Congress President Sonia Gandhi must be very pleased with the way she extracted an apology from L K Advani, the octogenarian leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who still nurses prime ministerial ambitions.
It all began earlier this month, when a BJP-appointed taskforce alleged that Sonia and her late husband Rajiv Gandhi had amassed significant wealth in secret overseas bank accounts. The four-member taskforce includes accountant S Gurumurthy and former Intelligence Bureau Director Ajit Doval, whose proximity to Advani and the BJP is widely commented on.
BJP President Nitin Gadkari had reportedly opposed making allegations against the Gandhis without solid evidence in the taskforce report, but the Advani coterie appears to have gone ahead with issuing some scathing remarks about the Gandhis. The report was released recently at a public function that was presided over by Advani.
Gandhi took up the matter directly with Advani, sending him an angry letter on February 15. A few quotes from Sonia’s letter, which the Congress Party released to the media, include: ‘I must let you know that I am surprised and disappointed to find a leader of your stature occupying important positions in the NDA (National Democratic Alliance, led by the BJP) and the BJP endorsing such scurrilous and malicious fabrications through their release at a function presided over by you’, and, ‘This so-called report contains reckless and baseless allegations against me and my family, including my late husband and my mother.’
Advani behaved like a thorough gentleman, and promptly wrote back to Gandhi stating that he deeply regretted the distress caused her by the taskforce’s allegations. ‘I am happy that you have denied the reports relating to you and your family alluded to in the task force’s report on black money. If these had been denied earlier, the taskforce would have taken into account your denial. Even so, I deeply regret the distress caused to you,’ he reportedly wrote.
However, gentlemanliness is hardly a rewarding virtue in Indian politics. Though Advani’s bête noire within the party, Murli Manohar Joshi—chairman of the immensely powerful parliamentary Public Accounts Committee—has praised Advani for his ‘decency,’ Advani’s detractors have been handed a lot of ammunition through his apology to Sonia.
The anti-Advani elements in the BJP cite Advani’s gesture to Sonia as his second major blunder after his controversial remarks praising Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah some years ago. Advani’s Jinnah remarks caused uproar within the party at the time, and triggered the exits or sidelining of several senior party leaders such as former Cabinet Minister Jaswant Singh.
Advani’s critics feel that his apology to Sonia will only end up weakening the BJP’s campaign against black money at a crucial time—and just as the party was planning on hauling the Congress over the coals.