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Is it end of road for Advani?

Is it end of road for Advani?
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The transition from the Atal-Advani era to the Gen X had to take place. It had been in the offing for some years now. On September 13, the baton was...

The overall impression Advani has created is that he was the only one who stood against Modi’s projection, even courting isolation within his own party. The message would not be lost on the BJP’s allies or potential supporters

The transition from the Atal-Advani era to the Gen X had to take place. It had been in the offing for some years now. On September 13, the baton was passed from an unusual Atal-Advani twin-leadership, which had led the party for decades, to a one person stewardship of the BJP, with Narendra Modi anointed the party’s prime ministerial candidate. Vajpayee has been ailing for many years now. But will it mean the end of the road for Lal Krishan Advani? Since he has opposed the elevation of Modi, when the overwhelming opinion in the party has been for his projection, many are suddenly taking pot shots at him. .

In June, Advani opposed Modi’s elevation as the party’s campaign chief and did not go to Goa where the decision was taken. But very soon he took back his resignation from different posts, which he had given in protest, at the instance of the RSS chief. In other words, he accepted the new situation.

Again on September 13, he did not attend the meeting of the BJP Parliamentary Board when Modi was declared the party’s prime ministerial choice. He did not say anything against Modi but, instead, shot off a letter to Rajnath Singh criticizing him for the way the party was being run. The move robbed the event of some of its sheen, and highlighted deep reservations in the party about Modi.

But within two days, Advani was singing praises about Modi at Korba, for the way the Gujarat CM had electrified Gujarat. And Rajnath Singh has disclosed that Advani has blessed Modi and both will together address meetings—including one in Bhopal—in the coming days. Again, Advani is seen by partymen and women of having reconciled to the current reality.

The overall impression Advani has created is that he was the only one who stood against Modi’s projection, even courting isolation within his own party. The message would not be lost on the BJP’s allies or potential supporters.

There was a buzz within the BJP at one stage not long ago, before Modi’s anointment, that a truce had been effected between Modi, Advani and Rajnath Singh—that “if the BJP got 200 seats, it would be Modi as PM, if it got around 170 seats, it would be Advani and if it got about 150 seats, it would be Rajnath Singh”.

(Interestingly, this formulation presupposed greater “ally” support for Rajnath than for Advani). The difference, however, between Rajnath and Advani is that the former is moving with the tide of opinion in the party in favour of Modi and Advani is swimming against it.

Whether the “buzz” was true or not, it would make sense for Advani to position himself for a “170 seat” scenario, for he could be more acceptable to several state party chieftains. It has become fashionable in the BJP and among party supporters to rubbish Advani.

It is said that Advani’s moves stem from his inability to give up his prime ministerial ambitions. However, Advani has not said, like he did in 2009, “Make me PM candidate of the party”. It would be naïve to maintain that Advani is opposing Modi only out of ‘selfless” motives, or the others are supporting him for “altruistic” considerations.

Has not Modi been getting ready for prime ministership for the last three years, preparing his pitch and his PR? Has not Rajnath Singh made his moves in recent days, of going out of his way to launch Modi and yet attempting with great finesse to take everyone along, and soothe ruffled feathers, whenever necessary, in the hope that if it is not Modi in 2014, “NM” would transfer his support to Rajnath as PM? Has not Arun Jaitley harboured similar hopes and pursued a similar strategy?

Or, Sushma Swaraj, who had consistently opposed “NaMo”—she had supported Vajpayee’s demand that Modi follow his “Raj Dharma” in 2002-- in the hope that if the arithmetic was right, potential allies would plump for her. And she was the only one in the Parliamentary Board who registered her opposition to his candidature, though she made it clear that she would not criticize the decision outside, since this was the overwhelming view inside the party.

You can argue that it would have been better for Advani to have done what Sushma—or Dr Murli Manohar Joshi-- did. Advani had already said his piece—that he was opposed to Modi’s projection because he was a polarising figure and that the decision should be deferred till after the Assembly elections.

He could have put his opposition on the record at the PB meet, and then gone along with the party view, no matter how unpalatable, because an overwhelming majority favoured it. By holding out, he became that much more of a “villain” in the eyes of the party cadre because they want Modi to lead them today. At Korba, Advani tried to make amends, but will he be able to redeem his position in the eyes of the `karyakarta’?

You can fault him for making a wrong move, but surely a politician cannot be faulted for harbouring ambitions to reach the top, or plan to get there, or to never say die—particularly when others are not rubbished for harbouring similar ambitions.

To say that he should retire simply because he is old does not make sense when he, at the age of 85, is fitter than many younger leaders in the party. If at all, his chance comes, it will be age which would favour him. Even Modi—if he cannot make it—might prefer someone like him, despite Advani’s opposition to him, than risk those in their 50s and 60s who might entrench themselves in power.

And even if Advani is still driven by a prime ministerial desire, he can surely be forgiven by partymen and women. For, he is an architect of modern BJP, and encouraged and mentored a whole new generation of younger leaders. And more than anyone else, he has walked the talk. He was the one who projected Vajpayee as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in Bombay in 1995--instead of staking his claim, and he was riding high at the time--because he saw himself as the “polarizing” figure after the Rath Yatra. Had “Atalji” been well--and for all his differences with Advani--he would not have allowed Advani to be slighted or humiliated by partymen.

It is another matter that the wind is blowing in another direction today. As for Advani’s future role, only the arithmetic of the 16th Lok Sabha will determine whether it is end of the road for him or not.

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