Senior BJP leaders had offered the veteran politician the Lok Sabha Speaker’s post after he went into a sulk over displeasure to contest from the Gandhinagar seat. However, it is yet to be known whether he has accepted the offer or not, reports Anita Katyal.
When Bharatiya Janata Party president Rajnath Singh and the party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi met veteran leader L K Advani last month to persuade him to contest from the Gandhinagar constituency, they are learnt to have placated him by offering him the Lok Sabha Speaker’s post in case the National Democratic Alliance forms the next government.
Several senior BJP leaders, including Rajnagth Singh and Modi, had called on Advani when he had gone into a sulk after the party decided that he should contest the Gandhinagar seat and not Bhopal as desired by the party patriarch.
Although Advani eventually capitulated and opted for Gandhinagar, it is not clear if he is inclined to accept the Speaker’s post.
The senior leader and his supporters, including Sushma Swaraj and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, are still hoping that the party’s final tally of Lok Sabha seats may not cross 180.
In such a scenario, it might be difficult for the BJP to find allies who would be willing to accept Modi as the prime minister. As a result, the BJP would have to look around for an acceptable leader. Advani could then emerge as a consensus prime ministerial candidate, it is felt.
But as the Lok Sabha election draws closer, all poll surveys are indicating that the BJP could well reach the 200-mark which would make it easier to find allies.
As it is, the BJP has succeeded in sealing electoral pacts in Bihar (with Lok Janshakti Party) and Uttar Pradesh (with Apna Dal) while several leaders from other parties have crossed over to the saffron fold.
With the BJP is now certain that Modi is all set to succeed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the party believes the best way of giving Advani an honourable exit is by offering him the Speaker’s post as he cannot obviously work under Modi.
The octogenarian leader is considered to be an ideal candidate for this post as he is the senior most Lok Sabha member at present, is conversant with the functioning of the Parliament and has always been a keen and conscientious parliamentarian.
Nevertheless, the last word on this is yet to be heard.
Following directions from its ideological mentor the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP had actually wanted senior leaders like Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi to opt out of electoral politics to make way for GenNext. It was earlier suggested that instead of contesting the Lok Sabha elections, the two senior leaders could be accommodated in the Rajya Sabha. However, this was not acceptable to Advani and Joshi.
While Advani agreed to contest from Gandhinagar after a long drawn-out drama, it took hours of persuasion for Joshi to agree to vacate the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat in favour of Narendra Modi and shift to Kanpur.
While the party succeeded in mollifying Advani and Joshi, it did not bother to make the effort in case of Jaswant Singh who insisted on contesting from the Barmer seat. He was eventually expelled from the party for six years.
The BJP could afford to ignore Jaswant Singh’s tantrums as he is considered a lightweight but it could not do the same in case of Advani, even though the latter’s influence in the party has now waned considerably. Given that Advani’s rathyatra in the ‘90s contributed significantly to the BJP’s growth, the party could not allow him to sulk indefinitely. It had to necessarily close the chapter on an amicable note.
Consequently, the party’s senior leaders and the RSS top brass spent over two days placating Advani when he insisted that he should be allowed to decide his Lok Sabha seat just as Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitely had been allowed to do.
The party wanted that he should continue to represent the Gandhinagar seat which he has won five times while Advani insisted that he wished to move to Bhopal. Advani is known to be close to the Madhya Pradesh chief minister while his relations with Modi have soured in the recent past.
After several rounds of meetings, the senior leader was given a face saver when Rajnath Singh issued a statement that the choice between the two parliamentary seats would be left to Advani. The senior leader finally settled for Gandhinagar.
With Modi assuring Advani of his unstinting support in Gandhinagar, the senior leader finally kick-started his election campaign on Monday. Addressing his first public rally at Shevgoan in Maharashtra where he made a pitch for Modi as the country’s next prime minister.
Stating that Modi would revive the process of development started by Atal Behari Vajpayee, Advani declared, “Vote for Modi, vote for change”.
While placating Modi, Advani also placed two other BJP chief ministers, Madhya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh, in the same league, saying that the Gujarat chief minister was not the only one to score a hat-trick of electoral wins.
Image: Narendra Modi touches L K Advani;s feet as Rajnath Singh looks on, during a BJP function in New Delhi
Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters