Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi must be a relieved man. And so must be senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, including its president Rajnath Singh. Party patriarch LK Advani finally seems to be warming up to the man whom he once mentored, accepting the fact that perhaps Modi is their best bet for 2014, if they have to go all out and try to come back to power at the Centre after a decade.
So, when on October 16, on Modi’s turf in Ahmedabad, the senior BJP leader said that he would be elated if Gujarat CM becomes the next prime minister of India, it was a clear signal of the change in Advani’s stance. After all this was the first time that he was commenting on Narendra Modi as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for next General Elections.
Adavni’s vehement opposition to the anointment of his one time protégé as the face of the BJP was something that had embarrassed the party to a great extent. After Advani did not attend the BJP`s parliamentary board meeting where the decision was taken to go with Modi’s name for the next Lok Sabha polls, BJP leaders were at a loss of words to explain his absence. A reportedly sulking Advani also did not attend the press meet when Rajnath Singh announced Gujarat`s CM`s name as the party`s PM candidate for 2014. All other top party leaders including Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari and Arun Jaitley were present on the occasion.
As is well known, Advani, along with Sushma and Joshi wanted the decision on Modi to be postponed till the end of the year, after the Assembly elections in five states, due to go to polls, were over. However, given the clamour by BJP’s cadre, it was becoming difficult for Rajnath to leave the decision to another date. Also, the RSS was keen that Modi be named as BJP’s face for 2014 as soon as possible so that they could get a head start over the Congress.
Thus, it was obvious to all that Advani was completely isolated on the matter and ultimately his will was overruled and the party took the decision to go ahead with Modi`s name. This was not the first time that the senior leader had made his objections regarding Modi more than evident. When the Gujarat CM was appointed the party`s campaign committee chief at the Goa conclave in June this year, Advani had resigned from all party posts in protest. It is another matter, that he took them back soon, after meeting top RSS and BJP leaders, but the perception that went out in the public realm was not doing the party any good. If one is attempting to overthrow a government which has been at the helm for ten years, then infighting and divisions within the party are hardly the way to approach the battlefield.
Anyway, now that Advani appears to be coming around, the credit for it must also go to the man of the moment, who has been persistent in his efforts to woo the senior leader. Modi made sure to send out messages in his tweets and his rallies that the blessings of Advani were important for him; he went to meet the senior leader after he was named the PM candidate in the national capital; he never failed to touch Advani’s feet publicly, even when the response was frosty by the party’s patriarch; and he made sure that Advani got a grand welcome when he was in Gujarat recently. He could have avoided all this as he had the support of the rank and file of the party and the blessings of the RSS, but in all probability, Modi did not want to be seen as someone one who does not care for the man who in many ways was responsible for his rise in politics.
First indications of Advani softening to Modi came when he praised the Gujarat CM for the good work that he had done at an event in Chhattisgarh on September 16 and called him a friend. The man who is credited, along with former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, of turning the BJP from a fringe to a national player, has perhaps accepted the fact that his own future in the party lies in being its mentor and to be somewhat politically relevant; he has no other choice than to swim with the tide and toe the party line.
As is apparent, in the new scheme of things in the party, Advani’s role is diminishing by the day. The RSS has more than made it clear that the senior leader is not acceptable to them as the BJP’s PM candidate at any cost. So, in all probability, even if Modi fails to garner enough allies incase there is a hung Parliament next year, Advani may not be second option as far as the party and the RSS is concerned.
One cannot but help feel sad for the man who spearheaded the Ram Janambhoomi movement and catapulted the BJP to power at the Centre. He proposed Vajpayee’s name for the prime minister’s post and has remained the ‘eternal PM in waiting’ since then. After BJP led by Advani lost the last Lok Sabha polls to Congress led by Manmohan Singh in 2009, it had more than become clear that his political career was on a downslide. However, in 2009 Modi was still not being talked about as the next face of BJP, especially with the sword of the 2002 Gujarat riots hanging over him.
When asked a question on the matter, most of the senior BJP leaders said that there were many leaders in the party who were worthy of becoming the PM. This also led to talks of a war amongst certain factions in the party. In a scenario like this, and with the Congress besieged by a host of scams and governance issues, maybe, Advani fancied his chances of emerging as the consensus candidate for 2014 and make one last attempt at the top post in the county.
However, Advani’s charioteer for the Rath Yatra in the nineties to build the Ram Temple was quietly bidding his time and knew that if he had to make the transition from state to national politics and fulfill his dreams then he will have to deliver. And deliver he did when in December 2012 Modi routed the Congress for the third time in a row in the Gujarat Assembly Elections and became the state’s CM for the fourth time.
This sounded the death-knell for Advani’s ambition, ironically from the man whom he had saved from being sacked as the CM by Vajpayee after the post-Godhra riots. As they say, life has truly come a full circle for the senior leader. Modi’s good showing in his state also meant that other national leaders of the BJP would have to fall in line, inspite of reservations about him.
Thus, the man who made efforts to reinvent himself and be acceptable to all parties in a coalition era and who even praised Jinnah in Karachi, in all probability, realizes in the evening of his life that there aren’t too many options left before him. And if he has to bow out of politics with dignity and with his head held high, then he has to accept the inevitable and go along with the times.