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India

Advani’s rath yatra galvanised temple movement, gave wings to BJP growth

NEW DELHI: The yatras L K Advani launched to propel the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign to the forefront of Indian politics in the 1990s set off a social mobilisation that drew in groups and communities that were not enamoured with BJP and Hindutva, often choosing regional and caste-based alternatives.
In eastern Rajasthan and western UP, Jats turned up in large numbers to listen to Advani outline the “historical wrong” of a mosque at the birthplace of Ram and how denial of a temple was a collective shame. His sharp comments on how Hindu society was paying for the “pseudo-secularism” of BJP’s rivals struck a chord with his audience, who heard him in rapt attention.
Advani was never a mass leader or orator in the manner of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But when he took on the secular mainstream, advocating a political philosophy that was immediately compared by the Left and the liberal establishment to national socialism, he spoke with an intensity that was compelling.
For a public speaker, Advani’s speeches were often filled with intellectual arguments rather than the broad sweeps that political leaders prefer. He would often quote foreign publications at length to rural audiences, translating the content, to emphasise how BJP’s ideas — and its rivals’ follies — were gaining wider attention.
At 92, Advani is in political retirement, not having contested the recent Lok Sabha elections. His remarks welcoming the Supreme Court verdict facilitating the Ram Mandir and calling for a closure would cap a distinguished career even if he fell out with a team of leaders he had promoted ahead of the 2014 elections.
Apart from his political journeys, Advani wrote extensively, his articulation making him a media favourite even with sections of the press that viewed BJP’s political ideas with hostility. A careful writer, he paid particular attention to grammar, right down to the appropriate use of articles. His essays and columns sought to project the Ram temple demand on a bigger screen, etching a cultural, social and political vision that went beyond the religious connotations of Ram Janmabhoomi. Taking up reconstruction of the Somnath temple as an example, Advani made the point that “pseudo-secularism” was distorting and suppressing an older Indian identity, an approach that might be seen as “nativist” in the current context with the rise of right-wing in the world.
From the BJP’s viewpoint, Advani’s yatras connected the party with communities that were rising in the social and economic scales but were searching for acceptance and identity. Becoming Ram Mandir proponents seemed to provide a sense of purpose to well-off farming communities and urban youth. Advani’s big challenge arose when the V P Singh government announced Mandal quotas. Advani’s yatra to counter Mandal with “kamandal” ended with his arrest, but the bold move energised Hindutva votaries. BJP’s itinerant is no longer on the move but saffron is more mainstream that it has ever been.
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