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Profile: Lal Krishna Advani

LK Advani, the octogenarian president of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been one of its most prominent hardliners for years.

File photo of LK Advani
LK Advani has been working to shed his hardline image

Many see him as a divisive figure who has exploited Hindu-Muslim tensions, remembering him for the campaign he led to have a Hindu temple built on the site of a mosque in the northern city of Ayodhya.

Yet at the age of 81, Mr Advani is attempting a makeover, reaching out to young voters who have always criticised India's geriatric political class and now comprise a substantial bulk of the electorate.

He has launched his own website and blog, as well as a campaign aimed at youngsters, Advani@campus.

During a recent campaign stop he appeared at a gym in western India and was seen checking out the equipment.

But it is not clear how much success Mr Advani has had in trying to shed his hardline image.

The BJP leader is hostage to his party's unchanging Hindu nationalist politics, and it is difficult for him to woo Muslim voters, analysts say.

Religious violence

Known for his formidable organising skills, Mr Advani is credited with scripting the BJP's rise as a major political force, taking it from two parliamentary seats in 1984 to government within 15 years.

He served as deputy prime minister in the government of Atal Behari Vajpayee until its general election defeat in May 2004, before stepping up to lead his party.

Yet it is the campaign over Ayodhya that has marked Mr Advani's career.

Hindu devotees destroy and scale walls surrounding Babri mosque
The destruction of the Babri mosque has dogged Mr Advani

In 1990, Mr Advani travelled across India, whipping up support for a campaign to build a temple on the site of the 16th century Babri mosque in Ayodhya.

That led to violent scenes there with the destruction of the mosque by Hindu hardliners, followed by some of India's worst religious violence since partition.

Mr Advani has fought ever since to clear his name after allegations that he incited the mob.

He could still face criminal charges for his role in the destruction of the mosque.

Whatever the outcome, his critics will always accuse him of having encouraged communal polarisation, detrimental to the secular credentials of India.

His supporters, however, say the campaign galvanised an entire generation and drew millions of supporters to the party which went on to help reshape India's economy and its image in the post-Cold War world.

Disciplinarian

Mr Advani was born in Karachi in what is now Pakistan and his family moved to India just before partition in 1947.

File photo of LK Advani supporters

He was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu nationalist organisation from which the BJP draws its ideological roots.

Mr Advani has a reputation as an efficient and honest if at times ruthless administrator with considerable analytical skills.

He is well known as a cricket and Bollywood buff - favourites are batsman Sachin Tendulkar and actor Amitabh Bachchan - and an enthusiast for the writings of Alvin Toffler about the need to adapt to a changing world.

He once told the BBC that he keeps fit by eating frugally.

Mr Advani also has a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian and a family man.

Coalition troubles

It was as part of his attempt to reposition himself politically and cast off his hawk's clothing that he made a landmark trip to Pakistan in June 2005.

LK Advani visiting the mausoleum of Pakistan's founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi
LK Advani's comments during a visit to Jinnah's mausoleum sparked a furore

By adopting a more moderate tone, Mr Advani would make himself more palatable to a broader electoral base, the theory went.

But his praise for Pakistan's founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and his description of him as secular, aroused anger and controversy in India.

It appears that an attempt at bridge-building in Pakistan may have burned boats at home.

Mr Advani has also been having problems with his coalition.

A loyal regional ally in Orissa, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), parted ways with the BJP recently after 11 years - and some of the blame is being laid at Mr Advani's door.

Running a national party and a government in India these days is mostly about wooing allies and managing coalitions - a job in which Mr Advani's predecessor, Mr Vajpayee, excelled.

Correspondents say Mr Advani has had no such luck as the BJP-led National Democratic Front (NDA) alliance has looked fragile in the run-up to the 2009 elections.



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