In television debates and editorial columns these days, one often comes across the theme of whether LK Advani has the best credentials to be India’s prime minister. I ask a different question: does any other leader today have better credentials than Advani to be India’s PM? I think not.
Advani is a self-made man who has built the BJP into a national party and developed it into an alternate pole to the Congress in national politics. He also brought to power the first-ever, stable pan-Indian coalition, the NDA, in 1998. In terms of integrity, Advani has an unblemished record in public life. When the former PM PV Narasimha Rao falsely implicated him in the infamous Hawala episode, Advani resigned as an MP instantly and vowed not to fight any election until he was cleared of the charges.
Advani’s is, perhaps, the only case in Indian politics where a leader has sacrificed his own ambition when he was ‘all-powerful’ to pave the way for anointing a charismatic Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the prime ministerial candidate. This was an act of self-abnegation much more important than Sonia Gandhi’s ‘sacrifice’ considering that she continued to wield authority while Advani allowed Vajpayee to emerge stronger than him politically.
Advani’s age is held against him by his critics. But even at 81, his physical stamina, agility, alertness, attitude and discipline are noteworthy. To lead a nation of this vastness and complexity, people consider age, experience and maturity as prerequisites. Which is why age is not held against leaders like Sheila Dikshit, who at 72 continues to be the choice for Delhi’s people.
Critics and rivals have made unwarranted comparisons between Advani and Vajpayee to show that the former is not as popular. But Advani is not fighting elections against Vajpayee. So why the comparison? Is anyone comparing Sonia with Indira Gandhi or Rahul with Rajiv Gandhi in terms of their popular appeal?
In a recent poll in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi, Advani led in all three — by a wide margin in Madhya Pradesh (over 25 percentage points), and by a considerable margin in Rajasthan (11-15), while in Delhi, he trailed Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi (but not Sonia Gandhi) by 12 percentage points.
Advani’s problem is not with the electorate, but with the media that have never understood and, therefore, judged him correctly.