Published : Apr 24, 2009 00:00 IST

L.K. Advani during the Somnath-Ayodhya rath yatra in 1990.-V.V. KRISHNAN

L.K. Advani during the Somnath-Ayodhya rath yatra in 1990.-V.V. KRISHNAN

AFTER Independence, when the first government of the country was taking shape, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru gave priority to give berth only to Congressmen in it. But Gandhiji advised him to include scholar leaders like Shyama Prasad [Mookerjee] and Dr. Ambedkar in the government, L.K. Advani said in Gwalior on March 1.

He did not stop at this brazen falsehood and went on to add one more: Though Dr. Ambedkar was later made chairman of the committee formed for framing the Indian Constitution in which he ensured that all sections of society are protected, the Congress at the time of elections adopted such tactics which ensured his defeat in the polls (The Hindu, March 2, 2009). It is a matter of record that (a) Gandhi intensely disliked Ambedkar and (b) that Ambedkar lost in the 1952 elections to the Lok Sabha because of his own clumsy tactics. The Congress did not adopt or need to adopt any tactics.

This is what Gandhi wrote in a letter in Gujarati to Vallabhbhai Patel from Pune on August 1, 1946, only a year before Independence: The main problem is about Ambedkar. I see a risk in coming to any sort of understanding with him, for he has told me in so many words that for him there is no distinction between truth or untruth or between violence and non-violence. He follows one single principle, viz. to adopt any means which will serve his purpose. One has to be very careful indeed when dealing with a man who would become a Christian, a Muslim or Sikh and then be reconverted according to his convenience. There is much more I could write in the same strain (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi;Volume 85; page 102).

Whether Ambedkar was capable of saying what was attributed to him and that too, to a political adversary is not the issue here. What is plain beyond doubt is that a person who held such an opinion of Ambedkar would not have exerted himself only a year later to ensure for him a seat in Nehrus Cabinet. Ambedkars own fine record ensured that seat. He issued an erudite statement debunking the princes claim to independence on the demise of the Raj.

His speech in the Constituent Assembly in December 1946 was statesmanlike: I have got not the slightest doubt in my mind as to the future evolution and the ultimate shape of the social, political and economic structure of this great country. I know today we are divided politically, socially and economically. We are a group of warring camps and I may go even to the extent of confessing that I am probably one of the leaders of such a camp. But, Sir, with all this, I am quite convinced that given time and circumstances nothing in the world will prevent this country from becoming one. With all our castes and creeds, I have not the slightest hesitation that we shall in some form be a united people. He was lustily cheered by the members (Constituent Assembly Debates; Volume 1-6; page 100).

Ambedkar resigned from the Union Cabinet on September 27, 1951, on the eve of the general elections. Everyone knew that the Congress was ready and willing to ensure his election. Highly emotional, he lost patience on the Hindu Code Bill, little realising that Nehru was facing opposition from President Rajendra Prasad and from some in his Cabinet. N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar advised Nehru to postpone the debate to a date after the polls, which he did.

When Ambedkar introduced the Hindu Code Bill in Parliament on February 5, 1951, it instantly aroused opposition though in the Congress Parliamentary Party, Nehru had insisted on its passage. It was decided to take up one part, on marriage and divorce, first. The day for debate was fixed September 17, 1951. Who opposed it most? Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. It would shatter the magnificent structure of Hindu culture he said as Dhananjay Keer recorded in his book Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission (1962, page 429). He adds that, replying to the debate as Law Minister, Ambedkar said that Dr. Mookerjees remarks were not worth consideration as he had not opposed the Bill while he was in the Cabinet but opposed it now for the sake of opposition.

Ambedkars credentials as a scholar are unmatched. Mookerjees lie only in the eye of Advani and the like. Has Mookerjee written a single work of scholarship? Ambedkar wrote over a score of them.

An angry Ambedkar gave the press the statement he had intended to make in Parliament on October 11, 1951, but did not because the Chair wanted a copy in advance. It was a wide-ranging attack on the governments foreign and domestic policies: The right solution for the Kashmir issue is to partition the State. Give the Hindu and Buddhist parts to India and the Muslim parts to Pakistan. He was against non-alignment. Keer records Ambedkars statement that it was Nehru who called him in his chambers and gave him an offer of ministership.

The too-clever-by-half socialist leader Asoka Mehta forged an electoral pact with Ambedkar. In the clime of 1952, it harmed both parties. The Socialists, Mehta included, were wiped out in Bombay (now Mumbai), losing in the process their morale, which they never recovered, thanks largely to Mehta and Ram Manohar Lohia. Ambedkar was prepared for the defeat. He blamed Communist Party of India (CPI) leader S.A. Dange for it, not Nehru as Advani does in 2009 (page 438). Keer thought that the electorate was ungrateful. But he noted fairly: The advocacy for the partition of Kashmir, his speech before the Bombay Muslims on separate electorates for the Muslims, lack of positive speeches before the people and above all the weakness of his disorganised party resulted in the rout (page 437).

