Let’s take a semi-imaginary scenario: Sourav Ganguly is still seen as a force in the Indian national cricket team whose voice is heard and matters. Ganguly is respected as the man who once, as skipper, injected a much-needed aggressive spirit into the Indian side that had been floundering in the post-1983 World Cup-winning years.
Exactly nine years younger wicketkeeper-batsman MS Dhoni has learnt much from Ganguly, especially the leadership skills required to instil Cricketva — an aggressive mindset derived from Cricket — into the whole team. But as Dhoni grows in stature and proves his winning ways as captain, Ganguly’s radical contribution to Team India’s transformation from quiet kitties to roaring tigers slowly but surely takes the backseat. His not-so-subtle and voluble attempts to get back into the team as a key player, even as captain, doesn’t help his image.
Things come to a head when the veteran Ganguly is seen coming in the way of Dhoni and his team. He even starts making public utterances criticising key decisions made by the captain, such as Dhoni’s likely role in dropping Virender Sehwag from the Test side and going as far as to question the selection of Dhoni in the team. But Dhoni’s captaincy, barring a few questions about his ability to carry the whole team together, is cemented by his leadership qualities and popularity. On top of that he scores a double century in a Chennai Test leaving Ganguly to look churlish.
In this semi-imaginary scenario, the student has become the master while the master proceeds to show his displeasure by cutting himself off from any advisory and well-wishing role he had with the team he gave vision to. But that’s how the cookie-cutter cuts it. In the end, it’s not about old reputations but it’s about who seems the best person to deliver the cookies.
Much has been made of LK Advani being tossed aside by the BJP leadership in favour of his erstwhile shishya, Narendra Modi. Sentimentalism in politics is valuable only when it is politically valuable or, at least, viable. In the scheme of things for the BJP, Advani’s expiry date, being postponed in the public eye for a while now out of politesse, was made official in Goa. The “ek dhakka aur” in the form of elevating Modi as chairman of the BJP’s national campaign committee and rejecting Advani’s “suggestion” to have a separate panel headed by deposed BJP president Nitin Gadkari to oversee assembly elections in Delhi, Chhatisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh was what it took for Advani to hang his gloves and resign from the national executive, the parliamentary board and the election committee of the BJP.
Getting all perturbed about insulting “Bheesmapitamaha” and not showing any respect for one of the chief architects of the BJP as a national mainstream party is getting stuck in maudlin notions about “respecting elders”. The BJP leadership under (sic) the presidentship of Rajnath Singh and others before him tried various other tricks that didn’t involve making a personality cult out of Modi but a framed photograph out of Advani. All that chintan over whether to make a lurch back to “Hard Hindutva” or purr from the feathery pillows of “Soft Hindutva”, were tried. They failed.
It’s nice of the likes of Digvijaya Singh and others to find it horrifying that the BJP has treated a key senior figure in its rise as a democratic, parliamentary party in such a shabby manner. I’m sure he’ll be having a quiet moment trying to understand where such brutality in politics comes from. But the Congress has the luxury of never contemplating existence without the presence of a key family. So if poor showings, say in assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, stem out of bad strategy developed by one exalted personality, the Congress has the choice of blaming the party rather than the “key person” given charge of the matter resulting in a debacle.
For the BJP, when one “respectful elder” was constantly coming in the way of what had been finally considered as political progression, a decision had to be taken. If Advani was becoming too visible in blocking the path of a Modi-spearheaded BJP strategy — blocking it because of his (as he put it in his resignation letter) “finding it difficult to reconcile either with the current functioning of the party” and believing that “most leaders of ours are now concerned just with their personal agendas” — then the 85-year-old rebel was being just that: an 85-year-old rebel. The only other option for the BJP would have been to junk Modi. And that, even to well-wishers of the Original Modi, smelt, tasted and looked plain stupid being a personality cult with very high chances of zero returns.
For the BJP and its extended Sangh family, Advani’s attempt of re-inventing himself — and the party in his own re-invented image — started in earnest with his very reasonable but politically suicidal statement of Mohammad Ali Jinnah being secular — for which he resigned as party president in 2005 but returned to his post after four days — and ended with patriarchal notions of becoming a Vajpayee. Unfortunately for Advani, the BJP has been re-inventing itself over the last few years in a very different manner, appealing to and tapping Modi’s tough, no-nonsense, akhada-muscular style of corporate nationalism. Whether this will get the BJP to its intended destination is not the point. But this is the mouth that the party, only a year ago taunted for having “too many leaders”, has chosen to put its money in.
But what does the absence of Advani from the field mean for the BJP’s relations with the Babeltown called NDA? His attempts to project the not-so-poster-boyish Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan as an alternative to Modi was, at best, an attempt to keep alliance partners with a large Muslim electorate — and therefore with an understandable allergy towards Modi — hoping that a tricky decision won’t be foisted on them too soon. At worst, Advani was just blocking the space in which his “Sourav Ganguly” role would remain intact instead of being gobbled up by someone whom he had once defended after the 2002 Gujarat riots in the belief that one day Modi would have been what he had hoped Chauhan would have been today.
The BJP has decided to go for a zero sum game. If Modi clicks and the poll results roar for the party, they reckon that allies — even allies such as the Janata Dal (United) — will find ways of explaining their loyalties to the “anti-UPA” NDA. If Modi doesn’t deliver the goodies, well, the BJP’s certainly been on barren land as far as the Centre is concerned before.
As for the belief among commentators articulated best by the National Conference leader Omar Abdullah’s tweet – “If [Advani’s] opinion didn’t matter to you yesterday, why is his resignation a crisis for you today?” — the fact of the matter is that prior to Monday and its build-up over the last week, the BJP was facing a crisis, a crisis of manners and behaviour. With Advani’s resignation, that crisis got resolved.