Give Advani his due (21 Nov 2000)
There are quite a few personalities in Indian public life who are misunderstood by the public and the media. In politics, perception is more important than the truth and the careers of a number of people have been ruined by bad reputations.
If V P Singh was the beneficiary of a wrong public perception, Rajiv Gandhi was a loser. H N Bahuguna was also the victim of a wrong image. When Chandrababu Naidu took over Andhra Pradesh after a well-thought-out coup against his father-in-law, he carried the tarnished image of being a backstabber, conspirator and manipulator. Today he is the most competent chief minister and has a completely different public image.
Similarly, L K Advani has suffered because of a wrong image painted by a section of the media and certain political circles. From the day he assumed charge of the second most powerful office in North Block, his image has been that of a hardcore RSS man, who runs, or at least tries to run, a parallel totalitarian administration inside the Vajpayee government.
There were allegations galore — the most scathing attacks charged him with outright communal bias and a total absence of political adaptability. The media and his political opponents targeted him as one bearing a hidden agenda. He was allegedly plotting overtime to harass the Congress and the Left-run state governments. He was perceived as the biggest spoilsport whose non-compromising attitude worked as a de-cementing factor in the National Democratic Alliance.
As home minister, Advanis failures in handling the Jammu & Kashmir situation, and later the Kandahar hijack crisis, were attributed to his inability to run the sensitive office of home affairs.
Now, after almost three years in office, one may objectively analyse his performance. If a fair assessment is made, all these charges turn out to be baseless. In fact, Advani has proved an active home minister with a balanced approach and, on a number of occasions, has given weightage to the views of the opposition parties.
Contrary to what his critics say, his decisions cannot be branded communal. In fact, it was during his tenure that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal were isolated. The issue of atrocities against Christians, which attracted international attention, fizzled out after Advani called the ISI bluff by exposing the involvement of the Deendar Anjuman.
Advani has also shown political flexibility in keeping the NDA together. A number of alliance partners, who were sensitive about putting up with the so-called Sanghi elements in the BJP, have not had any problem with Advani. No Congress or Left-run government was unduly troubled despite repeated demands from some of his coalition partners. From Vilas Deshmukh to Shiela Dixit, no chief minister had any opportunity to complain against the Centres step-motherly attitude.
Advani has broken considerable ice in J&K. He managed to bring the militants to the negotiation table for the first time. Though the initiative was sabotaged by Pakistan, the home minister has followed a proactive Kashmir policy.
Critics anticipated that the creation of three new states — a feat last accomplished as far back as during Indira Gandhis tenure — would open a Pandoras box and the government would be rocked by dozens of similar demands. However, no such chaos has taken place.
Finally, the oft-repeated allegation that Advani has been eyeing the top slot in the government and leading the anti-Vajpayee squad inside the government doesnt hold ground if one carefully follows the developments. Advani has not challenged the leadership of the prime minister, but has played his role as the number two man.
In most crucial decisions, Vajpayee and Advani have been united in their opinion. For example, the decision to change the Uttar Pradesh leadership was taken jointly by both leaders after realising that Ram Prakash Gupta would spell doom for the party in the state.