Advanis are not minor factual errors. The record shows him up as one who recklessly, wilfully made statements of fact that were utterly untrue and widely known to be untrue. The law of libel recognises, among falsehoods, statements known to be false, the lie proper, a word not to be used in civil discourse. But, on a par with it, legally and morally, is the statement made with utter disregard of whether it is true or false. Whatever drove Advani to stoop to this? Desperation for power is one reason. It is his last bid for the Prime Ministers office. Festering old hatred for Nehru is another.

Advani is the first politician in India to lay claim to the office of the Prime Minister so openly and for so long. The fates of predecessors who bared such ambition should warn him. Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, V.P. Singh, P.V. Narasimha Rao, H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral were not devoid of ambition. Nehru was the national favourite.

Others reached the office by consensus in the party, albeit not without skilful canvassing. Three stood out for their obscene ambition. All came a cropper. Charan Singh and Chandra Shekhar became Prime Ministers with the Congress (I)s support and lost it when its leader showed them the door. Were it not for the deadlock after the 1977 elections since Jagjivan Ram was unacceptable Morarji Desai would never have become Prime Minister. He had cooked his goose in desi ghee the very day after Nehrus death on May 27, 1964.

Michael Brechers Succession in India (1966) narrates the instructive episode in rich detail. On the evening of May 28, a major blunder was committed Morarji openly laid claim to be Nehrus successor. It is one thing to be known to be available for that high office; both Morarji and Shastri had long been so regarded. It is quite another to declare ones availability. And it is a fatal error, more so in India than in many other countries, to be believed to be making a bid for leadership; this is a violation of the concept and value of renunciation, so important in the Hindu view of things. And that was the impression created by the press report. This is the style in American presidential politics; but in India it is imperative to follow the maxim, let the office seek the man which is what Shastri did (page 44).

Brecher is wrong in asserting that the claim was leaked to the press. We have a fuller account by Kuldip Nayar, then editor and general manager of United News of India (UNI), who published the report in his book Between the Lines (1969). He wrote: As a newsman, I went to Desais house to find out whether he was a candidate. He was not available. But his supporters gave me this reply: Come what may, Morarji will contest and win hands down. One person took pains to explain how strong men like [Pratap Singh] Kairon from Punjab, Biju Patnaik from Orissa, Balwant Rai Mehta from Gujarat, C.B. Gupta from U.P. [United Provinces] and P.C. Sen from West Bengal and many MPs [Members of Parliament] had already pledged their loyalty to him.

He also went to Shastris place. After assessing the climate in the two camps, I wrote this story for United News of India, a news agency which I headed then. The story said: Mr. Morarji Desai, former Finance Minister, is the first one to throw his hat in the ring. He is believed to have told his associates that he is a candidate. Mr. Desai is understood to have said that there must be an election and he for one will not withdraw. The Minister without Portfolio, Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri, is considered another candidate, though he himself is reticent. According to circles close to him, he would like to avoid a contest as far as possible.

I never realised that the news item would do as much harm to Desai as it did. His supporters said that it cost them at least 100 votes. Word went round that he was so ambitious that he had not waited even for Nehrus ashes to get cold to make a bid for the leadership. I realised how much it had helped Shastri when the day the story appeared in the Delhi papers he called me to his house to say: Thank you. Now no more writing. The contest for leadership is practically over. I vainly explained to him that the story was never meant to harm or to help anybody. (pages 10-11).

Kuldip Nayar was Information Officer of the government attached to G.B. Pant when he was Home Minister and then to Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri until he became Prime Minister (page x). In Britain, R.A. Butlers unconcealed ambition cost him dear.

Advani, however, flourishes because he represents an ideological constituency which, like him, sees 2009 as the last chance to win power at the Centre. Its hatred for Nehru has ever been deep and intense. It will stop at nothing, stoop to any depth to denigrate him. On December 5, 2008, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) boss K.S. Sudarshan said at a book launch in New Delhi: Edwina Mountbatten would ask for favours at such moments when Nehru could not refuse her. Edwina had almost captured Nehru with her charms (The Telegraph, December 6, 2008). The relevance of these remarks to a book on Subhas Chandra Bose is obscure. What is clear is the blind antipathy towards Nehru expressed in sheer bad taste. This, from a custodian of Indias ancient culture.

