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Advani, Modi and the BJP cult culture

Ranjona BanerjiIs LK Advani having a mega sulk, trying to organise a mini revolt or is he just raging against the night? Or possibly it’s a bit of all three as the party he created finds that it no longer has any time for him. Even worse, his protégé has turned against him. If you remove all the hype and hysterics around the elevation of Narendra Modi to election campaign chief and the sidelining of Advani, all you get is the Bharatiya Janata Party behaving like everyone else. It is possible that some members of the BJP and some of its admirers truly believe that the BJP is a “party with a difference”. That somehow all the rules of human nature are overturned and instead the party operates under the strict regimen of an anthill. (I make no gratuitous references to Valmiki here). But instead what we have is raw ambition pitted against a more sophisticated ambition. Both Advani and Modi it seems want to be the prime minister of India.


Power games: The problem for Advani is that Modi is the more popular of the two as far as the party is concerned Pic /AFP

The problem for Advani is that Modi is the more popular of the two as far as the party is concerned. Long gone are the days when Advani whipped up Hindu majoritarian sentiment as he rode through the country to break down a mosque and build a temple. The crown of Hindutva hero was given to Modi after the 2002 riots in Gujarat. Advani having overseen the demolition of the Babri masjid later admitted it had gone too far and even apparently shed some tears.

He also fell into that odd trap so dear to the BJP despite its absurd logic, where if you cosy up to Pakistan you gain Muslim votes in India. Modi doesn’t want any Muslim votes and he doesn’t want any old man (not that he’s young himself at 63 but comparatively speaking) bleating about principles and personality cults. Modi is a well-crafted personality cult and lo and behold, it’s working! All that self-effacing nonsense about Indian culture can go back into the past. This is the new India, which grabs what it can. That’s the Modi camp’s feeling anyway. How it translates into votes in the old India, other India, Bharat that is India, minority India, caste India, agricultural India, non-Hindutva India is another matter.

Even more amusing is the fact that the man who coined the phrase “pseudo-secular” to describe everyone who didn’t think that killing Muslims was a bad idea is now being portrayed as a “moderate”, even a “liberal”. Yet, what is there to choose between Advani and Modi as far as their association with Hindutva politics goes?  Both have used it, with different degrees of success. So far it was AB Vajpayee who was seen as the moderate and Advani as the hardliner within the BJP. So has Advani jumped into Vajpayee’s spot and Modi taken Advani’s?

But in some sense, what Advani is complaining about is not wrong. The BJP has been tempted by a cult and many hope that its messiah will lead the party to glorious victory in the next parliamentary elections. There is no sense of discussion or democracy within the Modi cult -- not that he would allow it -- and his excited fan base is ready to be led. It is hardly surprising that comparisons are being made to Indira Gandhi, who also brooked no opposition. Interestingly, for all their hatred of the Emergency she imposed on India, many within the BJP have grudging admiration for Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian style. (Jawaharlal Nehru who was equally authoritarian frightens them because of his intellectual depth which was inimical to Sangh Parivar training).

It is however sad to see the pseudo-moderate flailing against inevitable change -- and a man whom he nurtured, promoted and protected -- as his light fades and his contribution forgotten. There are implications and repercussions for political India as well because the BJP will be transformed as a party now. The “difference” for one has been thrown out of the window. Together with LK Advani. 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona 

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