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Last Updated: Friday, 19 September, 2003, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
What now for LK Advani?
By Soutik Biswas
BBC News Online India analyst

He's a prominent hardliner and India's second most powerful politician - and Indian Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani must be breathing a little easier now.

A court ruling on Friday that Mr Advani will not face charges relating to the 1992 destruction of a mosque in Ayodhya will help him improve his position in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)

It will also make him a tad more acceptable to the allies supporting the government.

The Karachi-born, 74-year-politician, who is a Bollywood buff and reads Alvin Toffler in his free time, is not exactly popular with the disparate, regional parties that form part of the BJP-led Indian Government.

LK Advani
Advani - can he ever gain Muslim support?
They have always suspected Mr Advani of behaving more like a "party person", trying to push political agendas like the building of a temple at the site where the Babri mosque in Ayodhya was razed down by a mob in his presence.

"He is seen as a tough cookie. At least, he has the image of being one. So the allies don't feel very cosy with him," says social psychologist Dr Ashish Nandy.

The allies are more comfortable with 77-year-old Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's grandfatherly, patient and consensual style of politics and administration.

The Indian media often reports of fissures between the consensual PM and his hardliner DPM, but many political analysts reckon that this is part of a carefully cultivated spin to keep both the doves and the hawks in the party and government happy.

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This problem needs to be solved amicably
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'Position reinforced'

Mr Advani must be relieved now.

"The court decision will definitely reinforce Mr Advani's position as the number two in the party and the government and improve his chemistry with the allies," political analyst Dr Mahesh Rangarajan told BBC Online.

Mr Advani has been trying his best to shed his image of a hardliner to make him more acceptable to Indian people and the allies whose support he will need to make him a successor to Mr Vajpayee.

Even the Ayodhya movement seems to have passed a peak - but BJP cannot put it behind and disown the cause publicly
Mahesh Rangarajan
political analyst

But the let-off in this case is not going to help his ambitions to become India's next prime minister in the eventuality of BJP and its allies returning to power next year.

One reason is that there is still another case involving Mr Advani in the demolition of Babri mosque in India's Supreme Court.

The other - and more important reason - is that Mr Advani can never possibly become acceptable as a prime minister to allies who have substantial Muslim voters in their constituencies.

"Muslim voters matter in some 110 constituencies in India. They have not forgotten the riots in the country after Mr Advani's rathyatra (motorised chariot) journey in the early 1990's to whip up support for a temple at Ayodhya," says Dr Nandy.

Potent mixture

That is really the biggest problem facing Mr Advani -and the BJP - as history catches up with the man and his party.

The potent mixture of politics and religion - brewed in a large part by Mr Advani himself - that catapulted the BJP to power does not really work today in a country which is hungry for economic reforms and change.

Hindu activists
Advani played a key role in promoting Hindu activism

"Even the Ayodhya movement seems to have passed a peak. The public response is waning. But BJP cannot put it behind and disown the cause publicly," says Dr Rangarajan.

So even if Mr Advani did not incite the mob to bring down the mosque in Ayodhya, his role as the chief architect in the movement is an irrefutable part of history.

"You can say he mobilised people to such a point that some of them went to Ayodhya and brought down the mosque," says political columnist Prem Shankar Jha.

"So he created the opportunity for this mass movement and mobilisation." And that will continue to remain the agonising dilemma of Mr Advani.




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