By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) India Correspondent
NEW DELHI: What could be senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advaniâ€™s political strategy? Soon after he voiced his â€œcommitmentâ€ towards building of a temple at the controversial site in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, Advani indicated his inclination to distance himself from politics. Earlier this week, Advani held a discussion with Swami Vishwesh Teerth, seer of Udupi Pejavar Math (September 28). The seer, who is one of the trustees of Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas Trust, advised Advani not to retire from politics. Advani called on the seer on occasion of a Hindu occasion- Vijay Dashami. Interestingly, the temple-issue did not figure in the discussions Advani had with Teerth. â€œHe (Advani) came here on a religious visit. While chatting, he expressed his desire to retire from politics, but I suggested to him to stay back, because the younger generation needed his guidance,â€ the seer said. â€œI did not ask him anything about this, but looking at the pace in which the present political scenario is heading Advani expressed his desire to retire from politics,â€ he said. â€œThere was no discussion about the Ramjanmbhoomi movement during the meeting,â€ the seer said. On his meeting with the seer, Advani said: â€œI met him to seek his blessings on the occasion of Vijay Dashami and I am happy about the meeting.â€
Interestingly, the BJP has tried to downplay Advaniâ€™s meeting with the Hindu seer and saffron leaders seem fairly unimpressed by his call for building the temple at Ayodhya. They apparently view these moves as Advaniâ€™s attempts to silence those who feel that it is time he graciously retired from politics. The veteran politician (82) is the leader of opposition in Lok Sabha, to which he was elected for the sixth term in parliamentary elections held this year.
Emphasizing that he learnt about Advaniâ€™s meeting with Pejavar seer only through media, BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said: â€œI came to know about this meeting only through the media. I request the media not to give any political angle to this meeting.â€
Advani reiterated his stand on building the temple at Ayodhya, after his visit to the Somnath temple (Gujarat). Advani strongly believes that the Ram Janmabhoomi Rath Yatra, he launched on September 25, 1990 from Somnath played a crucial role in contributing to BJPâ€™s emergence as a national party. Since 1990, Advani has been visiting the Somnath temple every year on September 25. The yatra (procession) also had a negative impact, leading to political polarization along communal lines, riots across the country and the demolition of Babari Masjid on December 6, 1992. After this yearâ€™s visit to Somnath, Advani told media in Ahmedabad: â€œPeople in the country would be happy and satisfied only when a decent temple is built at Ayodhya. I will keep visiting Somnath Temple till the Ram Mandir is built in Ayodhya.â€
Paradoxically, with Indian political culture having changed significantly over the past two decades, Advaniâ€™s stand on Ayodhya-issue has not had any major impact in political circles. At the most, it has provided BJPâ€™s rival party- the Congress some ground to question Advani and his partyâ€™s political credentials. Till not too long ago, even Congress leaders refrained from strongly criticizing the BJP on Ayodhya-issue out of the fear of losing â€œHinduâ€ votes. The Congress is now apparently convinced that the average Indian voter â€“ Hindu, Muslim or of any other religion- is least likely to be taken for a ride by communal rhetoric voiced by BJP leaders. Rather than remain a mute spectator to Advaniâ€™s recent comment on Ayodhya-issue, the Congress has thus questioned the same.
â€œAdvani is raising such issues to avoid and delay his forced retirement which is being pushed by senior leaders of BJP and RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh),â€ Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmad said. The Congress has a very clear stand on the Ayodhya issue, Ahmad said. â€œA solution to it can be found only in two ways either through a consensus and mutual amity between the two communities or as per the decision of the court,â€ Ahmad said.
Much to Advaniâ€™s dismay, his attempt to revive the Ayodhya-issue has not invited any strong support for him from his own political camp too. This is suggested by partyâ€™s spokesman Rudy calling on the media not to add much political importance to Advaniâ€™s meeting with Pejavar seer. While some critics have said that the time for Advani to retire from politics was â€œappropriate now,â€ former BJP ideologue K.N. Govindacharya said that his retirement is overdue. Govindacharya said: â€œAdvani should have stepped down in 2004 itself (following the partyâ€™s defeat in then elections) but dragged himself for five more years and now has brought himself to this situation where he has to take all this criticism (from within and outside the party).â€
Though rumors about his retirement from politics have been circulating since BJP faced defeat in Lok Sabha polls, held earlier this year, neither the party nor Advani himself have yet taken a clear stand on the issue. Besides, rather than being forced into political retirement, Advani is reportedly working on creating a post for himself in BJP, similar to that held by party supremo Sonia Gandhi in the Congress. The RSS chief Mohan Bhagat and BJP president Rajnath Singh, however, are strongly opposed to this plan of Advani. Be it the Ayodhya-issue and/or his meeting with Hindu seer, Advani apparently is preparing cards to counter those keen on ensuring his retirement from the political stage.