Beginning of Political Career
The aftermath of the independence and partition of India was an immense political upheaval in Sindh. Like millions others, Advaniji left for Delhi on 12th September, 1947 with fellow RSS swayamsevaks, to seek shelter and a new beginning in truncated India. His journey from Karachi to Delhi brought a formative phase of his life in Sindh to an abrupt end, and thus began the next phase of his life—as a RSS pracharak in Rajasthan.
All pracharaks and senior leaders of the RSS from Sindh had been asked to assemble in Jodhpur where, in due course, they would receive instructions regarding the tasks to be carried out in the coming days. The RSS leaders instructed the swayamsewaks who had come from Pakistan that their main task was to help channelise the migration of refugees in a smooth and systematic manner. Advaniji and others were also required to assist in the relief and rehabilitation of the immigrants. The latter half of 1947 saw him plunging himself in this work wholeheartedly.
After the Jodhpur camp was over, he along with others was sent to different parts of Rajasthan to continue the activities of the RSS. For the next decade, Rajasthan, was to be his karmabhoomi (place of work), first only as a pracharak of the RSS and later-on as a whole-time party activist of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh.
It was in early 1957 when Advaniji was asked shift base from Rajasthan to Delhi to assist Atalji and the other newly elected Jana Sangh MPs in their parliamentary work. Thereafter, Delhi became the centre of his political activity. His new responsibility gave him an opportunity to learn about the functioning of Parliament and the government, besides enabling him to develop his skills in drafting statements, formulating questions, and preparing points for the party’s political propaganda.
First Foray into Alliance Politics
Advaniji’s first entry into alliance politics was in the municipal affairs of Delhi. In addition to his work in the party’s parliamentary wing he was asked to look after the Delhi unit of the Jana Sangh as its General Secretary. The party was pitted against the Congress, which at that time had a predominant presence in Indian politics. In a house of eighty, Jana Sangh won twenty-five seats, only two less than the Congress. The CPI had eight members, just enough seats in the corporation to tip the balance in favour of either the Congress or the Jana Sangh.
Soon after the elections, the CPI, in order to keep the Jana Sangh out, offered to enter into an alliance with the Congress, provided the latter agreed to make one of its members, Aruna Asaf Ali - a prominent freedom fighter and star of the Quit India movement, the first Mayor of Delhi. The Congress agreed. However, the alliance broke up within a year due to constant internal squabbles.
Thereafter the Jana Sangh and the CPI entered into a written agreement, whereby the offices of Mayor and Deputy Mayor would be shared by the two parties on a rotational basis. In keeping with that, Aruna Asaf Ali would be Mayor for the first year, and Kedarnath Sahni, who later became a prominent leader of the Jana Sangh and the BJP, the Deputy Mayor. For the second year, Sahni was to be the Mayor, and a CPI nominee the Deputy Mayor.
For Advaniji, this was a useful initiation in the art of political leadership and strategy-making. He says “I can confidently say that this is where I had my initial grounding in alliance politics, something that held me in good stead on many occasions in subsequent years and decades.”
The ‘Organiser’ Years
The first house Advaniji lived in after moving from Rajasthan to Delhi was Atalji’s official residence at 30, Rajendra Prasad Road. After working as the Organising Secretary of the party in Delhi for over three years, Advaniji began a new chapter in his life as a journalist by joining Organiser, a weekly journal inspired by the RSS ideology. He joined Organiser as the Assistant Editor, in the year 1960.
Founded in 1947, Organiser had a relatively small circulation but its visibility and influence in intellectual and political circles was considerable. Its Editor, K.R. Malkani, was a fine writer who, like Advaniji , was a RSS activist in Sindh prior to Partition. Under Malkani’s able editorship, Organiser began to be read avidly by friends and foes alike of the RSS and the Jana Sangh.
One day in an editorial review meeting, the team discussed the common perception that the journal was too dry and had only political issues’. So it was decided to add other interesting facets of life, such as films. Advaniji, an avid enthusiast of film and theater, volunteered and began writing a regular cinema column under the pen name ‘Netra’ (eye).
Advaniji’s seven-year stint with Organiser came to an end in 1967. An important responsibility paved his return to Delhi’s politics. Delhi was given a full-fledged statehood in 1952, but in 1955 its statehood was annulled by the Central Government on the recommendation of the States’ Reorganisation Commission. This did not go down well with its citizens and Jana Sangh articulated their aspirations to become the first party to demand full statehood for the national capital. In 1967, in the space of five months, Delhi witnessed three elections, almost simultaneously—to the Lok Sabha, Metropolitan Council and the Municipal Corporation. The Jana Sangh triumphed in all three elections. Advaniji’s party secured six out of seven Lok Sabha seats; fifty-two out of hundred seats in MCD; and thirty-three out of fifty-six seats in the Council. This staggering triple-victory in the national capital, along with the substantial increase in the tally in the Lok Sabha from fourteen in 1962 to thirty five in 1967, catapulted the Jana Sangh as a potentially powerful force in Indian politics.
