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Advani proved he can hurt Modi's credibility

June 11, 2013 23:19 IST

By resigning from all posts of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and finally being persuaded to withdraw the resignation, veteran leader L K Advani, there is a realisation in the party it could not overlook or ignore the senior leader’s tantrums as it would show up the party as a divided house, says Anita Katyal

Veteran Bharatiya Janata Party leader L K Advani was persuaded to withdraw his resignation from key party posts after he was assured that the next prime ministerial candidate would be decided at an appropriate time in consultation with him.

However, the so-called promise is given by the BJP and not by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh who will be the decision-making authority. In a further attempt to placate the sulking senior leader, Advani was also promised that there would be no further public calls from the party that he withdraw from active politics and that it would be left to him to decide the timing of his retirement.

BJP insiders said that it was only after Advani’s hurt ego was adequately massaged by a battery of senior party leaders that he agreed not to press his resignation.

“No compromise formula was offered or agreed upon,” said a BJP leader.

However, BJP President Rajnath Singh and the RSS made it abundantly clear that there would no going back on the appointment of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the party’s campaign committee chief for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

They also stood firm on their initial rejection of Advani’s suggestion that a parallel election management committee also be constituted with former BJP President Nitin Gadkari as its convenor.

Although the BJP mounted a concerted effort to mollify an angry Advani, the party was not willing to go as far as to undermine Modi’s eminence as it would have defeated the purpose of appointing him campaign committee chief.

The party leaders, however, were only willing to go as far as to assure Advani that Modi’s elevation did not imply that the Gujarat strongman was its prime ministerial choice and that a final view on this would be taken after consulting the senior leader.

This was evident from Singh’s general statement on Tuesday evening that “all issues raised by Advani would be addressed.”

While a formal statement put out by the BJP on Tuesday said that Advani withdrew his resignation after RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat spoke to him, reliable party sources said the truce was actually brokered by senior leader S Gurumurthy and others including senior leaders such as Sushma Swaraj, Jaswant Singh, Venkaiah Naidu and Uma Bharati.

They did the groundwork while Bhagwat was brought in at the end to send out a message that the Sangh was also on board.

“Advani’s supporters were basically nervous that they would be marginalised once their mentor was out of the picture....their survival and future was at stake,” remarked a BJP insider, adding that it was primarily because of their efforts that Advani agreed to withdraw his resignation.

Although he once drew his strength from the RSS, Advani had to step down as party chief after he incurred the Sangh’s wrath with his controversial Jinnah remark.

Moreover, the RSS has been keen to ensure a generational change in the BJP just as it has done in the Sangh itself. The first step was taken when Swaraj and Jaitley were appointed leaders of opposition in the two houses of Parliament while senior leaders such as Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were asked to mentor younger leaders.

The RSS wants to carry forward this process by projecting Modi as the face of the BJP in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

This decision also factored in the sentiments of the BJP rank and file which has been pressing the party leadership to project Modi as the party’s prime ministerial candidate as they believe he is their best vote catcher today.

There cadres would have virtually revolted if the Sangh and the BJP leadership had agreed to dilute Modi’s role in the party.

Although the storm triggered by Advani’s sudden decision to step down from key party posts has blown over many in the party feels that this crisis could have been avoided if it had been handled better.

BJP President Rajnath Singh, it is said, should have scripted the Goa episode well before the national executive meeting by taking Advani and his supporters on board. This unseemly episode could have also been avoided if Singh had announced the composition of the campaign committee before appointing Modi as its chairman.

Many senior leaders, who are already feeling threatened by Modi’s elevation, felt jittery and thought they would soon be relegated to the margins, said a senior BJP leader, adding, “These were some management errors which could have been avoided and saved us this embarrassment.”

While there is a section in the BJP which feels that Advani is now irrelevant and should have been left alone to sulk, there is a realisation that it could not overlook or ignore the senior leader’s tantrums as it would show up the party as a divided house.

To that extent, Advani proved his relevance to the party and also demonstrated that he could even hurt Modi’s credibility.

Anita Katyal