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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

He laid the ground for that day [Babri demolition] with his 1990 Rath Yatra that sowed dragon seeds of hate. The event was followed by a trail of riots that took 600 lives. He lit the fire but blames the wind.

Advani’s Cloistered World

No big picture emerges from this disappointing tome

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, 1 April, 2008

Political biographies constitute a relatively new literary genre in India. LK Advani’s “My Country, My Life” therefore aroused expectations as he has played a critical role as a Hindutva ideologue, president of the BJP, Home Minister and, now, Leader of the Opposition and prime minister-designate of his party. The outcome, a voluminous tome, is frankly disappointing. No big picture emerges of what was attempted or what is now envisioned. Instead we have a self-righteous justification of what are described as “transformational” actions and events with “My Country” being used as little more than a stage on which to portray “My Life”.       

Mr Advani acknowledges his spiritual debt to the RSS which has made and mentored him and writes in that mould. “Cultural nationalism” is the essence of nationhood for him. Though he describes this as a way of life and not adherence to any religion, his argument becomes tautological in so far as India’s cultural nationalism is said to stem from the primordial soul of sanatan dharam which is equated with Hindutva, Bharatiyata or Indianness. He was dismayed by the Partition of India and rejects Jinnah’s two-nation theory, yet forgets this concept was first enunciated by Savarkar who spelt out the meaning of nationhood in his “Who is a Hindu” and, later, by Golwalkar, who apparently ghost wrote “We or Our Nationhood Defined”. More recently, as Home Minister, Mr Advani eulogized a volume entitled “Religious Demography in India” which classified and saw menace in the alleged demographic growth of “non-Indian religionists” such as Muslims and Christians who in Golwalkar’s terminology needed to be Indianised. From this followed Narendra Modi’s taunt, “Hum pancch, woh pachees” and the justification for pernicious “anti-conversion” Acts and Bills.  
None of this is inclusive; much is divisive

So where does this leave “cultural nationalism”? Mr Advani describes the 1992 Babri demolition as a “Hindu awakening” and is pleased to cite Girilal Jain’s certificate that “You have made history”. Having taken a bow, Mr Advani describes the day as the “saddest” in his life. Yet he laid the ground for that day with his 1990 Rath Yatra that sowed dragon seeds of hate. The event was followed by a trail of riots that took 600 lives. He lit the fire but blames the wind.

The same with the Gujarat riots, one of the worst blots in India’s record since Independence. Mr Advani commends Modi, but disowns any responsibility as a leading BJP stalwart, Gandhinagar MP and Union Home Minister. He cites the communal count of those killed in police firing to suggest even handedness and promptitude of action, setting aside contemporary evidence of official complicity which continues to this day. Police officers who stood firm were promptly “promoted” and transferred! Speaking over AIR, Mr Modi told terrified victims of the holocaust that if they desired peace they should not seek justice. Nothing more despicable could have been said. Alas, Mr Advani fiddled while Gujarat burned. To say that similar crimes had been committed in Delhi in 1984 is to show utter contempt for justice and the rule of law. And when Mr Vajpayee wanted Mr Modi to at least resign, his Home Minister thwarted the move. Even as the Supreme Court is again constrained to order retrials in Gujarat, Mr Advani holds Modi was a victim of vilification.

For the most part, the book is a bald narrative of salient events during Mr Advani’s eventful life. He came to realize the importance of “aggregative” politics or alliance building as the BJP simply cannot come to power on its own. Joining JP’s “Total Revolution” Movement and the Janata experiment were first steps in that endeavour. Pokhran-II is retold but there is no semblance of a larger strategic doctrine underlying the decision to go nuclear other than nationalist pride.

 Mr Advani dissembles in telling the IC 814 hijack story. He informed Shekhar Gupta that he did not know that the Foreign Minister was to accompany the special flight to Kandahar to bring back the hostages. This has been denied by the then Defence Minister, Mr Fernandes who has asserted that Mr Jaswant Singh’s journey was cleared by the cabinet with Mr Advani present. The veracity of his account apart, it is remarkable that the Home Minister never subsequently inquired into the matter which he casually dismisses as “a side issue”!

Mr Advani has, however, shown imagination and courage in admitting Jinnah’s return to secularism while addressing the Pakistan constituent assembly in August 1947 – for which the Parivar savaged him. He has also boldly advocated two federally and regionally autonomous parts of J&K coming together with India and Pakistan in a confederation. This could sublimate Partition in a new model of togetherness as envisaged by Nehru and Abdullah in1964 and now restored to the agenda by Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr Musharraf. But that has a logic bearing on larger Indo-Pakistan and Hindu-Muslim/secular relationships that Mr Advani has apparently yet to explore and understand. His understanding of the relevance of a uniform civil code- an urgent option in a socially mobile India – and building a common citizenship, seems sadly limited. He pleads for social justice, equality and reform in Hindu society but fails to spell out how this is to be accomplished.

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