New Delhi: Lal Krishna Advani’s resignation from all posts in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have been prompted by a desire to get the party he shaped to rethink its decision to make Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi its public face in the run-up to the 2014 general election, but, irrespective of how the drama plays out, experts say it is unlikely that Modi will be the loser.
If Advani revisits his decision, it will probably be on the party’s terms, which means he will effectively end up endorsing Modi as the prime ministerial candidate in 2014.
If he doesn’t, the experts add, then Modi will no longer have the problem of having to deal with a party patriarch who doesn’t particularly like him.
On Monday evening, the parliamentary board of the BJP said it was rejecting Advani’s resignation, and said the party and the country needed him. Interestingly, it didn’t suggest a possible compromise that would allow Advani to retreat without losing face.
Still, even as the BJP scrambled to resolve the sticky issue, it was evident that it had, if only temporarily, lost the high ground in its fight against the Congress and the party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
Then, experts say that a bloody nose a year ahead of the election is better than an electoral loss and, despite Monday’s embarrassment “the BJP is very much in the race to be a credible alternative to the UPA”, according to Balveer Arora, former head of the political science department at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Earlier on Monday, the 85-year-old Advani resigned from all party posts, voicing his reservations about the direction in which the principal opposition party is headed, a day after Modi was picked to lead its campaign in the 2014 general election.
Senior BJP leaders and allies said they were shocked by Advani’s decision to quit the parliamentary board, poll panel and national executive of the party.
“For some time, I have been finding it difficult to reconcile either with the current functioning of the party, or the direction in which it is going,” Advani, one of the founding members of the BJP, wrote in his letter of resignation to party president Rajnath Singh.
“I no longer have the feeling this is the same idealistic party... Most leaders of ours are now concerned just with their personal agendas,” Advani wrote in the letter.
It was Advani’s campaign to build a Hindu temple on the site of the 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya that helped bring the party to the national level, and to power in 1998. Hindu fundamentalists brought down the mosque in 1992, which led to communal violence in which over 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, died.
Advani’s resignation from party posts brought to a climax the internal conflict over the elevation of Modi. Modi’s supporters want him to be projected as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate after the party’s back-to-back defeats in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP’s ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its spiritual affiliate the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have also been pressing for this.
Modi, who had earlier sought Advani’s blessings, tweeted in the afternoon. “Had a detailed conversation with Advaniji on phone. Urged him to change his decision. I hope he will not disappoint lakhs of Karyakartas (workers),” he said.
Political observers say Advani’s reaction was on expected lines as he had opposed Modi’s anointing as the political face of the BJP.
“But Modi seems to be here to stay. Both the party leadership and the Sangh (RSS) are very clear on it. One has to wait and see how those in Advani camp react to it now and in elections,” Arora said.
Advani, however, did not quit as chairman of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Sharad Yadav, leader of key coalition partner Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), said the NDA had been cobbled together by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani.
“Advani’s resignation is not good for the NDA’s health,” said Yadav, convenor of the NDA.
The JD(U), which shares power with the BJP in Bihar and which had objected to Modi being made the opposition’s prime ministerial candidate, indicated that it would be difficult for the party to continue in the coalition in Advani’s absence.
The ruling Congress was, however, quick to try and seize political advantage.
“This is the beginning of the complete degeneration of the BJP. It will have its own repercussions,” Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi.
Meanwhile, the planned celebrations of the BJP in Gujarat following the elevation of Modi seem to have been shelved.
“The party was all set to draw out a road map for the 2014 elections, but the news of Advaniji has given a little setback,” said an official close to the chief minister’s office who did not want to be named.
Maulik Pathak in Ahmedabad contributed to this story.