Friends and adversaries: LK Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee shared a remarkable partnership of over 7 decades
The Atal Bihari Vajpayee-Lal Krishna Advani relationship would go down as one of the most remarkable partnerships in Indian political history.Updated: Aug 18, 2018 09:22 IST
They were the best of friends, political partners and colleagues for over seven decades. They had deep respect for each other. And yet, they were also adversaries, with deep differences on issues, their own loyalists and camp followers. And their political beliefs and styles led them on somewhat different political journeys.
The Atal Bihari Vajpayee-Lal Krishna Advani relationship would go down as one of the most remarkable partnerships in Indian political history.
Both owed their loyalty to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), 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.
They helped build the party organisation from scratch.
Vajpayee was senior and took over the Jana Sangh after Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s death in 1968. Advani, with Vajpayee’s backing, followed soon after. Both spent time in prison during the Emergency. They together decided to merge the Jana Sangh into the Janata Party, which dislodged the Congress in 1977. Vajpayee became the foreign minister. Advani the information and broadcasting minister.
But when there were questions on ‘dual membership’ — would they be loyal to the RSS or the Janata Party — both Vajpayee and Advani walked out and set up the Bharatiya Janata Party. Vajpayee was the first president of the party.
The BJP floundered electorally the first few years. It was only when Advani became the party chief in the mid-1980s and pushed it towards a more aggressive Hindutva line that the BJP 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 the Babri Masjid in 1992. This was also a period when Advani groomed an entire new generation of BJP leaders.
But the nature of the relationship, in which both had their strengths, differed, yet shared common goals, was most clearly visible when Advani declared Vajpayee to be the party’s Prime Minister candidate.
When the BJP came to power, both Vajpayee and Advani became power centres within the government. This period saw its share of private tensions and differences on issues, but both maintained cordial ties and displayed respect for each other in private. Advani was, as deputy PM, the number two. That was where his ambitions had to be contained; the hierarchy was clear.
After the electoral loss of 2004, Vajpayee steadily retreated from politics. Advani did try to fashion himself into a more moderate figure 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.
After Vajpayee’s passing, among those who would be grieving most deeply is Advani. In their intertwined lives lies the history of India’s politics of the right and the story of how the BJP came to be India’s most powerful party. And in their intertwined lives, amid all their differences, is a story of deep friendship, affection, and respect.