'Anguished' Advani cuts a lonely figure

Last Updated 13 September 2013, 14:32 IST

He was instrumental in BJP's rise to power in the nineties and credited with its phenomenal growth, but L. K. Advani cut a lonely figure Friday as the party announced Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, even as he voiced  his "anguish" and "disappointment" at the move.

Advani, 85, the seniormost leader in Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has seemingly not found it easy to reconcile with the growing mobilisation around Modi in the party and impact of his rise on party's coalition prospects ahead of 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Advani is working chairman of BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and considered the leader most acceptable to present and potential allies of the party.

BJP sources said Advani, along with Sushma Swaraj, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, had conveyed to party leaders that any decision on prime ministerial candidate should be taken only after the assembly polls to five states later this year.

However, there was growing pressure on announcement of Modi as prime ministerial candidate from sections of senior party leaders and the party rank and file.

However, even as Sushma Swaraj and to an extent Murli Manohar Joshi sensed the party's mood and overwhelming sentiments in Modi's favour and fell in line, Advani decided to plough the lonely furrow.

He held out till the end but decided not to speak out publicly against Modi's elevation. In a terse letter to party president Rajnath Singh, Advani said he had expressed his "anguish" and "disappointment" to him when he come to invite him to the meeting of the party's parliamentary board.

Advani pointedly stayed away from the meeting that announced Modi's elevation, just as he had stayed from the national executive meeting in Goa in June when Modi was named the party campaign chief for the 2014 election.

Party sources admitted that part of Advani's reluctance to endorse Modi's elevation may have to do with his own ambitions.

"When the going was tough (for the party), Advani played the stellar role. He would not like to be forgotten when the going appears easy," a BJP leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told IANS.

A. S. Narang, a professor pf political science at the Indira Gandhi National Open University, said Advani wanted to play safe about his own ambitions ahead of Lok Sabha elections in the event of the BJP needing allies to take its tally past the half-way mark (272 seats) in the Lok Sabha.

"He is playing safe. If he says yes once (to Modi as prime ministerial candidate), then it may be difficult for him," Narang said, suggesting that many potential allies might not accept Modi's leadership. 

"BJP is committing a blunder by announcing Modi as prime ministerial candidate so soon. Coalition is inevitable... I don't think Modi can lead to emergence of BJP as the largest party," said Subrata Mukherjee, a political analyst who taught at Delhi University.

Advani had quit key positions in the party in June, a day after the party president Rajnath Singh declared Modi to be chief of party's campaign committee for 2014 elections.

Advani relented after intervention of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and assurance by Rajnath Singh that his concerns about functioning of the party will be addressed.

Even as a large section of party, particularly its workers pitched for Modi, Advani sought to emphasise role of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in some of his speeches.

With Modi drawing crowds in different parts of the country, sections of party had been arguing that he was the party' s best bet for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and formalising his role as prime ministerial candidate will help build momentum against the United Progressive Alliance government.

Former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi's veiled criticism of Advani was seen by sections in the party as reflection of the mood of the rank and file.

"Advaniji has failed to gauge the public mood. Advaniji himself declared Atalji as PM candidate. Now also he could have done the same for Namo (Narendra Modi)," Sushil Modi had tweeted Wednesday night.

Advani was the BJP's prime ministerial candidate in 2009 polls but failed to take the party to power. The RSS, ideological fountainhead of BJP, later nudged Advani to assume role of mentor and encouraged a generational shift in the party.

Elevation of Modi is being seen as another manifestation of generational shift in the party and a signal of the end of the Atal-Advani era.

(Published 13 September 2013, 14:32 IST)

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