The face of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and one of the most senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Lal Krishna Advani was born on November 8, 1927, in Karachi, Sindh (now in Pakistan). With the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coming to power in 1998–2004, Advani served as Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The Advanis belonged to a branch of Sindhi Hindus. Advani’s family comprised his father Kishinchand, mother Gyanidevi and younger sister Sheela.
He has “very fond memories” of his childhood in Karachi. “Even the trauma of Partition, which forced our family, like lakhs of other Hindu and Sikh families in Sindh, to migrate to this part of undivided India, has not erased those memories,” he wrote in his memoirs My Country My Life. “On the contrary, these memories have become all the more precious because of my family’s forced separation from our homeland, in which I spent the first twenty years of my life.”
After his school education, he joined Dayaram Gidumal National College in Hyderabad (Pakistan). One of the most important moments in his early life came when he joined the Hindu nationalist organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). “[I] knew little about the goings-on in the world, beyond the walls of my home and school,” he later wrote. “My introduction to the momentous political developments taking place in India and the world, at that time, was only after I started attending the RSS shakha.”
In 1943, a year after joining the RSS, he attended a three-year ‘training’ programme conducted by the organisation, spending a year each in Indore, Ahmedabad and Nagpur, the RSS headquarters. When he turned 17, he became a teacher at a school in Karachi, teaching a small batch of students.
After shifting to India, he became deeply involved in RSS work, especially in Rajasthan. In 1957, he moved to Delhi to assist newly-elected Bharatiya Jana Sangh MPs in their parliamentary work. The Jana Sangh, which was established in 1951, was renamed the BJP more than two decades later.
Advani also became general secretary of the Delhi unit of the Jana Sangh.
For over a year, he stayed at Vajpayee’s house in Delhi.
After working as the party’s organising secretary in Delhi for more than three years, he joined the RSS journal Organiser in 1960, and continued working there as an editor for seven years. In 1967, he became member of the Delhi Metropolitan Council.
After the death of party leader Deendayal Upadhyaya in 1968, Vajpayee was elected Jana Sangh president. In 1970, Advani became an MP after the Jana Sangh fielded him as a Rajya Sabha candidate. In December 1972, he was elected president of the Jana Sangh. According to Advani, he was initially reluctant to head the party. “In those days, I was apprehensive of speaking publicly, believing that I was a poor orator,” he wrote in his memoirs. “I must confess that I had developed this complex largely on account of my close association with Atalji, who used to captivate the audience with his magical speeches.”
In June 1975, Advani, along with several other Opposition leaders, was arrested following the declaration of the Emergency by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
The Jana Sangh and other opposition parties merged to form the Janata Party to project a united front against the Congress. As the Jana Sangh was dissolved, Advani and Vajpayee joined the Janata Party to contest the historic 1977 Lok Sabha polls.
The members from the Jana Sangh eventually quit the Janata Party to form the BJP. Advani and Vajpayee were the two most important leaders of the BJP in the 1980s, with the former representing the party in the Rajya Sabha for two terms after 1982.
After becoming president of the BJP in 1986, Advani aggressively championed the cause of Hindutva, including building of the Ram temple at Ayodhya, and began to be known as a hardline Hindu nationalist. The movement led by Advani helped the BJP increase its seats tally spectacularly, from two in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections to 85 in the 1989 polls and 120 in the 1991 elections, emerging as the largest party after the Congress.
Advani’s ‘Rath Yatra’ culminated in the destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, a day that was followed by communal clashes in many parts of the country.
The BJP was the principal opposition party during the P.V. Narasimha Rao-led Congress rule. After being chargesheeted in the hawala scam, Advani vowed not to contest elections till his name was cleared. But he got a clean chit from the Delhi High Court, and won the 1998 Lok Sabha elections from Gandhinagar, Gujarat.
He went on to serve as deputy prime minister and home minister in the NDA regime. Though he defended Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s role during the 2002 Gujarat riots (he said Modi was “the best CM in the last half century”), he also later said that the Gujarat violence was indefensible.
In a similar vein, in April 2004, he described December 6, 1992 as a “day of deep anguish”.
In controversial remarks during a Pakistan trip in 2005, he described the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, as “secular”, for which he was criticised by many members of the Sangh Parivar. As Outlook magazine then wrote: “It must rank as one of the most remarkable turnarounds in contemporary political history. L.K. Advani, the man who redefined Indian politics and polarised society with the Ayodhya movement, had suddenly discovered the virtues of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood.”
Advani hoped to become prime minister in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, but the Congress-led UPA retained power. Lal Krishna Advani has had a huge share of both critics and admirers, but there is no doubt that he played a vital role in shaking up the single-party domination in Indian politics, and for the first time made it possible for a formation led by a right-wing party to rule the Centre.
Also on this day:
1908 — Raja Rao, Indian writer of English language novels and short stories, was born
1964 — Sagarika Ghose, journalist and news anchor, was born
1919 — PL Deshpande, Marathi writer and humorist, was born