Lal Krishna Advani (Photo: www.lkadvani.in)
It must be tough to be Lal Krishna Advani these days. A party that he transformed from a morbid curiosity on the margins of India’s political life into a significant political force is now treating him like a morbid curiosity. That has to be tough for an 86-year-old man.
For someone who has been in public life for 67 years it has to be rough that you are barely being tolerated. The realization that the Bharatiya Janata Party now does the bidding of a man who has not been alive as long as Advani has been in public life. By the time Narendra Modi was born in 1950, Advani had already been a seasoned young worker of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for at least three years. That he has to throw a tantrum to be paid attention to by that man and that party can be profoundly annoying.
What compounds Advani’s predicament is that in his mind and perhaps even in his body he probably feels fit enough to take one last shot at the country’s prime ministership. He might even think that if nothing else, out of a sense of gratitude leaders such as Modi should afford him the courtesy of stepping aside from claiming that position out of his own volition rather than presenting him with a rude fait accompli. It has come down to a stage where Advani is even made to sweat for which parliamentary constituency he should contest from. There is some tragic grace in a diminished patriarch. To be one must be even harder.
Having interacted with Advani frequently throughout the late 1980s and most of the 1990s when he was building the BJP brick by brick I can tell you that he is a thoughtful man who knows that life as a politician of consequence is about negotiating through societal angularities. This is in contrast to the brand of leadership he sees now as represented by Narendra Modi, which is barrel-chested braggadocio. The power play in the BJP reminds me of what goes down everyday on the Plains of the Serengeti where an ageing lion often endures the ignominy of the younger more robust one snatching a kill from the patriarch who is then forced to make do with scraps of meat.
That said, I think Advani should have known better than to persist with political life at his age. Since Advani and the rest of the BJP see themselves as the custodians and upholders of ancient Hindu virtues, it might be appropriate to remind them of the four ashrams (stages) of life as laid down by the very scriptures they swear by. By the logic of these four ashrams, Advani is not only well past Grihasthashram (The stage of a householder carrying out his worldly and familial duties) and Vanaprasthashram (The end of the life as a householder now having entered a life of renunciation of material pleasures) but he should be deep into the Sanyasashram (Complete detachment from a worldly life). Instead, he is engaged in an unseemly jockeying for a parliamentary constituency. I cite these Hindu ashrams not because I have any stake or belief in them but because they pretend they do.
My observations are those of an eternal outsider to human follies, of someone who may not even be human. I stand on the sidelines of life and observe, mostly in mild amusement. That sounds pompous and full of it because I am pompous and full of it. It is a feeling reminiscent of what the great Ghalib said with the unconcealed arrogance of a poet: “Bazeecha-e-atfal hai duniya merey aagey, Hota hai shab-o-roz tamasha merey aagey. (The world is like a children’s playground in front of me, Where a spectacle unfolds day and night).