Advaniji did not contest the Council elections since he was entrusted with the responsibility of organizing the party’s city unit for the three polls. Under the Delhi Metropolitan Council Act, the Union Home Ministry could nominate five members to the Council. Making use of this provision, Atalji persuaded the Union Home Minister Y.B. Chavan to nominate Advaniji to the Council. The party then decided to field him as a candidate for the election of the Council’s Chairman. Advaniji won the election and became the Presiding Officer. Vijay Kumar Malhotra, his colleague in the Jana Sangh, became the Chief Executive in the Council. By the end of the decade his stint at the Council also came to a close.
Entry to the Rajya Sabha
In April 1970, there was a vacancy created in the Rajya Sabha after the term of Inder Kumar Gujral who was a member from the Union Territory of Delhi. The party fielded Advaniji and he was elected on the strength of the Jana Sangh’s majority in the Council. From the office of the Chairman of the Delhi Metropolitan Council he moved to the Parliament house.
In his early speeches in the Rajya Sabha, Advaniji articulated his thoughts on important issues including - strengthening the unity and integrity of the country; safeguarding our democratic institutions and making them more effective; how the ruling party must learn to respect the voice of the Opposition; and how to make Centre-state relations smooth and harmonious.
As Party President
Atalji, who had become the party President in February 1968, was seriously considering stepping down after the 1971 general elections. Around the beginning of 1972, Atalji asked Advaniji to become the party President as he had already completed four years in this office and wanted to give opportunity to others.
Advaniji was reluctant as he didn’t think of himself to be a great orator and was nervous when it came to speaking at public meetings, while on the other hand, a great orator that he was, Atalji could easily captivate the audience with his magical speeches.
Later, after lot of insistence from Atalji, Advaniji agreed and was formally elected as the President of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh in December 1972. Soon thereafter, he presided over the eighteenth annual session of the party in Kanpur.
Emergency and Jana Sangh
On 25th June, 1975, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, invoked ‘Emergency’ under which she assumed almost totalitarian power. She ordered all her opposition party leaders to be arrested and imprisoned them, while banning the RSS. Advaniji who along with Atalji was in Bangalore at that time was arrested and sent to the prison. After elections were announced on 18th January 1976, Atalji was released and flew back to Delhi. Political developments in the country moved at frantic pace and the very same day of the announcement of fresh elections, Jayaprakashji (Jayaprakash Narayan) declared the formation of the Janata Party and named a twenty-eight member national executive committee, with Morarji Desai as its Chairman and Charan Singh as Vice Chairman. Its members were drawn from the four constituent parties—Jana Sangh, Congress (O), Socialist Party and Lok Dal—which had merged to give birth to the new party. Along with Madhu Limaye, Ram Dhan and Surendra Mohan, Advaniji was made one of its four General Secretaries.
Emergency was officially lifted on 23rd March 1976, following the resounding win of the Janata Party with a clear majority by securing 295 seats in a House of 542 seats.
As Minister of Information and Broadcasting
Morarji Desai was sworn in as India’s fifth Prime Minister on 24 March 1976. Two days later, a nineteen-member Cabinet was sworn in. Advaniji was one of the three persons from the erstwhile Jana Sangh who joined the new government. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was made the External Affairs Minister while Brijlal Verma was given the Industries portfolio. The Prime Minister asked Advaniji which portfolio he wanted, and without a hesitation he said he wanted the ‘Information & Broadcasting’ ministry. He believed that his experience as a journalist in the 1960s, had developed a deep penchant for media-related matters. He also had frequently written about the partisan use of the government-run media by Indira Gandhi and her party, which he wanted to change.
In the Rajya Sabha, he had raised the demand for granting autonomy to AIR and Doordarshan and his first task as I & B minister was to present a White Paper in Parliament on the misuse of the mass media during the Emergency. He quickly appointed a special committee, headed by a former Secretary in my ministry which completed its job in record time and he could table the White Paper in Parliament in August 1977.
As I & B Minister, Advaniji tabled two bills in the Lok Sabha. One sought to repeal the Prevention of Publication of Objectionable Matter Act. The other was aimed at restoring the Parliamentary Proceedings (Protection of Publication) Act, popularly known as the Feroze Gandhi Act. The two bills were passed with great enthusiasm by the house.
He also initiated a serious debate, both within and outside Parliament, on the need for institutional autonomy to AIR and Doordarshan. A working group under the chairmanship of B.G. Verghese was set up for this purpose. The concept of Prasar Bharati, an autonomous corporation to run the two media organisations, was a recommendation of this committee. He introduced the Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) Bill in Parliament in 1977. It could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha, since the Congress, which had a majority in the House, was not in favour of it.
Sadly, the Janata government’s glory was short-lived. Internecine squabbles within the party soon brought about its early demise, before it could complete even half its term. Morarji Desai resigned as Prime Minister on 15 July 1979. Charan Singh, his Deputy, was sworn in as Prime Minister with the support of Indira Gandhi, who, however, withdrew it in less than six months. Thus, one betrayal followed another in quick succession.
