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LK Advani turns 94: Here’s how the BJP patriarch embarked upon the Rath Yatra to become the face of Ram Janmabhoomi Movement

In 1990, Advani commenced on a ‘Rath Yatra’ from the hallowed temple of Somnath in Gujarat to Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya to drum up support for Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

Lal Krishna Advani, former deputy prime minister of India and one of the co-founders of the BJP, is celebrating his 94th birthday on November 8, 2021. 

It was on this day in 1927 that LK Advani was born into a Sindhi-Hindu business family residing in Karachi, Sindh, then a part of united India under the control of the British. He completed his schooling from Saint Patrick’s High School, Karachi, Sindh and enrolled in Government College Hyderabad, Sindh. 

At the age of 14, Advani joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and steadfastly started attending the Karachi shakha. In no time, his stature among the Sangh ranks grew as he became a pracharak of the Karachi branch of the RSS. For his commitment and dedication towards the Sangh, Advani was designated as the Secretary of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Karachi, in 1947.

This was the year when India attained freedom after over two centuries of rule by the British, but it came with the trauma of partition and the accompanying violence it brought in its wake. In the view of the prevailing situation, Advani’s family migrated to India and settled down in Bombay, where he graduated in Law from the Government Law College of the Bombay University. 

In 1951, Advani became the member of Bharatiya Jana Sangh, also known as the Jana Sangh, a political party founded in 1951 by Syama Prasad Mookerjee in collaboration with the RSS. A few years later, he moved to Delhi to look after the Parliamentary affairs. 

Advani became the member of Rajya Sabha from Delhi for the tenure of six year from 1970. After serving the Bharatiya Jana Sangh in various capacities, he became its President in 1973 at the Kanpur session of the party working committee meeting. Then in 1975, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency. It was a pivotal moment in the history of independent India that galvanised opposition parties into forming a cohesive united front known as Janata Party.

Advani and his colleague, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who became the Prime Minister of the country years later, fought the Lok Sabha elections in 1977 as members of the Janata Party. With the resentment against Indira Gandhi fresh and strong, the Janata Party scored an emphatic victory in the elections, following which Advani became the Minister of Information and Broadcasting. 

Before long, the members of the Jana Sangh, tired of the internecine conflicts, quit the Janata Party and formed the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP). Advani was one of the distinguished leaders of the newly founded party BJP and was elected to Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh for two terms starting 1982.

However, the party failed to make any mark in its initial years, partly because of its non-committal stance on Hindutva, coupled with the sympathy wave garnered by the Congress party following the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984. In the Lok Sabha elections after her death, BJP managed to rack up only a paltry two seats. This failure inevitably led to the change of the guard at the helm of affairs at the BJP, with LK Advani replacing Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the party president.

BJP’s embrace of Hindutva and Ram Janmabhoomi movement under the leadership of LK Advani

Under Advani, the party shed its inhibitions with respect to aligning itself with the fledgling Hindutva ideology. It unapologetically and unreservedly threw its weight behind the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in Ayodhya. During the early 1980s, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad(VHP) had launched a movement for the construction of a temple dedicated to Lord Rama at the then disputed site where Babri structure was standing. 

The BJP extended their support to the movement, including it in their poll manifesto, which predictably paid them rich dividends in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections. From winning a mere 2 seats in 1984 elections, BJP won a staggering 86 Lok Sabha seats in the general elections in 1989. The tally was remarkably impressive given that the party was just a decade old and yet, it managed to put up a formidable fight against the much older and more experienced Congress. Even though Congress won a plurality in the elections, it declined to form a government. 

This was the time when the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was steadily gaining momentum. Millions of Hindus around the country were galvanised by the idea of partaking in a movement that sought to reclaim Ram Lalla’s abode. Many political leaders and organisations played a crucial role in strengthening of the Ram Mandir movement in the late 1980s, including BJP leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi, Umar Bharti and groups such as VHP and the RSS. However, Advani was indubitably the political face of the movement.

LK Advani’s Rath Yatra that culminated into the demolition of the disputed structure in Ayodhya

As Congress reeled under the corruption charges against Rajiv Gandhi, Advani decided to consolidate Hindus by embarking upon a ‘Rath Yatra’ to mobilise karsevaks and get them to assemble at the Babri structure to offer prayers. His aim was to educate people around the Ayodhya dispute and enlist their support for the construction of a temple at the former disputed site that was awarded to Hindus by the Supreme Court of India in 2019. 

In 1990, Advani commenced on a ‘Rath Yatra’ from the hallowed temple of Somnath in Gujarat to Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya to drum up support for Ram Janmabhoomi movement. The choice of Somnath was not accidental as Advani would later explain in his memoir ‘My Country My Life’: “The intention was to contextualise Ayodhya in the historical lineage of Muslim aggression and then to seek legitimacy for Mandir movement by drawing a parallel.” 

The idea of Rath Yatra designed as a chariot instantly caught the fancy of Hindus as it wound its way from Somnath to Ayodhya. According to some accounts, the chariot received enthusiastic reception wherever it went, with scores of Hindus ringing temple bells while others beating thalis and shouting slogans to welcome the rath. Some others slathered the rath with a tilak and smeared the dust from its wheels on their forehead.

The chariot covered a large part of north India before it was finally stopped by then Chief Minister of Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, on the grounds that it stoked communal tensions and was responsible for causing violence. However, long before brakes were pulled on Advani’s Rath Yatra, the campaign had achieved more than its intended objective, infusing a fresh wave of energy and determination among Hindus to persist in their fight for the reclamation of the Ayodhya land. 

LK Advani: The man who laid the building blocs of India’s political right

Although Advani’s Rath Yatra abruptly came to end in October 2020, it nevertheless culminated into the felling of Babri structure two years later. On December 6, 1992, a frenzied mob of Hindutva supporters and members of assorted Hindu groups who were protesting outside the Banri structure scaled the fencing of the mouldering building and levelled the contentious construction to the ground. 

Advani and other BJP leaders were accused of being provocateurs, of inciting people to bring the disputed structure down. However, after almost three decades of protracted legal battle, on September 30, 2020, the CBI’s special court acquittedAdvani and released from all charges. The court said the demolition was not pre-planned and that the accused were “trying to stop the mob and not incite them”.

Advani on his part has always maintained that it was never his intention to demolish the structure and all he sought was to revive civilisational pride in a great and ancient culture through the means of the Ram Temple movement. 

However, he will always be remembered for ushering the BJP in the era of dominance and shifting the Overton window to mainstream the politics of Hindutva. He called out Congress party’s treachery by referring to its minority appeasement as “pseudo-secularism”. He is also to be credited for laying the foundation of India’s political right upon which the Narendra Modi regime has constructed an entire edifice.

 

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Jinit Jain
Engineer. Writer. Learner.

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