NEW DELHI, Feb 3: The former deputy prime minister and one of the founder leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party Lal Krishna Advani, the helmsman of the Ram Rath Yatra that catapulted the movement for the Ram Temple to national prominence, was on Saturday conferred the “Bharat Ratna,” India’s highest civilian honour, in recognition of his services to the country.
Considered a political mentor of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the 96-year old Mr Advani was given the honour just 10 days after the consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. He was previously awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honour, in 2015.
Mr Modi Called Mr Advani after the decision was made and congratulated him. Calling it an “emotional moment” for him, Mr Modi said, Mr Advani was “one of the most respected statesmen of our times, his contribution to the development of India is monumental. His is a life that started from working at the grassroots to serving the nation as our Deputy Prime Minister.”
Mr Advani expressed his gratitude while accepting the award. “It is not only an honour for me as a person, but also for the ideals and principles that I strove to serve throughout my life to the best of my ability,” he wrote. The veteran leader recounted the time he joined the RSS – the BJP’s ideological mentor – at the age of 14. “Ever since I joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as its volunteer at the age of 14, I have sought reward in only thing – in dedicated and selfless service of my beloved country in whatever task life assigned to me,” he said.
Mr Advani has served as the Deputy Prime Minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, besides heading several ministries. He has been a member of both Houses of the Parliament between 1970 and 2019. “His is a life that started from working at the grassroots to serving the nation as our Deputy Prime Minister. He distinguished himself as our Home Minister and I&B Minister as well. His Parliamentary interventions have always been exemplary, full of rich insights,” said Mr Modi.
He also praised the former BJP president for settling “an exemplary standard” in political ethics. “Advani Ji’s decades-long service in public life has been marked by an unwavering commitment to transparency and integrity, setting an exemplary standard in political ethics. He has made unparalleled efforts towards furthering national unity and cultural resurgence,” he said.
“The conferring of the Bharat Ratna on him is a very emotional moment for me. I will always consider it my privilege that I got countless opportunities to interact with him and learn from him,” Modi added. “LK Advani continuously fought to get democracy out of one party’s grasp and guided everyone. He challenged dynasty politics and connected India’s democracy to all-inclusive and nationalist ideologies,” he said.
What has inspired my life is the motto “Idam-na-mama” – This life is not mine. My life is for my Nation,” Mr Advani said. Idam-na-mama or “this is not mine” is a Sanskrit mantra – a perspective rooted in Indian philosophical thought. It is mostly uttered during the time of sacred and ceremonial offerings.
LK Advani also remembered two veterans – Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya and Atal Bihari Vajpayee – in his thank you note. Today I gratefully remember two persons with whom I had the honour of working closely – Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya and Bharat Ratna Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he said.
He also expressed his gratitude to his party workers and his wife Kamla: “My heartfelt gratitude to millions of my party workers, swayamsevaks and others with whom I had the privilege of working throughout my journey in public life. I also express my deepest feelings for all members of my family, especially my dear departed wife Kamla. They have been the greatest source of strength and sustenance in my life.” Mr Advani also thanked President Droupadi Murmu and PM Modi for the honour.
This is the seventh Bharat Ratna awarded by the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, since assuming office in 2014 – Karpoori Thakur, Madan Mohan Malviya, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Pranab Mukherjee, Bhupen Hazarika, and Nanaji Deshmukh.
LK Advani was born in Karachi – in present-day Pakistan – on November 8, 1927. He is known as the longest-serving president of the BJP since its inception in 1980. Mr Advani had a long parliamentary career of nearly three decades in which he served first as the Home Minister and later the Deputy Prime Minister in the cabinet of Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1999-2004).
His 1990 Ram Rath Yatra, which traversed India, whipping up support for a campaign to build a temple on the site of the Babri mosque, led not just to the mosque’s destruction in 1992, but also redefined national politics for decades to come, along with the Mandal Commission’s recommendations.
It gave the BJP a fillip in national politics to the point where it formed the government in 1996 (for 13 days) and in 1998 (for thirteen months), and finally, for a full term between 1999 and 2004. Along with former PM Vajpayee, Mr Advani was part of a duo that ensured that the BJP has occupied the pole position in Indian politics since the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Mr Advani did not, however, attend the consecration ceremony in Ayodhya, with his office citing the intense cold wave in north India at the time as the reason.
Mr Advani went on to serve as the Union Home Minister in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government from 1998 to 2004. From 2002 to 2004, under Vajpayee’s leadership, he served as the Deputy Prime Minister of India. He then remained the Leader of Opposition during much of the Manmohan Singh-led UPA era (2004-2014).
Some wrinkles did appear in his relationship with the RSS and the BJP when, in the wake of the Vajpayee government’s defeat in 2004, Mr Advani made an attempt to recalibrate his image from a political hawk to a more broad-based leader, making a landmark six-day trip to Pakistan in June 2005. However, his praise for Pakistan’s founder and the right-wing’s bete noire, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, describing him as secular — a nudge to how far the current theocratic state of Pakistan had gone from that vision — led to controversy in India. The Sangh Parivar have always viewed Jinnah as having been responsible for the division of India along communal lines, and Mr Advani had to quit as BJP president.
A rapprochement with the RSS ensued soon afterwards as he was projected as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate in 2009; however, that year’s election saw the return of the UPA government under Dr Singh. He had some differences with the RSS and the BJP on the question of succession within the BJP as well, which was settled in favour of Mr Modi in 2013, despite Mr Advani not attending the BJP’s national council in Goa that year, where the announcement was made. The relationship has been subsequently mended, with Mr Advani being accorded the Padma Vibhushan as soon as the Modi government came to power, and now with the Bharat Ratna.