The storied life of Sudheendra Kulkarni

If a life were to be viewed episodically, in soap opera fashion, then what happened on Monday with Sudheendhra Kulkarni, erstwhile speech writer to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, can be considered a cliff-hanger of a season finale in a life plot with ideological twists.

From a card-carrying Marxist in his days at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, to the man who finessed senior BJP leader L.K. Advani’s messaging from atop the Ram Rath during the Ayodhya movement in the early 1990s, to finally being the India-Pakistan peacenik smeared with black paint by an intolerant Shiv Sena, Mr. Kulkarni remains a man difficult to define.

The Hindu spoke to a few of Mr. Kulkarni’s colleagues in the Vajpayee PMO and all of them said his veering from Marxism to the Hindutva cause was something they never got a fix on. Mr. Kulkarni himself describes it thus: “People like me were living in an illusory land. I realised very late in my life that Marxist ideology is not suitable in India. In fact, I would say it is unsuitable for any corner in the world.” While his rise from a columnist for Blitz in Mumbai to a close aide of former Prime Minister Vajpayee is well known, what is not known is his chequered relationship with the BJP after the party lost the polls in 2004. “At some point during that election, Kulkarni was convinced that only a Right of Centre politics and an accommodation with the country’s minorities could result in a full majority BJP government at the Centre,” said a former aide of Mr. Vajpayee.

To reinvent the person of former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, from a hawkish Hindutvavadi to a leader with expansive appeal like Mr. Vajpayee, a trip to Pakistan in 2005 was undertaken, where Mr. Advani proceeded to anoint the country’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah as a secular thinker.

“Advaniji paid a heavy price for the Jinnah episode. It didn’t reinvent him as a less hawkish leader, but he lost the support of the RSS,” said a senior BJP leader. Nevertheless, Mr. Kulkarni continued to enjoy Mr. Advani’s confidence and, in 2008, engineered the “cash for votes scam” where it was sought to be proven that members of Parliament were being offered cash to vote to save the UPA government during the trust vote in July. The government won the vote and Mr. Kulkarni was jailed for his role in the sting operation. He quit the party in 2009.

Mr. Kulkarni, who also opposed the name of Mr. Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, went into political wilderness. The turn of his ideological wheel has taken him from Marx to Hedgewar to finally the desire to fashion a Right of Centre, yet secular, alternative, which is where Mr. Kulkarni is now. A colourful journey has run into black paint spatter.

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2022 12:37:08 pm |