NEW DELHI: 1996. A visibly irritated L.K.Advani was surrounded by some of us at the BJP party office just after the minority government led by Atal BihariVajpayee fell after all of 13 days in office because the BJP was unable to get the support of other regional parties to cobble together the requisite majority. He said angrily, “you people want us to be isolated, well we will not let that happen.”

And from then on Advani as the architect and Vajpayee as the more amenable face set to work to end the unilateralism the BJP was associated with, and within less than a decade form the NDA that brought and kept the party in power for a full term. This was done by a complete change in strategy, with the duo who often complimented each other despite reports of ‘animosity’, working hard to reach out and assuage the egos of the regional satraps in what brought the BJP out of its RSS led isolation, and made it acceptable to all the other political parties that had till then adopted a strict ‘hands off’ policy insofar as this right wing organisation was concerned. This was not because of ideology alone, as many were not averse to being wooed as Advani proved later, but because of wariness about obvious BJP aggressiveness.

Advani’s visible irritation on that day came from the realisation that just a majority was not enough, despite the huge Ram Mandir movement he had personally led through the country with his infamous rath yatra. The movement that he hovered over with the precision of a political mathematician, was singly responsible for changing the fortunes of the BJP from a 2 MP party to a party with near majority in the Lok Sabha---all within four years from the demolition of the Babri mosque.

The movement spearheaded by Advani at the time even in the dusty villages of Uttar Pradesh brought the BJP into the corridors of power, in what was seen as a major achievement by the party at the time. Advani was given much of the credit at the time, although the BJP was a more collective entity than it is it today where the ‘one’ dominates the ‘all.’ However, Advani clearly took it personally when the government he had helped bring to power did not last. And this was because none of the regional parties were willing to bite the bullet that he then made it his mission to ensure.

In six years Advani changed the political framework for the BJP. He changed the “chhal, charitra and chera" of the saffron party through what he was a master of ‘social engineering’ that now BJP chief Amit Shah claims as his own.

Advani not only identied Other Backward Caste faces but made them leaders, chief ministers, deputy chief ministers and expanded the party outside the Hindi belt through tactical alliences. Kalyan Singh(Uttar Pradesh) ,Uma Bharati (Madhya Pradesh), Gopinath Munde (Maharashtra) , Sushil Modi (Bihar) emerged as the strong backward caste leaders of the party which once described as Brahmin-Baniya" party but which managed to not just survive, but also later cash in on the Mandal wave generated by the Janata Dal and its Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh.

Advani, known as 'Lalji' in the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, brought Nitish Kumar closer to the party through George Fernandes and projected him as an alternative to the Mandal champion Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar through the then Samata Party. He projected Kumar as the chief ministerial candidate against Lalu Prasad Yadav at the time, creating dissensions within the Janata Dal that was the new kid on the block at the time.

Later, Sharad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan who were bitter critics of the BJP after the demolition of Babri Masjid and the Gujarat riots, shared power with the saffron party due to the efforts of Advani who reached out to each leader personally.

In Uttar Pradesh, Advani had supported Mayawati to become the chief minister and thereby split the alliance between the Samajwadi Party and the BSP. The BSP might not have become a constituent of the NDA but it had backed the Vajpayee government after 1998. Mayawati in fact, had campaigned for Narendra Modi in the Gujarat Assembly elections held in 2002 against the backdrop of the communal carnage in the state.

In Andhra Pradesh,the TDP led by N Chandrababu Naidu too moved closer to the BJP though it did not become a partner of the NDA during 1998 to 2004.But it got the Lok Sabha Speakership (G M C Balayogi) and thereby the doors were opened, that led Naidu directly into the NDA in 2014.

Earlier, Tamil Nadu politics used to be limited to a face off between the DMK and the AIADMK as the only two options in the state. But the BJP led by Advani not only succeeded in getting support from these two parties for different issues, but made the smaller Dravadian parties like the PMK,MDMK and others relevant by bringing them into the NDA and giving them considerable importance. It is because of this that the control of just the two parties has been cut into by other players in Tamil Nadu, despite the fact that the demolition of the Babri masjid did not really impact on this state in the south where Ram is not worshipped by the Dravidian sects.

In West Bengal,the BJP under Advani’s instructions remained behind the Congress rebel Mamata Banerjee and her new party at the time, Trinamul Congress to check the Left. Advani was not concerned whether she supported the BJP or not, he kept behind her to ensure that she demolished the Left that was clearly a strategy that worked far beyond even his expectations perhaps.

Earlier, the Shiv Sena was the only ideological ally of the BJP (since 1989). But Advani brought the Shiromani Akal Dal (Punjab), Indian National Lok Dal (Haryana), AGP(Asam), Jammu and Kashmir National Conference closer to the BJP. He got space in Orissa through a tactical alliance with the Biju Janata Dal. Besides, he brought the all powerful Patel community in Gujarat close to the BJP and the Lingayats in Karnataka prepared to check the Congress.

In fact, Bangaru Laxman became the first Dalit president of the BJP because of the Advani line. That he did not hold is a different story, but it was a major move for the essentially upper caste party.

It is thus ironical---and for Advani and his supporters a tragedy---that the one man to whom the phenomenal rise of the BJP can be traced is today facing what BJP old timers have no hesitation in describing as a “major humiliation” at the hands of his own being tried by a CBI court for the Babri Masjid demolition case. More so as he has been more loyal to the RSS than perhaps even Vajpayee who was a man fond of his own comforts, quite unlike the ascetic Advani for whom his passion was the ideology that he was pracharak of. And yet not a single leader of consequence from either the BJP or the RSS has spoken out for the ‘architect’ who built the party brick by brick, and legitimised its agenda of divisiveness through a strategy that was aggressive, and yet accommodating.

Ironical that the man who ended the political isolation of the BJP has ended up so isolated himself.