BJP's challenge now is to prove Advani wrong

SANJAY SINGH/FIRSTPOST, NEW DELHI | 13 September 2013 19:26 IST

To persistent questions on what keeps him in such good health despite his advancing age, Lal Krishna Advani would say it was because he “at peace with both the Parivars (families) – the ideological one, the Sangh Parivar, which he joined at the age of 14, and his real parivar, his wife and two children.

As things stand today, he is not at peace with his ideological Parivar. The party that he built and the people he groomed are mostly standing against him, making a few demeaning comments in public, many more in private.

The process that started in June 2005 with the episode surrounding his comments on Jinnah has turned vitriolic since July 2013, when he failed to make an appearance at the BJP’s Goa conclave where Modi was all set to be anointed the party’s campaign committee chief, a de-facto prime ministerial candidate.

Just prior to the Goa conclave Advani had been declared a villain by many in the party for BJP’s defeat in the Karnataka Assembly elections. His uncompromising position on corruption charges against BS Yeddyurappa was blamed for the defeat.

Once again, this Friday the 13th, Advani is seen as the stumbling block in the immediate coronation of Narendra Modi as prime ministerial candidate because he wanted this to be deferred until the Assembly elections conclude in five states.

In steamrolling his opposition and going ahead unilaterally telling key allies Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal that Modi is the BJP’s PM candidate, party president Rajnath Singh has not only marginalized Advani, but has also possibly set the stage for the end of the patriarch’s career.

Isolated, marginalised by those he helped groom Advani continues to believe that Modi’s coronation at this stage will be detrimental to the BJP’s interests in the coming Assembly elections where a substantive section of Muslims might otherwise be inclined to vote for Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan and Raman Singh in Chhatisgarh.

Also, he feels that projecting Modi now would help the Congress turn the elections into some kind of a referendum on the 2002 riots when in fact it would be much more beneficial for the BJP to turn the 2014 elections into a vote on corruption and misrule during 10 years of the UPA.

But Advani and Sushma Swaraj, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha who is on his side, have been completely outmaneuvered and outsmarted by Modi’s active protagonists. It’s a battle of wits, which weighed heavily against Advani because Modi had the advantage of an overwhelming support of the BJP workers, leaders and most important of all, of the physical and psychological might of the RSS, which has lately been micromanaging the internal affairs of the BJP.

Advani and Sushma insisted on Rajnath Singh convening a meeting of the 12-member Parliamentary Board. Sushma took a tough positioning and told leaders who were despatched for negotiations that only a Parliamentary Board meeting was empowered to take the biggest policy decision of naming the PM candidate.

But Modi’s key strategists have maintained that Rajnath Singh can on his own  announce the decision, as LK Advani had done during the height of his popularity in the aftermath of the Ayodhya movement. That was in 1995, and Advani had pitched unilaterally for Atal Bihari Vajpayee, later approaching the Parliamentary Board for approval.

Though two situations are not exactly comparable, it was anyway the precedent cited by some leaders. The mutual distrust among the top leaders and the intrigue in the strategy is so high that there was no notice for Friday 5 pm meeting of the Parliamentary Board members till noon as this report was being filed, even though the news of the meeting was all over the news channels since 10.30 pm on Thursday.

Advani is so convinced that Modi’s official projection as PM candidate was not in the best interests of the party that he has argued his position in detail to the RSS and BJP leaders. First it was Bhaiyaji Joshi last Monday, then it was Mohan Bhagwat last Wednesday (both at his residence), then to the entire RSS top brass on Monday this week, then on Wednesday to Rajnath Singh and on Thursday to other leaders.

 

The problem for Advani is that his objections are countered with one line that his objections are motivated and he still wants to give one last shot to his own ever so burning prime ministerial ambitions. His conviction is termed as opportunism. It’s true that he never publicly said that he was not in the reckoning for PM post but those who know him well know that he has spoken of retiring, even relinquishing politics. But that he hasn’t said that in public has become his folly and consistent fodder for his critics to target him.

Yet, he has chosen the same path he did in 2005 in the aftermath of the Jinnah episode. Even as he withdrew his resignation, he did not waver from his stand, ending up paying for it heavily when he was forced to quit and make way for Rajnath Singh as party president in December 2005.

But things are turning out to be even worse for him now. The latest round began with senior BJP leader and former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi made a rather nasty comment against Advani, though without naming him. “Politics is the only profession in which people aspire till their last. Ministerial berth can resurrect a dead politician?”

This was in direct contrast to what Subramanian Swamy, only a day ago, had tweeted: “Advani was the favoured candidate for PM in 1996. But he chose then to make a sacrifice then. It is wrong to say PM aspiration is behind it.”

In his second tweet, posted a minute after his earlier one, Sushil Modi was more direct against the BJP patriarch: “Adavaniji has failed to gauge the public mood. Advaniji himself declared Atalji as PM candidate now also he could have done the same for Namo.”

Later in the evening on Thursday, some BJP spokespersons made further uncharitable remarks against Advani during TV debates while questioning “the coterie” around him. The other concern in Advani’s mind has been the expansion of the NDA, building the NDA-Plus and reaching out to the minorities. While this is not among the reasons he is asking for a deferral of Modi’s coronation, this is one of the issues dominating many BJP leaders’ minds though they dare not talk about it.

Most in the BJP are talking of complete wave for Modi, something like the one that existed for Indira Gandhi. The wave would sweep the 2014 polls, they predict. And if the numbers do not exactly come the way the BJP want, it may be difficult to change its prime ministerial contender then.

Advani may stand isolated and marginalised in the party in days to come but Modi and BJP will have to work really very hard to prove him wrong.

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