992.

It also hinted on Thursday that it could use its extraordinary powers under the Constitution (Article 142) to transfer the trial from Rae Bareilly to Lucknow. The court also showed an urgency in reaching a conclusion within two years.

Focus back on Advani on BJP's foundation day

It is quite ironic that the issue was raked up on the 38th foundation day of the BJP, the party Advani has worked hard to bring to prominence.

The 89-year-old is the saffron party's original hardline face. He played a massive role in the late 1980s and early 1990s to capitalise on majoritarian politics in the wake of the Shah Bano controversy and late prime minister VP Singh's ploy of Mandal politics, which left Hindus disappointed.

Advani embarked on a Rath to mobilise majoritarian sentiments in the hope of finding a secure vote-bank for the BJP, and even though lives were lost in the communal clashes that followed, the patriarch had done a great service to his party. He helped  it emerge as a major political force in the country.

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His juggernaut was finally stopped by Lalu Prasad Yadav, who had him arrested in Samastipur in Bihar in October 1990. Besides taking its tally in the Lok Sabha in 1991 to 120 from just two in 1984, the BJP also won a majority in the UP Assembly elections that year. Advani looked like a man for the future back then.

Advani proved his mettle in 1996 when he refused to contest LS polls on moral grounds

However, in 1996, Advani did not contest the parliamentary election, the only time since 1952 – the first-ever election year – since independence, in connection to a hawala case.

The leader cited moral grounds for sidelining himself from political life, even though there was a fair chance of the BJP coming to power for the first time. Advani had every chance to become the PM, but he thought otherwise.

Speaking to a Bengali daily at the time, he said: "For a politician, to command people's trust is the biggest responsibility. What morality demands is 'rajdharma' and the need to maintain probity in public life." 

He was among the most vocal in the BJP when former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa found himself mired in corruption charges, but the latter returned to the party fold later, hence nullifying the old-school legacy of transparency that Advani always stressed.

Advani returned to Parliament in 1998 after his name was cleared and in the full-fledged BJP rule that followed between 1999 and 2004, he became a significant face of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government.

At the end of the day, however, Advani's loyalists remained dejected that the man could not become the prime minister – losing out to Narendra Modi, the current incumbent, after Vajpayee.

Not right to write off Advani just yet, even if the latest development ruins his presidential chances

But despite him finishing as the runner-up each time he harboured ambitions of reach the very top, Advani's significance in Indian politics, and particularly in the BJP, can never be understated.

Even today, despite the CBI and the Supreme Court seeking a revival of the Babri demolition case against him, one would be unwise to write the epilogue to the Advani story.

True, the prospects of Advani emerging as president of the country in a few months time could be ruined if the Grand Old Man of Indian politics is found guilty, but he cannot be judged by that alone. The real issue will be how Advani takes the trial in his stride. There could be two outcomes.

Will LK Advani rage if he is found guilty and leave his beloved party in a mess?

One, Advani deciding not to go gentle into that good night as Thomas's poem suggested and making use of the opportunity to expose the Hindutva's inner circle.

After all, Advani knows each avenue in the BJP's private chambers like the back of his hand – things confidential and critical. The man's journey has not been a happy one, ever since Vajpayee departed.

His position was weakened by his clash with the RSS and the rise of Narendra Modi in the subsequent years saw him being sidelined.

Or will he walk into the twilight like a true statesman?

Secondly, Advani could decide to play the elder statesman's role and quietly retire into oblivion, accepting the trial's outcome if it goes against him.

In that way he would be immortalised, as even through defeat (may be the final one in his life), he leaves the party happy. The BJP has been struggling to deal with its aged brigade, doing its best to accommodate them in some form without a retirement scheme.

Will LK Advani go gentle into that good night, or will his last political act be to rage against the dying of the light?

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