Finally Advani spoke. Aptly on the eve of the Foundation Day of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which falls on April 6, one of the founders of the party spoke on what the BJP stands for. A veteran leader and former President of the BJP, Advani shared his reflections with the people of India and more specifically with the millions of workers of ‘my party’ that the BJP never regarded those who disagreed with it politically as ‘enemies’ or ‘anti nationals’.
He reminded the people of India and millions of workers of the BJP in his blog: ‘The essence of Indian democracy is respect for diversity and freedom of expression. Right from its inception, the BJP has never regarded those who disagree with us politically as our ‘enemies’, but only as adversaries. Similarly, in our conception of Indian nationalism we have never regarded those who disagreed with us politically as ‘anti-national’. The party has been committed to freedom of choice of every citizen at personal as well as at the political level.’
The message of the former Deputy Prime Minister to the citizens and party members was also a call to defend the democratic institutions of the nation and within the party. Perhaps referring to the present threat to these institutions, he said, ‘Defense of democracy and democratic institutions, both within the party and in the larger national setting, has been the proud hallmark of the BJP. Therefore the BJP has always been in the forefront of demanding protection of independence, integrity, fairness and robustness of all our democratic institutions, including the media. Electoral reforms, with special focus on transparency in political and electoral funding, which is so essential for a corruption-free polity, has been another priority of our party. This was another reminder to the nation and the party on the policies of the BJP.
In fact, not just on the eve of the Foundation Day, it was on the eve of the beginning of voting for the next Lok Sabha, Advani pointed out the state of the nation and the existing threat to democratic values and institutions. One was reminded of the call to throw out the Congress by Babu Jagjiwan Ram, Hemavathi Nandan Bahuguna, Nandini Satpathy and a few other leaders who came out of the Congress soon after the lifting of Emergency and on the eve of elections, reminding all about the values of the Congress and threat to democratic institutions. One was also reminded of Hemavathi Nandan Bahuguna’s description of the authoritarian character of Emergency and the rule of one and half persons (Ded aadmi ka hukum) referring to the rule of Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi. This resembles the two member collective leadership of the BJP which takes all decisions and various party fora are later informed, similar to Mrs. Indira Gandhi informing the decision of imposing Emergency to the union cabinet and Congress party fora.
Jagjiwan Ram and others later formed the Congress for Democracy and became part of the movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan. Interestingly, the call of Jagjiwan Ram was also to the people of India and Congress party members. His coming out gave courage to many in the country and in the Congress to join the united movement to defeat the authoritarian forces. Yes, it appears the timing of the message of Advani on the eve of the Foundation Day and the approaching elections was not accidental.
Referring to various other policies, principle and ideals which the BJP had strived for notably Advani said, ‘The heroic struggle against the Emergency rule was precisely to uphold the above values’. True a number of members of Modi’s cabinet and senior leaders of the party as well as few senior journalists of today were behind bars for fighting the authoritarian forces and restoring democracy. Most of them today are silent, perhaps due to discipline or fear of consequences. Most of the media outside were almost impotent. Advani, after the Emergency described the media saying that when they were asked to bend they crawled!
In conclusion, Advani appealed: ‘It is my sincere desire that all of us should collectively strive to strengthen the democratic edifice of India. True elections are a festival of democracy. But they are also an occasion for honest introspection by all the stake-holders of Indian democracy – political parties, mass media, authorities conducting the election process and, above all, the electorate. His message is loud and clear.
The title of Advani’s message through the Blog was ‘Nation First, Party Next and Self Last’, which he described as the guiding principle of his life. Notably, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not go into silent mode, which he sometimes chooses to do when faced with such a situation. He tweeted: Advani Ji perfectly sums up the true essence of the BJP most notably the guiding mantra of Nation First, Party Next, Self Last. Proud to be a BJP Karyakarta and proud that greats like Advani Ji have strengthened it.” Interestingly on Advani’s statement that his party has never regarded those who disagreed with it politically as ‘anti-national’ or ‘enemies’ but only as adversaries, Prime Minister chose to be silent. Modi has chosen virtually every occasion whether in India or abroad, USA or UAE, addressed sponsored crowds and torn into the opposition sometimes relying on facts, sometimes on fiction. No other prime minister has ever done so while abroad. Even to leaders like L.K. Advani who played a role in his political rise, Modi has not been fair, many feel.
The point made by the veteran leader we can ignore at our peril. He is clearly pointing to the present state of our democratic institutions, free society, parliamentary democracy, media and the system as a whole. To strengthen the present democratic edifice and reinforce the tolerant society based on secular values, the nation as a whole has a responsibility particularly while voting. Sadly in the present electoral campaign this danger is not getting its desired and serious attention, particularly by the opposition which has a major responsibility to consolidate the democratic forces. The media too are ignoring this aspect. A number of them love to spin. Many intellectuals too do not openly talk about the exact state of the nation. Proud to go on record that it is the judiciary which is playing a great role.
L.K. Advani, 91, has placed before the nation the present scenario succinctly telling all that they have a role to play to protect these institutions.