The nostalgia-filled ruminations of nonagenarian BJP leader LK Advani come as an indictment of the aggressive brand of Hindutva that has come to characterise the present leadership. The original ‘Hindu Hruday Samrat’ has, in a blog post titled ‘Nation first, Party next, Self last’, sent out a clear message to the Modi-Shah combine on two key aspects: First, the nature of political discourse. Second, the treatment and integrity of the institutions. By asserting that the BJP never regarded those who disagree with it as anti-nationals and enemies, the former party president has ticked off his own disciples and protégés who are promoting a culture of intolerance and ‘take no prisoners’ approach. The message should not be dismissed as inconsequential reflections of a patriarch in his twilight years but must be seen as a warning against pursuit of muscular majoritarianism and faux nationalism. Instead of responding to the vital issues raised by his mentor on the eve of the saffron party’s Foundation Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has picked an innocuous element—‘Nation First..’–contained in the blog and played it up because it fits into the current political narrative. Pointing out how respect for diversity and freedom of expression is the essence of Indian democracy, the former Deputy Prime Minister reminded the present leadership that the BJP never branded critics as enemies and that the party has been committed to freedom of choice of every citizen at personal as well as political level. This is a clear dig at the present crop of BJP leaders who repeatedly dub the critics of the government as “tukde tukde gang” and “Pakistani supporters.”
Advani’s emphasis on the protection of independence, integrity, fairness and robustness of all democratic institutions, including the media, comes as a thinly-veiled warning to the present government, which is coming under increasing attack from the opposition for undermining the institutions. It is deplorable that ‘anti-national’ has become the defining phrase of the present dispensation and a core element of its political strategy. It is very much on display in the ongoing election campaign. Just a day before Advani’s blog post, Modi dubbed both the Congress’ manifesto and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee as ‘anti-national’. The only other time when this phrase was wielded against political adversaries was during Indira Gandhi’s regime, particularly during the Emergency period. Advani’s criticism of the tendency to brand political rivals as anti-nationals doesn’t cut much ice among today’s hyper-nationalist uber-BJP supporters who may find such nuances tiresome and signs of weakness. At the same time, it must be pointed out that the Ayodhya movement, spearheaded by Advani, sowed the seeds of communal disharmony, disregarded the institutions like courts and changed India’s polity and society forever.