An outfit which habitually and deliberately gets its history and politics wrong -- treating myth as fact and secularism as minority appeasement -- is bound to trip up sooner or later.
L K Advani's missteps in Pakistan are a prime example of such a possibility. His characterisation of Mohammed Ali Jinnah as secular is typical of his habit of being economical with the truth -- just as his claim that his 1990 'riot yatra' didn't have a political objective or that he regards the day the Babri masjid was pulled down as the saddest day of his life.
To put it charitably, he may not be playing hide and seek with the truth, but is simply incapable, like the Sangh Parivar, of seeing the whole picture at one go, or can only glimpse certain aspects of it for limited periods. Jinnah may have been secular in his personal life -- the Quaid-e-Azam was not even a devout Muslim, being a consumer of pork and whiskey -- but his politics was intensely and irrevocably communal.
Advani, too, once claimed he was not a regular temple-goer, a trait he may share with other secularists. In his personal life, it is unlikely that he regards Muslims with any disfavour and certainly not with the virulent dislike that is evident in the utterances of the RSS and VHP leaders. After all, his charioteer during the rath yatra was a Muslim.
But Advani's politics is communal. Both Jinnah and Advani pursued their political objectives by setting one community against another and fomenting hatred. Even then, his latest 'take' on Jinnah is baffling, unless he is playing with words -- as he did when he saw, and perhaps still sees, the Congress's secularism as a pseudo version and his own party's communalism as nationalism and Savarkar's divisive Hindutva as a 'way of life.'
But irrespective of Advani's intention (is he temporarily donning a moderate mask as a prelude to succeeding Vajpayee?), the humourless Parivar is bound to be driven up the wall by its (former) hawk's putative transformation.
Like the new definition of Jinnah's politics, Advani's reference to the 'saddest day' could not but have sent the rabid Sanghis into a fury although it isn't the first time that Advani has voiced such heretical feelings for an event which was celebrated by the saffron camp with the distribution of sweets and other acts of gaiety.
But even though some observers did note his remorse on that fateful day, doubts are bound to remain as to why it was a day of regret. Was it really because the protected monument was destroyed, involving him in a court case from which it took a 'technical fault' to extricate him, as the oh-so-very-clever Arun Jaitley has said? Or was it because it revealed to him the extent of indiscipline within the Parivar?
Equally perplexing is Advani's decision to inaugurate the rebuilding of a temple complex in Pakistan. It is an astonishing development, for it is unprecedented for a political leader to inaugurate a temple. And that, too, in a foreign country. That is the job of a religious leader belonging to that country. By involving Advani in the function, the Pakistanis may have played a clever trick. After all, the Pakistani Hindus are not Indians. They are Pakistanis. Danish Kaneria, the rising leg-spinner, bowls for Pakistan although he is a Hindu.
Asking Advani to inaugurate the temple means harking back to the two-nation theory, under which the Hindus, and their temples, are supposedly the responsibility of India while the Muslims of the subcontinent are Pakistan's -- though Bangladesh will demur. Not surprisingly, soon after Advani's visit to the temple complex, a suggestion was made by a Pakistani leader that Pervez Musharraf can return the favour by inaugurating a mosque in India!
Nothing could have pleased the 'secular' Jinnah and the 'nationalist' Savarkar more. The latter, an icon of the Parivar, articulated the two-nation theory while presiding over a session of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937 -- three years before the Muslim League's 'Pakistan' resolution in Lahore. Referring to the 'centuries of cultural, religious and national antagonism between the Hindus and Muslims,' Savarkar said 'India cannot be assumed today to be a homogeneous nation, but on the contrary, there are two nations the Hindus and the Muslims.'
If Advani undertakes a rath yatra visiting temples in Pakistan while Musharraf returns the compliment by turning up at the mosques in India, the consequences will be unimaginable, although they may be just the kind which will be appreciated by the RSS and the VHP -- not to mention the jihadis in Pakistan.
If it never occurred to Advani to politely turn down the Pakistani offer, as Vajpayee would undoubtedly have done, it is because his politics has always been centred on the Hindu community. He is probably aware, vaguely, that India is a multicultural society where the politicians are supposed to represent all the communities, and not any particular one. But reared in an atmosphere of communal sectarianism, the thought may have escaped him. On the contrary, he may have relished the opportunity to rebuild his shaky political base among the communal-minded Hindus in India by partially reliving the role of a pseudo-religious personality, a mantle he had donned during the rath yatra. If so, he has since botched his chances by his favourable references to Jinnah.
These dramatic hawk-dove transmogrifications may prove to be too much for the Parivar. It could put up with Vajpayee's moderate ramblings, but Advani's may be the unkindest cut of all.