Comrades of the right: How Vajpayee, Advani reshaped India’s politics
Their relationship will go down as one of the most remarkable partnerships in Indian political history.Updated: Aug 16, 2018 18:58 IST
Among the many politicians who on Thursday morning visited Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who passed away at Delhi’s All India Institute for Medical Sciences (AIIMS) on Thursday, was 90- year-old LK Advani. This visit was special.
Three years apart in age, the two leaders have been the best of friends. They were also political partners and colleagues for over seven decades. They had deep respect for each other. And yet, they also were adversaries. They had their own loyalists and camp followers. They had deep differences on issues. And their political styles, socialisation and beliefs led them into somewhat different political journeys.
The Atal Bihari Vajpayee-L K Advani relationship will go down as one of the most remarkable partnerships in Indian political history.
Both owed their loyalty to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and its worldview of uniting Hindu society. They both had interests in literature, journalism and cinema. They joined the Bharatiya Jana Sangh - when the RSS deputed some of its finest workers to the political party formed in 1951. And they helped build the party organisation from scratch.
Watch: Remembering Atal Bihari Vajpayee: Poet, politician and statesman
Vajpayee was the more senior leader, the party’s star parliamentarian, and took over the Jan Sangh after Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s death. Advani followed soon after. Both spent time in prison during the Emergency. They together decided to merge the Jan Sangh into the Janata Party, which dislodged the Congress. Vajpayee became the Foreign Minister. Advani became the Information and Broadcasting Minister.
But when there were questions on ‘dual membership’ - would they be loyal to RSS or Janata - both Vajpayee and Advani walked out and set up the Bharatiya Janata Party. Vajpayee was the first president of the party; the BJP however electorally floundered in the first few years.
It was when Advani took over in the mid 80s, and pushed it towards a more aggressive Hindutva politics that the BJP actually expanded. This was a period when Vajpayee took the backseat. He was committed to the Ram temple in Ayodhya - but was uncomfortable with the manner of mass mobilisation and the eventual demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. This was also a period when Advani groomed an entire new generation of BJP leaders.
But the relationship - where both had their strengths, differed, yet shared common goals - was most clearly visible when Advani declared Vajpayee to be the party’s PM candidate. In a way, a large part of BJP’s growth was due to Advani - but he made way for Vajpayee for it was clear that the latter had greater national acceptability.
When the BJP came to power, both Vajpayee and Advani became the two key power-centres within the government. This period saw its share of private tensions and real differences on issues - but both leaders maintained warmth and cordial ties, and displayed respect for each other in private. Advani was, as Deputy PM, the number two. But that is where the ambitions had to be contained, for the hierarchy was clear.
After the electoral loss of 2004, Vajpayee steadily retreated from politics. Advani did try to fashion a more moderate image and got his chance as the party’s PM candidate in 2009. But he could never replicate the success of his old friend and partner. By 2014, his own protege, Narendra Modi, had become the party’s mascot.
After Vajpayee’s death was announced, among those who would be grieving most deeply is Advani. In their intertwined lives lies the history of India’s politics of the right. In their intertwined lives resides the story of how BJP has come to be India’s most powerful party. And in their intertwined lives, amid differences, is a story of deep friendship, affection, and respect.
Advani, in a statement, called Vajpayee his “closest friend for over 65 years”.
“Atal ji will be remembered as the pioneer of the first ever stable non-Congress coalition government at the Centre and I had the privilege of working as his deputy for six years. As my senior, he always encouraged and guided me in every possible manner,” he said.