It is not respect for Gandhi or Ambedkar that moved Advani to make the false assertions he did. It was hatred of Nehru. The Times of India castigated him on October 17, 1989, in these terms: Mr. Advani, while holding forth on Bharat Mata, now goes so far as to deny that Mahatma Gandhi was the Father of the Nation. Jan Sangh president Deendayal Upadhyaya had made the same denial. Their guru M.S. Golwalkars Bunch of Thoughts ridiculed Gandhi.

Which devotee of Gandhi for that matter, which man of any sensitivity would demand that along with Gandhis portrait that of a conspirator in his assassination also be put up in Parliament House? V.D. Savarkars guilt was held to be proved by Justice J.L. Kapur of the Supreme Court, sitting as Commission of Inquiry. He narrowly escaped conviction in the sessions court earlier because his aides would not testify against him while he was alive. They did so before Justice Kapur (vide the writers Savarkar and Hindutva; LeftWord Books, 2002; Chapter 5 on Gandhis murder, pages 95-134).

Is it any wonder that Advani ardently supports Narendra Modi? Albeit not to the peril of his own claims to be Prime Minister. As does the Sangh Parivar entire.

Its endorsement of Varun Gandhis candidature alone suffices to reveal it as a hideously divisive force.

Nehrus secularism was no different from the ideal as enunciated in the Congress resolutions of old. As Donald Eugene Smith points out in his famous work India as a Secular State (Princeton University Press, 1963; pages 87-88): The roots of Indian secularism must be sought as much in the history of the Congress as in the pronouncements and policies of British governors-general. The Raj maintained neutrality in the interests of colonial rule. The Congress upheld secularism to strengthen Indian nationalism. Every effort was made to place the Congress on a solidly non-communal basis, despite the fact that the first meetings were predominantly Hindu gatherings. What distinguished Nehru from others was his even-handedness and his moral courage after the partition of India. He noted in his Autobiography (Oxford University Press, 1936; page 136): Many a Congressman was a communalist under his national cloak. The Hindu Mahasabhas communalism masquerades under a nationalistic cloak (ibid., page 467).

The Communist leader Z.A. Ahmed had long talks with Nehru on June 27 and 28, 1945, shortly after his release from prison. Nehru told him that if the demand for Pakistan was accepted there is a strong anti-Pakistan Hindu opinion inside the Congress which would go over to the Hindu Sabhas [sic] (K.M. Ashraf, Hindu Muslim Question and Our Freedom Struggle; edited by Jaweed Ashraf; Sunrise Publications, New Delhi, 2005; Volume 2; page 305).

By then, to be sure, the secular ideal had won acceptance except in the ranks of the Muslim League, the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS. Lanka Sundarams book A Secular State for India (Rajkamal Publications, 1944) was well received. Appended to it was the Last Political Testament of the late Maulana Mohammed Ali Dated 12 December 1930; it was in the form of a letter addressed to his brother-in-law Moazzam Ali Khan.

But, immediately after the establishment of Pakistan, Nehru saw the havoc the event had wrought as he had accurately predicted. In a Note to Cabinet Ministers on September 12, 1947, he asked: Are we to aim at or to encourage trends which will lead to the progressive elimination of the Muslim population from India, or are we to consolidate, make secure and absorb as full citizens the Muslims who remain in India? That, again, involves our conception of India, is it going to be, as it has been, in a large measure, a kind of composite state where there is complete cultural freedom for various groups, but at the same time a strong political unity, or do we wish to make it, as certain elements appear to desire, definitely a Hindu or a Non-Muslim state? If the Hindus think in terms of any domination, cultural or otherwise, over others, this would not only be against our own repeated profession, but would naturally displease other and smaller minorities in India.

The Hindu mind has felt during the past many years that it has been obstructed by Muslim activities, political and cultural, and, therefore, not allowed full play. Now it is obvious that there can be no such obstruction in future, both because of the numerical preponderance of the Hindus as well as many other reasons. The point is whether the same free play and open opportunities should be given to other groups and communities, who may in the past have misbehaved politically or otherwise but who are not now in a position to obstruct effectively or make a vital difference to the general trend in India (S. Gopal and Uma Iyengar (Eds.); The Essential Writings of Jawaharlal Nehru; Oxford University Press, 2003; page 165).

Gopal records in his biography of Nehru his isolation in the Cabinet (Volume 2; pages 15-16). He wrote to Rajendra Prasad: The future appears to be dark not so much because of the mentality that has accompanied this and that perhaps might continue. I quite realise that I am out of tune with this environment and not a fit representative of it. To G.B. Pant he wrote on April 17, 1950. Communalism has invaded the minds and hearts of those who were the pillars of the Congress in the past. Pant was the architect of the Babri Masjid problem. His son K.C. Pant joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a matter of course.

