The opposition leader L K Advani's autobiography (My Country, My Life), having hit the stands, is said to have sold out its first edition, placing it in the best-seller category. The publicity the book has received is clearly on account of Advani being the BJP's candidate for prime minister in an election that is now only a year away.
Whether strategically timed or not, the book has the advantage of placing the spotlight on some weighty issues, and set off some sparring between the two largest parties. For instance, Congress leader Sonnia Gandhi questioned whether he as Home Minister was aware that the-then Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh was on the plane to Kandahar alongwith the three terrorist leaders to be freed in exchange for the release of passengers and crew of the ill fated aircraft IC 814.
But quite apart from such developments, there is another side to the book that should be examined - namely, Advani's philosophy, and the questionable control of its nether side by him and its other proponents.
Among the episodes dwelt on in the book is, inevitably, the Babri Masjid demolition. He records that in his sadness at its fall he declined to accept sweets when offered. The portion of the text here carries a telling anecdote. He recounts that as he proceeded away from the site he encountered jubilant scenes, with a senior police officer even enquiring: "Advaniji, kuch bacha to nahin na? Bilkul saaf kar diya na?" (I hope nothing of the structure is surviving and that it has been totally razed to the ground. (As translated in the original)). This brings out the manner in which the ascendant ideology of the day had made the state apparatus suspect by subverting minds of even senior functionaries.
His take on happenings in Gujarat during his watch as Home Minister need retelling as well, to substantiate how ideology permeates institutional boundaries and undercuts one's obligations to the rule of law. In his version these were 'riots' - translated as two communities trading blows, in which, if one comes out more bruised, then it is but the outcome of resort to violence. As the Home Minister, presiding over the internal security mechanism of the state and its intelligence agencies, he should have known of the one-sided nature of the violence there, abetted by the police. He recounts the manner in which the BJP national executive at Goa endorsed the leadership of Chief Minister Modi through cries of 'Istepha mat do, istepha mat do' (Don't resign, don't resign), over-riding Prime Minister Vajpayee's desire.
Three points emerge from such events, and their subsequent recollection - with considerable differences - by others. One is on the widespread influence that the philosophy of cultural nationalism had acquired. Second, is the corresponding subscription it has within government service, including the police. And, lastly, in Advani's worldview, populist approbation in the first example and the re-election of the Chief Minister in the second, constitute democratic endorsement of whatever happened, thereby fulfilling the needs of political accountability.
The dominant discourse in any society has the potential to suborn the state through an ideological capture of its institutions. Ideological forces also have an agenda of dominating the discourse and capturing the state through ideological penetration of its institutions. We tend to think of 'corruption' as the most worrying feature of the state today, but this is in fact the lesser evil. The more ominous one is the level of ideological toxicity in state institutions, resulting from shared interstices with society. With society in a flux and institutional strength being mostly absent, the influences in society play themselves out in the premises and confines of institutions also.
In this scenario, recourse to the law is dis-incentivised for those with a grievance, leading to political salience of wayward forces. It is evident that at least a proportion of the terror witnessed is in the nature of blowback. There is therefore a compelling need for political accountability and police reforms protecting the force from ideological penetration.
Several reports that the government could use to take action, specifically those of the Dharma Vira, Padmanabhaiah, Soli Sorabjee and Ribeiro committees, exist. The comprehensive order of the Supreme Court of September 2006 on a Public Interest Litigation of the retired Border Security Force head, Prakash Singh, is a fair starting point. However, setting the police on the right course is the easier part.
What is more important is to set the parameters of accountability at the higher, political, levels. In this, a heartening beginning has been made in two recent orders of the Supreme Court. It has set up a Special Investigation Team under former CBI chief, R K Raghavan, to report to it within three months on cases closed by the Gujarat government. Further it has required a CBI investigation into the Tehelka revelations in its Operation Kalank prior to Gujarat state elections last year in which some nefarious personages were caught on hidden camera boasting of their and their political master's role in the pogrom of 2002. The Supreme Court has thus made clear its position that political accountability needs be gauged, not against a democratic mandate, as Advani would have it, but the tenets of rule of law.
The book has been an endeavor at a prime ministerial makeover for L K Advani. Since, on his record are at least two of the defining episodes in contemporary Indian history, the book is an invitation to engage with his world view and ability. Political forces of extreme rightist persuasion continue to command disruptive capacity. The promise of impunity divined from the political complexion of the government emboldens these. India has managed to navigate the fallout of their previous impacts, but only at a price in terms of social cohesion and uncertainty over its core identity as a secular state.
Advani's ability to control the forces he seeks to ride atop into power, and which would in turn seek to profit from his tenure, has been tested twice and found wanting. Therefore, the attempt now underway to add a final chapter with the climax at 7, Race Course Road requires serious contemplation.