The country then witnessed another unfortunate development. After Charan Singh’s resignation, the Janata Party decided to lay claim to forming the next government under the leadership of Jagjivan Ram. However, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, the then President of India, overlooked Jagjivan Ram’s legitimate right of being invited to form the government and dissolved the Lok Sabha on 22 August 1979. Mid-term elections were thus forced upon the country in January 1980. The electorate, disillusioned by the power struggle and the split in the Janata Party, voted Indira Gandhi back to power.
In his book “The People Betrayed (Vision Books, 1980), he describes in considerable detail the ecstasy and agony associated with the rise and fall of the Janata government. Since it was written immediately after the destabilisation of Morarjibhai’s government, and before the 1980 parliamentary elections, the book analysed the events almost as they happened. Advaniji says “When I look back at the same events in hindsight, I find that the main conclusions I had drawn then are relevant even today.”
Founding Member of BJP
The two-day national convention on 5-6 April 1980 added the invigorating emotion—that of determination. Over 3,500 delegates assembled at Delhi’s Ferozeshah Kotla ground and resolved, on 6 April, to form a new political organisation called the Bharatiya Janata Party. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was elected its first President and Advaniji, along with Sikandar Bakht and Suraj Bhan, was given the responsibility of General Secretary.
A few months prior to the election in 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated, creating a sympathy wave for the Congress that also contributed to the BJP's low tally, as the Congress won a record number of seats. Following this, Advaniji was appointed party president.
In the early 1980s, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) had begun a movement for the construction of a temple dedicated to the Hindu deity Rama at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Under Advaniji, the BJP became the political face of the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign. It was believed that at the site of the birthplace of Lord Rama, a temple once stood which had been demolished by the Mughal emperor Babur, who constructed the Babri mosque on the location. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has supported the claim that a Hindu structure once stood at the site, without commenting on a possible demolition.
In the 1988 election, despite the Congress winning a plurality in the election, it declined to form a government, and so the National Front government of VP Singh was sworn in. The support of the BJP, with its tally of 86 seats, was crucial to the new government.
In the 1991 general elections, the BJP won the second largest number of seats, after the Congress. The party, under Advaniji, was the major opposition party from 1991–1996 during the reign of P V Narasimha Rao.
As Home Minister
After the 1996 general elections, the BJP became the single largest party and was consequently invited by the President to form the Government. Atalji was sworn in as Prime Minister in May 1996. However, the Government did not last long and Atalji resigned after thirteen days.
Second term 1998–1999
In March 1998, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came to power with Atalji returning as Prime Minister, when elections were called after India saw two unstable Governments headed by H. D. Deve Gowda and I. K. Gujral respectively.
After the fall of two United Front government between 1996 and 1998 (H. D. Deve Gowda and I. K. Gujral), the Lok Sabha, a coalition of political parties signed up with BJP to form the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), headed by Atalji. The NDA won a majority of seats in parliament. However, the government survived only 13 several weeks until mid-1999 (AIADMK) under J. Jayalalitha withdrew its support. With the NDA no longer having a majority, India's Parliament was again dissolved and new elections were organized. Atalji remained the Prime Minister until elections were organized.
A few months after the Kargil War, elections were held again in the year 1999. The 13th Lok Sabha election is of historical importance as it was the first time a united front of parties managed to attain a majority and form a government that lasted a full term of five years under the able leadership of Atalji and Advaniji, thus ending a period of political instability at the national level that had been characterised by three general elections held in as many years. The NDA government which lasted for its full term of five years till 2004, became the only non-Congress government to do so.
Advaniji assumed the office of Home Minister and was later elevated to the position of Deputy Prime Minister. As Union Minister, Advaniji courageously faced the tough times with India facing a string of internal disturbances in the form of rebel attacks allegedly supported by Pakistan.
As elections approached in 2004, the BJP suffered a defeat in the general elections, and sat in the opposition. Following this Atalji retired from active politics thus putting Advaniji to the forefront of the BJP. Advaniji became Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha from 2004 to 2009.
The relationship between Advaniji and the RSS reached a low point when the latter's chief K. S. Sudarshan opined that both Advaniji and Atalji give way to new leaders. Advaniji took this remark positively and at the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the BJP in Mumbai, in December 2005, Advaniji stepped down as party president. Rajnath Singh, a relatively junior politician from the state of Uttar Pradesh was elected in his place.
In the run-up to the 2009 elections, Advaniji being the Leader of the Opposition in a parliamentary democracy was assumingly considered the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the general elections, ending on 16 May 2009. A major factor in favour of Advaniji was that he had always been the most powerful leader in the BJP, only with the exception of Atalji, who himself endorsed Advaniji's candidacy. On 10 December 2007, the Parliamentary Board of BJP formally announced that L. K. Advani would be its prime ministerial candidate for the general elections due in 2009. But when Congress and its allies won the 2009 general elections, allowing incumbent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to continue in office, Advaniji paved the way for Sushma Swaraj to become the Leader of Opposition in the 15th Lok Sabha.