More ammo for opposition cannons

S. Madhusudhana Rao

The Bharatiya Janata Party in general and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular would not have expected the party’s patriarch Lal Krishna Advani to explode a bomb at a time the saffron party is reeling under its worst political crisis since it took reins of India a year ago.

S.Madhusudhana Rao

S. Madhusudhana Rao

In an interview with Indian Express, ahead of the 40th anniversary of Emergency, the veteran BJP leader has expressed a fear that it could return. “At the present point of time, the forces that can crush democracy, notwithstanding the constitutional and legal safeguards, are stronger.”

In continuation of his observation, the former Deputy Prime Minister has observed that “a commitment to democracy is lacking in the country. I do not see any sign in our polity that assures me, any outstanding aspect of leadership. A commitment to democracy and to all other aspects related to democracy is lacking.”

He also feels that there are not “enough safeguards in India in 2015” to prevent an emergency-like situation. On the present leadership, Advani said, “today, I do not say that the political leadership is not mature. I don’t have faith because of its weaknesses. I don’t have the confidence that it (Emergency) cannot happen again.”

His direct reference to the days of Emergency, often described as the dark period in post-independence Indian history, in relation to the current state of affairs, has ominous forebodings for Modi.

narendra modi

Narendra Modi

Surely, the veteran leader’s views are a stinging commentary on Modi’s governance and have given more ammunition to opposition parties to target the prime minister. Among his rivals to fire the first salvo was AAP. It said Advani had no faith in Modi, reminding people of Advani’s blog wherein he had hinted at dictatorship at the time of Modi being chosen as the prime minister candidate. The Aam Aadmi Party chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal who has been at loggerheads with Modi lost no time in sniping at the prime minister in a tweet:  “Advani ji is correct in saying that emergency can’t be ruled out. Is Delhi their first experiment?”

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, siding with Advani, chipped in with “it’s emergency everyday in Bihar.”

For Congress, Advani’s barbs are manna from Heaven amidst the raging storm over Sushma Swaraj-Lalit Modi travel documents controversy involving Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje among others. While a Congress spokesman had gone to the extent of saying that the senior BJP leader was hinting at an emergency-like rule under Modi’s government, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh went at it hammers and tongs

Despite BJP spokesperson MJ Akbar making light of the comments, Advani’s open remarks are bound to stir up a hornet’s nest in the party and set to raise a few questions: Is really Advani anticipating a return of Emergency under Modi’s dispensation and are our democratic institutions facing a threat from his policies? Or, is Advani letting out his frustrations, once again, for sidelining him?

Whatever the real and suspected reasons may be, there are many within the ruling party and outside of it who join in with Advani on Modi style of functioning. Nevertheless, the pertinent question that should be impartially looked at is whether the country is in such dire straits as to call for a state of emergency? Or, is Advani implying that Modi is creating an atmosphere that is akin to 1975 when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi slapped Emergency on the country on June 25 of that year citing grave internal threats to the Indian polity?

During the 21-month rule by decree by Indira Gandhi, political rivals were jailed, civil liberties were curbed and the press was censored. Emergency was one of the most controversial decisions of Indira Gandhi’s rule and it was lifted on March 21, 1977. Now, it is history.

indira gandhi

Indira Gandhi

Will history repeat itself and make Advani’s fears come true is a moot point.  As things stand, despite the ‘autocratic’ style of Modi functioning, the premise on which Advani had based his remarks and drawn his fears is groundless. As former deputy prime minister and veteran BJP leader he has been a witness to political transformation of the country. Now, we are not a country of Indira’s India and a lot of checks and balances have been introduced in the system since that time to forestall abuse and misuse of power by one person.

If LK feels that the Modi government doesn’t inspire confidence in it, Advani, as senior BJP leader, can always bring his doubts and apprehensions before the people –if not the party — and open a public debate. If the Express interview is intended to serve such purpose, well, he succeeded.

But, his candid view of his party government looks like trying to score a few brownie points rather than offering constructive criticism to improve its performance. By implication, Advani has distanced himself from omissions and commissions of Modi government.

His stance is laudable, provided Advani has no rift with Modi. From the very beginning, opposition to Modi’s candidature from Advani-Sushma Swaraj camp has been well known and how the duo had been placated by other BJP leaders like Rajnath Singh well documented. While Sushma was given a berth in Modi cabinet, Advani had been left in the lurch. There is every reason for the sulking BJP patriarch to feel let down by the young and haughty. The ‘cool and calculated’ expression of Emergency fear and concern over erosion of civil liberties appear to have been born out of his exasperation for not being a part of the Modi government.

Or, are the current political developments playing out on Advani in a different form?

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