India's oldest political formation, the Indian National Congress, dates back formally to 1885, a fact that the gauche Narendra Modi has recently scoffed at in his typical lumpen oratory.
It would hardly help to remind him, bruisingly bratish as he is in his paunchy middle age, that he exists in a free India thanks to the fact first that the Congress did start as early as it did. After all, the RSS of which he is such a poster boy, happened only in 1924—and happened chiefly to stymie the freedom movement led by Gandhi and the Congress.
As to L.K.Advani, the 82 year old aspirant to prime ministership on behalf of the right-wing Hindu BJP, his blood-soaked career may be said to be only as young as some two decades, marked forever by the fascist putsch on Ayodhya, the demolition of a four-hundred year old mosque as he stood on site, and the pogroms that followed in Mumbai and Gujarat.
And by his inability, as the home minister and deputy prime minister (1999-2004) to prevent several terrorist strikes, even as the draconian POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) was in place, including the strike on the parliament of India; his acquiescence in the shameful decision of allowing three first order terrorists to be escorted in a plane to Kandahar by no less than the foreign minister of the day, and by his refusal to intervene in Gujarat as Modi's henchmen hacked the Muslims there. If anything, Modi, to whose influence Advani owes his electoral prospects in the constituency of Gandhinagar in Gujarat, remains his hero.
Interestingly, while some Congressmen raise hackles of a media friendly to the BJP for their still unproven involvement in the Delhi Sikh killings of 1984, following Indira Gandhi's gruesome murder, the fact is never highlighted that, unlike those people, Advani is actually chargesheeted under section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code, an offence that can carry a sentence of upto or more than seven years in the slammer.
And nobody who routinely complains here about the law's delay seems to complain that the case against him remains mysteriously in limbo. Or that he should still be allowed to stand for office in the face of that chargesheet while others similarly charged are routinely hounded by the media and other high-minded sections of the Indian elite.
Incidentally, with respect to the Sikh killings in Delhi (1984) for which only the Congress party is held accountable, (that many of its satraps were involved in instigating the killings is not in doubt) it is instructive to read what Nanaji Deshmukh, that most respected of the Hindutva echelon, wrote in the Hindi Weekly, Pratipaksh, in its issue of November, 25, 1984—a Weekly then edited by no less than the redoubtable George Fernandes, defence minister of India under the NDA regime of 1999-2004.
It was his straightforward view that the killings of the Sikhs reflected a broad-based animus that India's Hindus harboured against them. And, in his view, justly. No wonder that only the other day, Jagdish Tytler, one of the Congress leaders under suspicion, fairly or unfairly, pointed to the fact that some forty or more FIRs (first information reports with the police) still remain in place against individuals known to belong to the Hindutva camp, a feature of the 1984 killings almost never brought to public light.
Not heeding Modi's diatribe against gerontocracy —just the other day he has said that the Congress Party is an 125 year old female hag and deserves to be dumped, a fine tribute to the Hindutva tradition of respect for elders and women especially that Hindus are everyday taught in RSS shakhas—Advani, even at 82 wishes to be India's chief executive. A pathetic case of Barkis being more than willing.
A man of little empathy and even less imagination, he now gives us clinching evidence as to why his success in achieving that goal (of which thankfully there is not even a minimal prospect as of this day) could spell the end of the secular Republic of India.
In a letter addressed to some 1000 religious leaders, the bulk of them belonging to the Hindu faith, Advani, would you believe it, has asked for their "support" and ended his letter to them with a "shastang namaskar" (to wit, a prostrated obeisance).
That this is much more than merely courting religious communalism and drafting it to electoral success, is underlined by what he says subsequently: "It will be my endeavour (as prime minister of a secular Republic, mind you) to seek on a regular basis the guidance of spiritual leaders . . .on major challenges and issues facing the nation. For this we shall evolve a suitable . . .consultative mechanism" (emphasis added).
Put simply, the BJP candidate for prime ministership promises to return the secular Republic to an era when India's kings and queens—mainly kings—always had at their royal elbow the religious authority of the dharma guru, and whose counsel on matters of war and peace would be decisive.
A sort of holy Hindu empire, if you like, with Hindu versions of the Wolseys and the Cranmers ready at hand.
That Advani should have so blatantly sought this course must suggest something of the desperation with which he seeks the high office of prime minister, even if in doing so he kicks the fundamental principles and "basic features" of the Constitution of India down the communal cauldron.
Clearly, unable during the NDA regime led by the BJP (1999-2004) to conclude a successful communal review of the Constitution (for which a high-powered Commission was indeed set up), Advani has thought it best to obtain the same result as part of campaign strategy.
It is much to be hoped that the full significance of all this registers on those well-wishers of the Republic whose life-interests tend to make them lackadaisically certain that cunningly smirking faces do not harbour intentions of the most regressive consequence to India's hard-earned secular democracy and secular citizenship, or to the sequestration of the state from allegiance to any religion or religion-based form of legislative or administrative culture. Or, in the final analysis, of the subservience of secular governance to religious diktat.
Given the continued supremacy of the RSS over the political/electoral career of the BJP, the letter in question must seem an ominous proof of what Advani intends under RSS tutelage, namely to reformulate the nation and the state along Hindutva-theocratic principles of belief and practice.
It is to be seen whether or not the Election Commission of India, charged with the task of ensuring that all provisions of electoral law as codified in the Representation of People's Act, and under the primary injunctions of the Constitution, are observed by Parties and candidates at election time, will take notice of the magnitude of offence that the Advani letter comprises.
After all, one of the first injunctions of electoral law in India is that no appeal shall be made to religion or religious authority for electoral gain. That the Advani letter should in black and white give religious leaders the "assurance" that an institutionalized "consultative mechanism" shall be put in place by him as prime minister to conduct the governance of the state in deference to their advice surely must be seen by the Election Commission for what it is: namely, not only to alter and subvert electoral laws but the state itself.
Many in India will wait to see what public reaction the Advani move will elicit, and, more particularly, what implications this will or will not have first for his candidature and then for the nature of politics in India. And whether or not Public Interest Litigation, or other legal remedies will be sought.
It will also be instructive to see how the electronic media in India deal with this unprecedented departure from Constitutional sanctity and legitimacy.