Media pundits think L.K. Advani was trying to change his image. They are wrong. He was trying to change his politics. Advani's performance in Pakistan was calculated. What impelled him? To appreciate that, one must assess the effect his stand could have had at two levels—domestic and international.
Take the domestic level. On May 9, this column said: "The BJP and RSS have incompatible views on the economy and Hindutva. Tactics based on dishonesty cannot bridge these honest differences. By remaining united, both are declining. Minus the RSS, the BJP could become the focal point of a revived Janata Party, whatever its name. If younger BJP leaders have self-respect they will split from the RSS."
Making a veiled reference to the Advani episode, RSS boss K.S. Sudarshan said politicians were like prostitutes. On the Jinnah affair, the BJP laboured to placate Sudarshan. Because of Sudarshan, Advani compromised his stand. Won't BJP leaders show self-respect even now?
Advani got derailed into debating Jinnah's secularism instead of pinpointing the responsibility for Partition. Had Advani stood firm, he would have achieved what this column advocated. Even if the BJP had revolted or split, politics would have polarised and refocused on issues instead of personalities.
The Congress and Communists gloated over Advani's remarks. Advani sought a national debate on Jinnah. Had he persisted, this duo would have walked into a trap. A whole new generation of Indians could have been taught the truth about Partition. They could have learnt what roles the Congress and the Communists actually played in it. That debate could have ignited a cultural revolution. It could have buried the Congress.
By reappraising Jinnah, Advani also opened a debate about the future of India-Pakistan relations. The Congress was as much, if not more, responsible than Jinnah for Partition. Now, Pakistan is a reality. But its cultural unity with India remains intact. So, should both nations remain enemies and allow third powers to exploit and weaken them? Or should they form a South Asian Union as this column has consistently advocated and which Advani supported? Or should India attempt Akhand Bharat through military action to dismember Pakistan? Despite their bluster, could vanaspati fascists of the Sangh Parivar summon the guts to attempt this?
In the end, Advani collapsed because he acted from compulsion, not conviction. He looked like the wrong man pursuing the right agenda. Now, the RSS stranglehold on the BJP is complete. And Advani, as a pale shadow, walks towards the sunset.
(Puri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)