In December 1963, Nehru was invited by Foreign Secretary Y.D. Gundevia to address officials of the Ministry of External Affairs, from under-secretaries upwards. Sensing their hesitation, Gundevia reminded him that the CPI had won power in Kerala in 1957 and asked: But what happens to the services if the communists are elected to power, tomorrow, at the Centre, here in New Delhi?Gundevia records: He pondered over my long drawn out question and then said, looking across the room, Communists, communists, communists, why are all of you so obsessed with communists and communism? What is it that communists, can do that we cannot do and have not done for the country? Why do you imagine the communists will ever be voted into power at the Centre? There was a long pause after this and then he said, spelling it out slowly and very deliberately, The danger to India, mark you, is not communism, it is Hindu right-wing communalism (italics in the original) (Y.D. Gundevia, Outside the Archives; Sangam Books, 1984; pages 209-210).

Nehru had aptly characterised the Jan Sangh as the illegitimate child of the RSS (The Hindu, January 6, 1952). History proved him right. Twenty-six years later, the BJP became a prop of the government at the Centre. In 1990, Advani went on a hate-filled rath yatra. Those latent feelings Nehru had perceived were tapped by Advani in his Ayodhya campaign in 1990. The prime exponent of secularism has to be vilified in this campaign of political mobilisation.

Advani said in Gorakhpur on February 15: It was the mandir issue that finally took the BJP to power at the Centre and in several States and changed the course of Indian politics (Organiser, March 1, 2009). Sudarshan became the RSS supremo on March 10, 2000. Mohan Rao Bhagwat succeeded him on March 21, 2009. The very next day, Advani took a chartered plane to pay his obeisance to the new Master. Bhagwat lost no time in asking for 100 per cent voting in the interest of Hindus (The Hindu, March 22, 2009).

Bhagwat is no moderate. What he told the intellectuals of Delhi on December 20, 2007, should make people sit up and think: Hindustan is a Hindu nation. We must accept and live with that notion. If we dont, it will only make things miserable for us. On the basis of this concept only idea of undivided India emerges. If India is not undivided and unified, who stands to lose, it is evident. You can see that since Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Burma have all become separate states, and right from the separation, they are passing through a phase of trials and troubles. They do not have a peaceful life. When a part of the body is cut and separated it, it gets infected, and becomes an abode for the worms. This is the RSS world view and presumably that of the BJP as well.

He was asked: What is the difference between the cultural concept of Hindu Rashtra and its political concept? I seek your guidance on the point that when we assemble in the RSS Shakha, we say we are the Hindu Rashtra but when we enter politics, or for that matter the Lok Sabha, there we say that Hindu Rashtra never existed nor would it ever come into existence. So please tell us what is the scheme or plan to turn our country into a Hindu Rashtra?

Bhagwat replied: Sangh has only one concept of Hindu Rashtra and it has no other concept. We are a Hindu Rashtra. The life all over the country should be governed by Hindutva. He yearns for the golden period of the Hindu Rashtra.

It is foolish to derive comfort from the squabbles within the BJP or its electoral debacles. What is relevant and worrisome is that its poison has spread. As Pankaj Mishra points out: During two decades of vicious anti-Muslim campaigns and terrorist retaliation, the Sangh Parivar has not only given Indian nationalism a hard majoritarian cast, it has also infected Indias state and civil society with its illiberalism (Outlook, October 6, 2008; page 49).

The French scholar Christophe Jaffrelot, an authority on the Parivar, warns that if Hindu nationalism is not at its best in the political sphere, the saffronisation of the state and society has made progress in the last 15 years. The Hindu Rashtra is in the making along the societal lines the RSS has always valued (The Times of India, March 22, 2009).

The trend cannot be arrested by television anchors who favouringly laud the one and only L.K. Advani. Contrast this with how leading Americans and British deal with purveyors of racial hate. Remember Anthony Jay, co-author with Jonathan Lynn of the immortal series Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister? He has produced a Dictionary of Political Quotations (Oxford University Press; 541 pages; Rs.295).

It is a work of remarkable scholarship, complete with instructions on How to use the Dictionary. The quotes are carefully sourced. They mirror British public life. Here is a gem (on page 421) from Harold Wilsons speech in the House of Commons on November 3, 1964, on the outcome of a byelection with racist overtones: The Southwick Conservatives can have the satisfaction of having topped the poll, and of having sent here as their Member one who, until a further general election restores him to oblivion, will serve his term here as a parliamentary leper.

That Member spread hate largely against immigrants. What term would you use for a BJP and its master, the RSS, for spreading hate over the decades against their fellow citizens? Condonation of their misdeeds by large sections of society has emboldened them. The Parivar feeds on their fears. Those who truly cherish the secular ideal must expose the paper tigers of the Parivar and its political front, the BJP. If they do, Advani will meet the same fate as R.A. Butler always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

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