Manoj Joshi | New Delhi, March 21, 2014 : Looked at any way, it is a defeat. Having stood his ground for some twenty-four hours, insisting that he would not accept the party nomination from Gandhinagar and contest from Bhopal instead, Loh Purush Lal Krishna Advani threw in the towel and quietly went along with the party decision to field him from the Gujarat constituency.
It is said that as we grow old, we regress and return to the state of childhood. Childish behaviour is mostly cute in a child; but such behaviour in the case of an old man can only be exasperating, which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are learning as they deal with the tantrums of Advani.
On Wednesday, he failed to turn up at the meeting of the central election committee because he was unhappy with the party’s decision to field him from Gandhinagar, a seat he has been representing since he first won it in 1991( barring the two-year duration of the Eleventh Lok Sabha). Later, it transpired that he wanted to contest from Bhopal. A resigned BJP decided the choice should be left to Advani, who late in the evening declared he would, after all, contest from Gandhinagar.
With the first phase of elections just weeks away, Advani’s sulk is most untimely for the BJP, which senses victory and is keen to project an image of unity and purpose. But the party knows, sulking or not, Advani no ordinary man. He is a founder member of the BJP and the man who single-handedly built it up from the point where it had just two seats in the Lok Sabha to one where it was able to form a government in New Delhi in 1996, 1998 and again in 1999. Almost all senior leaders-Narendra Modi included-were his acolytes for decades.
But the signs have been around for a while. Last year, Advani skipped the BJP’s national executive meeting in Goa, and within day resigned from all the posts the party (except as NDA chairman). That tantrum could have been ascribed to the shock having to witness the emergence of a new ’Hriday Samrat’ (Emperor of Hearts) of the Sangh Parivar-Narendra Modi.
In his resignation letter to party chief Rajnath Singh, Advani complained that the BJP had strayed from the ideals of people like Shyama Prasad Mookerjee and Deen Dayal Upadhaya. He said," For some time I have been finding it difficult to reconcile either with the current functioning of the party, or direction in which it is going." The reference "functioning" aimed at role being played by the RSS joint general secretary Suresh Soni, the designated "liaison man" between the RSS and the BJP; and the "direction" was reference to the elevation of Modi as the chief of the party’s election campaign committee. Later, Advani withdrew his resignation and also accepted Modi’s invitation to participate in the campaign.
(From left) A 2002 photo of Keshubhai Patel, L.K. Advani, then BJP chief Venkaiah Naidu and Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. Advani was among Modi’s strongest supporters after the riot.
But what is the excuse this time? Earlier this year, when a trial balloon was sent up suggesting that the BJP old guard consider moving to the Rajya Sabha, Advani strongly asserted that he would contest for the Lok Sabha and privately made it clear that he would like to do so from Gandhinagar. But on Wednesday, when the party unanimously nominated him to contest from there, he baulked and insisted that he wanted to contest from Bhopal, instead.
No one is clear as to why Advani was unhappy about Gandhinagar. It’s the safest seat possible. Surely, he couldn’t have suspected that Modi would cut his nose to spite his face and make him lose from there? Or was it plain cussedness? Advani hasn’t caught on that he is 87, and were he to become prime minister, it would make him the oldest in history. More important, however, he has forgotten that he led his party to defeat in 2009, and his ideas no longer drive the party. The one thing that the BJP is studiously avoiding this time around, is any reference to any kind of a rath (chariot).
A stalwart’s fall
So, on Wednesday night and Thursday, at a time when every hour and every day counts, the party and RSS leaders were busy trying to deal with the Advani problem.
Advani may be down, but he is not quite out. As long as he remains the vehicle for the ambitions of some of his family members, we will see such futile actions and gestures on his part. All said, this is a sad end for the man who built up the BJP from scratch and was once seriously considered for the high office of prime minister.