Will a ‘divide’ hurt BJP in 2014?

As an ardent BJP supporter, it has come as a major setback for me to see veteran leader and saffron brigade’s ‘guiding light’ LK Advani quitting all important positions, triggering a major political crisis in the party.

And what is even more shocking is that Advani’s resignation from key posts comes less than 24-hours after his nemesis Narendra Modi- the man whose political career he once resurrected – was appointed the BJP’s campaign and strategy chief despite his strong reservations.

Advani’s decision to quit all key positions has also brought to fore the growing factionalism within the BJP and the fact that all is not well within the party. It is ironical that the party, which once took pride in branding itself as a ‘party with a difference’, has indeed become a party with ‘serious differences’.

For those who witnessed the high-voltage drama that unfolded on the opening day of the party’s national conclave in Goa with several key leaders, including Advani, suddenly falling ill (that even led to the Congress taking a jibe at the BJP that its leaders have fallen prey to ‘Namonitis or Namo-nia’) the writing was clear on the wall - Modi’s elevation will have strong repercussions.

And this has been proved correct with Advani- the man who literally built the party from scratch, the tallest BJP leader after Vajpayee’s exit from active politics and the party’s real Hindutva icon - deciding to resign from the three main fora of the party: the national executive, the parliamentary board and the election committee.

Advani’s big announcement also exposes the shallow claims being repeatedly made by the top brass after Modi was entrusted with the task of finalising BJP’s strategy for the upcoming elections in several big states that the party stands united and there was no factionalism, no dissent.

By appointing the Gujarat CM as the chairman of the party’s poll campaign committee the party possibly wanted to send out clear message to its foot-soldiers, the nation and, more importantly, its allies (JD-U) that Modi is its man of the moment and he can’t be ignored.

In the process of elevating Modi, the saffron party probably took a great deal of risk by ignoring the advice of party ‘patriarch’, which in a way left him dejected, isolated and with a feeling that he is no longer wanted.

Advani was so deeply hurt that he indicated to being like a wounded Bhishma Pitamah lying on a bed of arrows in a scene in Mahabharata after Modi`s elevation.

By appointing Modi as its poll panel head, the saffron leadership possibly wanted to give an indication that the BJP is passing through a transition and that the age of patriarchs like AB Vajpayee, Advani and MM Joshi is now over.

It holds true that for BJP chief Rajnath Singh choosing between the Gujarat leader and the party veteran could have been a tough task, but he respected the popular perception that only Modi can catapult the party into power and change the political equations at the Centre, even if was at the cost of annoying Advani.

In that sense, Modi’s elevation as the chairman of BJP’s campaign committee holds political significance and is the first big step that the country’s main opposition party has taken towards declaring its prime ministerial candidate for the forthcoming election.

Not only does it brings Modi an inch closer to fulfilling his long cherished dream of becoming the Prime Minister but also signals that Advani’s political innings are literally over.

However, as expected, the showdown between the two most powerful leaders - one representing the BJP’s old guard, and the other a mass leader with a huge appeal amongst the youth, pushed the party onto the verge of a formal split.

There were concerns that if the central leadership failed to persuade Advani, who had also rejected calls to reconsider his decision, the BJP could split in two camps - one going with Advani and the other backing Modi – in the days to come.

The main opposition party had obvious reasons to worry over the face-off between Advani and Modi, which initially looked impossible to be resolved anytime soon considering the authoritarian nature of the two men.

Aware of the threat which the Advani-Modi war poses to the party, BJP’s ideological fountainhead the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is believed to have directed the party to hasten Modi`s promotion as head of its poll panel, sought to tell Advani to respect parliamentary board’s decision and that "no one is above the party".

The RSS, which has been suggesting for some years now that the BJP needs younger leaders at the top and an ageing Advani should retire gracefully, believes giving the charge of the BJP`s mission 2014 to Modi will actually benefit the party. However, in the same contrast, Advani’s relation with the party’s ideological mentor has not been good in the recent past since he had strongly resisted attempts by the RSS to dictate what happens in the BJP.

Modi might have got key position in the party but many believe the leadership issue has been pushed further, apparently under pressure from the Advani camp.

Allies like Akali Dal and Shiv Sena have reacted cautiously to Modi’s elevation, making it clear that it was BJP`s decision to name Modi, considered a polarising figure after post-Godhra riots in 2002, poll campaign chief and not the NDA`s.

Terming the resignation of LK Advani from all top BJP posts as a "serious issue" and "not good for NDA`s health," Janata Dal (United) President Sharad Yadav s mulling whether or not to continues in the BJP-led alliance.

Advani’s resignation bomb triggered several crucial questions - how will the BJP deal with the crisis? Whether Advani’s exit will lead to further resignations? Will Modi’s rise actually accentuate the “bitter civil war” that is raging within the BJP and hurt its poll prospects? Can Moditva really change the political equations at the centre? Is Modi really capable of cobbling up new equations with NDA allies? And most importantly, can the BJP do with or without Advani?

Thankfully, a day after relentless persuasions by top party leaders, Advani was reinstated in the party following a reported compromise deal that the veteran will have a greater say in the selection of candidates for the upcoming elections.

In order to secure Advani’s return, the apex BJP leadership is also believed to have assured him that no hasty decision will be taken on Modi and his appointment as the chairman of the campaign committee will not automatically lead to his selection as the official prime ministerial candidate.

The BJP has reportedly promised extensive consultations to select its presumptive prime minister, while seeking a rapprochement between Advani and Modi.

Though the BJP has managed to avert a major crisis for the time being, the Advani episode has surely thrown the party into political disarray and brought open the internal feud.

At the moment the BJP top brass is heaving a sigh of relief but it is aware that the growing factionalism, if not addressed properly, can badly hurt the party’s dream to dislodge the Congress from power at the centre and impact Modi’s bid to become the consensual prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.