I would never have thought I would ever feel sorry, as I do now, for L K Advani. I have had reason to detest the political skullduggery of the man (see `Skeletons in Advani’s cupbard’ in the Blogrolls section on this blog) but I would never have believed that he would be so stupid as to shoot himself in the foot with his jiggery-pokery kind of politics.
Now Kandahar seems to have come to permanently haunt him and though Jaswant Singh’s critics in the BJP say he cannot be believed about Advani knowing about his trip to Afghanistan, Arun Shourie’s recollection of the event – where Advani was present when Jaswant announced he was catching a plane to Kandahar – seems to have nailed Advani’s lie once and forever. And he has also now been gheraoed – it almost seems orchestrated – by other members of the committee which decided on Kandahar: George Fernandes, Yashwant Sinha and Brajesh Mishra, all of who categorically state that Advani knew everything about Kandahar. The most charitable explanation is that he might have forgotten. But how many believe that? I really do not know.
Much as I am against the sectarian politics of the BJP, I had believed that that party, more than the Congress, had numerous stalwarts who stood head and shoulders above others not just in the BJP but the nation as a whole. I counted both Atal Behari Vajpayee and Advani among them and, indeed, I am deeply disappointed that the latter turned out to be a man with clay feet, after all.
But considering that during the last Lok Sabha election campaign many people believed that it would be Advani who would finally occupy the PMO, I wonder what the nation thinks today about having been delivered from a man who does not even have the courage of his own convictions.
Jiggery-pokery, I have noticed, does not really pay in the long run. But, I guess, Advani is not the only man who has been practicing that kind of politics. Sharad Pawar is another. He, too, thought he had a fair chance at being Prime Minister in May this year but if both he and his party are in deep trouble today, it is not a little on account of his inability to keep his word to his own people (and sometimes even to himself).
Very often Pawar’s jiggery-pokery has gone to extremes. I recall his blatant betrayal of Govindrao Adik in 1996 when they were deciding on the next Maharashtra Congress chief. After a brainstorming all night, he sent an excited Adik home for a bath and a fresh change of clothes, saying he must look good for the cameras when he takes over as PCC chief. His family, too, arrived in their Sunday best for their momentous occasion.
I have not forgotten the look on their faces when Pawar placed Ranjit Deshmukh in that chair, instead. No one knew how and when the change happened. But when Pawar later split the Congress, Adik, once considered his closest supporter, chose to stay back in the Congress, unable to forgive that betrayal (he is back with the NCP now because the Congress would not make him Chief Minister).
But Ranjit Deshmukh, too, had to go through a process of betrayal by his mentor when Ram Pradhan, Sonia Gandhi’s then political secretary, lost the elections to the Rajya Sabha in 1998. Pawar had decided to allot more than her share of votes to Najma Heptullah at the expense of Pradhan. But when it came to paying a price for that defeat, Ranjit ended up as his fall guy and scapegoat – he was promptly sacked as PCC chief. Pawar did not own up to his role in Pradhan’s defeat. I thought that pretty unfair. The episode ruined Ranjit’s career, forever.
More recently, last November, R R Patil was very upset when Pawar, after some fulsome praise (on a Sunday) for his handling of the aftermath of 26/11, decided to abruptly sack him (Monday morning) from his job as Home Minister. Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had the first inkling that he might have to go, too, when Patil called to inform him of his resignation (Deshmukh hadn’t heard about it until then) and told the CM, “I am being compelled to quit. But you must dig in your heels.’’
Deshmukh has believed ever since that it was Pawar who forced him out of office. But since he was never a Pawar puppet he got his back on the Maratha warlord by constantly harping on the NCP’s weaknesses, relentlessly yapping at Pawar’s heels and getting on his nerves with a never-ending rhetoric about going it alone first at the Lok Sabha and now the Vidhan Sabha elections.
But if, despite his setbacks, Pawar is still sailing on high waters and flying close to the sun without burning his wings it is because he is a mass leader at least in his home state and the Congress cannot really do without the Maratha strongman. Quite unlike Advani who cannot do without Narendra Modi in Gujarat where he has his constituency, without Bal Thackeray in Maharashtra which is the second largest state in terms of Lok Sabha seats, without Nitish Kumar in Bihar, the third largest, and quite clearly without Vajpayee in the rest of India whose image was pan-Indian while Advani’s is clearly sectarian.
Which is why Advani should have stood by Jaswant Singh and Pawar should be careful that he doesn’t continue to disappoint his supporters again and again. For while leaders need supporters, it is far more important for them to stand by their men at all times, no matter what, even at the risk of some personal loss — lest they be made mincemeat of as is happening to Advani. Or they threaten to switch loyalties, as Pawar is being threatened with by many of his own men.
Which is sad. Because whatever one might think about the BJP or the NCP, one has to acknowledge that it was Advani and Pawar who built up their respective parties almost single-handed. So will they also be the ones to bring them down? Already both are looking like a house of cards with no aces up the sleeves of either king!