LK Advani’s phantom of emergency: do his past references to Hitler connect the dots?

Invoking the dark days of the state of emergency and comparisons between Indira Gandhi and Adolf Hitler have been a pet obsession for LK Advani, the self-styled Bhishma Pitamaha of the BJP. Hitler and Nazi Germany had almost always been part of his discourses on emergency, but on Thursday, when he spoke of his fears of the days of 1975 returning to the country, he didn’t speak of Hitler.

Probably, he didn’t have to because he had left sufficient hints to connect the dots, and the opposition gladly did the job for him. The obvious hint lay in a cryptic blogpost  that he had penned in 2013, on the day he lost out to Narendra Modi at the BJP national executive in Goa. Curiously, the post was on film maker Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam, but he chose the occasion to speak about Hitler.

 LK Advani’s phantom of emergency: do his past references to Hitler connect the dots?

LK Advani. AP

In his post, he recounted a “meeting Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini had during the Second World War, in which Hitler tells the Italian Supremo that the sins committed by the two of them would prove very costly for them after death.” The media picked up the allegory as a barb against Modi. Subsequently, a host of Congress and opposition leaders - ranging from Rahul Gandhi and Digvijaya Singh to Nitish Kumar - also compared Modi with Hitler in their election campaigns.

Now, with his reference to the possibility of another emergency, Advani has given fresh ammunition to the Congress and the opposition. Although the RSS was quick to clarify that Advani’s darts were not directed at the BJP government, the Congress, JD (U), AAP and SP leaders have insisted that Advani’s target is indeed Modi. With Advani not clarifying as to who he has alluded to, the jury is certainly out as the Congress spokesman Tom Vadakkan has said. By not saying that he didn’t mean to implicate Modi, Advani is providing the much needed fire-power to the Congress and the opposition.

The problem with the RSS’s defence is Advani’s standard compact on emergency, which had always referred to Hitler. For the emergency of 1975, his comparison of Hitler was obviously with Indira Gandhi; but for his premonition about the future, he doesn’t say who the villain will be. “At the present point of time, the forces that can crush democracy, notwithstanding the constitutional and legal safeguards, are stronger,” is all that he would say. With BJP emerging as the only party with a brutal majority at the Centre and in key states, can anybody else be the phantom that disturbs his thoughts? It certainly cannot be the Congress because its in the dumps and is going to there for a long time to come.

Other than providing ammunition to the Congress and retired RSS leaders, Advani’s fears of a clamp-down on democracy and veiled attacks on Modi are not going to work because his is the voice of an old, disgruntled leader who’s trying to fish in troubled waters. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough trouble that he can fish in. Will his words be able to fuel the feud at the top echelons of the party? Unlikely, because everyone likes to share the fruits of power and those who had ganged up against Modi had been banished.

That the RSS was the first to debunk the emergency fears shows that Advani’s efforts are going to cut no ice within the Sangh parivar. It may recalled that the RSS was a key underground force against Indira Gandhi’s emergency. In fact it did better than the Left.

However, the opposition and civil society should leverage the veteran leader’s warning to safeguard constitutional rights of Indians and the integrity of the country’s institutions. The spate of ordinances, that short-circuited the supremacy of the Parliament; the abuse of authority by posting people close to the RSS/BJP in strategic positions that should be free from politics; meddling with the autonomy of prestigious institutions; nationalist propaganda; and imposing ideas and ideology-driven laws that are against democratic and secular principles of the nation certainly cause concern. Advani’s shot may be politically motivated, but the circumstances do lend some credence to the fears of abuse of authority because autocracy and ideology do go together.

The biggest learning from Indira Gandhi’s emergency was how too much power concentrating on a single individual, the operation of a coteries, the lack of internal democracy and the air of sycophancy can dismantle democratic institutions and people’s constitutional rights. With or without Advani’s portentous fears, the people of India should be vigilant.

Updated Date: Jun 20, 2015 12:57:14 IST