It was really unthinkable once that Lal Kishenchand Advani would one day be described as an 'inclusive' politician and even seen as secular.
But the unthinkable has happened in Indian politics in just over two decades. LK Advani, the man whose chariot, had stoked communal flames across the length and breadth of the country, is today being viewed as a 'moderate person'.
Not just moderate but a secular person. Ironical indeed. Is it because of his old age and the tradition that as a person gets older, we treat him with more respect?
Is it because Rath Yatra took place a quarter century ago, when it needed Newstrack cassettes to be seen on Video Recorders [VCRs]. But Gujarat carnage occurred just a decade ago and at a time when electronic media was well established and we saw it live.
Is it just about the number of years? Communal speeches, violence or riots can't be washed away in this manner. Can they be? We talk of Gujarat riots, but after Advani's rath yatra and the Babri Masjid demolition, the hatred spread across India had led to communal violence in dozens of cities.
Remember, the Surat riots of 1992-93. The scale and magnitude was no less than Ahmedabad. The stories of killings and attacks on women were no less horrific. Or the riots in towns across India then. May be it is something like the old Akbar-Birbal story? You shorten a line by drawing a longer one adjacent to it.
So as Modi emerged as a hardliner, Advani's Hindutva-wadi hawkish image got diluted. Though he himself made a conscious effort to dilute it, as he realised how Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had remained silent for several years during the Ram Mandir era, had emerged from nowhere to take up the reins of BJP, pushing Advani in the background.
But, he perhaps, thought that it would add to his stature and turn him into a 'statesman' figure.
Media has also been quite charitable towards him all these years.
Advani, A Secular?
I remember very well how LK Advani's speeches turned North India into a communal cauldron in an era when there was no such religious conflict. Whichever town his 'chariot' passed, it left behind a trail of either clashes or increased communalism.
It was during the Rath Yatra, that local-level politicians in their bid to outperform Advani would become even more virulent. It was the impact of his 'rath yatra' that BJP leaders openly addressed all Muslims ass 'Babar ki Aulad' in public spaces.
All that happened long ago! Still, not as distant past. It happened many years after the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Advani's speeches of the era are not telecast now. Besides, he was sharp enough to know how much to say, and where to stop, so that Singhals, Uma Bhartis, Giri Raj Kishors, Vinay Katiyars, Ritambharas can take it forward from there.
Advani has also been a master of fllip-flop. He went on describe December 6, 1992 as the saddest day of his life. Imagine! From 1986 to 2013, we have seen Advani's urge to lead BJP to a victory in Lok Sabha elections and the wish to achieve get wider acceptability and in turn become Prime Minister.
Now he is seemingly 'secular' but alas, he is out of favour with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Let's wait for a few more months. Advani is clearly nursing the ambition that in case of coalition, he would be chosen as the leader of NDA. So are we yet to witness 'secular' Advani's last hurrah?