New Delhi: The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Friday anointed Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as its candidate for Prime Minister in the next Lok Sabha elections, brushing aside the reservations of senior leader L.K. Advani, as it sets out on a quest to regain power after back-to-back electoral defeats in 2004 and 2009.
Although BJP leaders, including party president Rajnath Singh, tried to convince Advani to support Modi’s candidacy, the party patriarch chose not to take part in the crucial meeting of the Parliamentary Board, its highest decision-making body, that chose to present the Gujarat strongman as the face of the party in the 2014 elections.
Soon after Singh named Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, Advani issued a statement expressing his disappointment at the functioning of the party under his leadership.
“The parliamentary board has unanimously decided to appoint Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate of the party. It has been a long tradition of the party to name its prime ministerial candidate before the Lok Sabha election. Narendra Modi will meet LK Advani for his blessings,” said Singh.
It was not only Advani who was resentful over the elevation of Modi, who was earlier chosen to lead the BJP’s general election campaign, Leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, former BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi and general secretary Ananth Kumar were also upset by the decision, but decided to fall in line because of the pressure from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the party’s ideological mentor.
Senior leaders of the RSS had not only backed Modi as the party’s prime ministerial candidate but also wanted the decision to be announced at the earliest so that the Gujarat chief minister gets sufficient time to prepare himself to take on the ruling Congress party.
Sensing the possibility of trouble being stirred by a section of the party, Singh had asked all Parliamentary Board members to be present in Delhi. He had also asked all the general secretaries to be present in Delhi.
“When you (Rajnath Singh) came to inform me about the Parliamentary Board meeting, I had expressed my disappointment about the functioning of the party under your leadership. I had told you that I will think about whether to take part in the Parliamentary Board meeting or not and I have decided not be present for the meeting,” Advani said in a statement addressed to the party president.
Advani had told Singh that he wanted the decision to be announced after the assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi because the appointment of Modi will change the focus of the state polls. Advani is of the view that assembly elections must be fought on issues of corruption, price rise and lack of governance by Congress, and should not be turned into a Congress versus Modi tussle.
This is the second time the BJP leadership has decided to override Advani. When Modi was made chairman of the BJP’s election campaign committee, Advani had skipped the national executive meeting in Goa in June this year. The BJP leadership and members of the RSS decided to go ahead with the announcement. Modi was not only asked to lead BJP’s election campaign but he was also inducted into the Parliamentary Board.
“We have tried to convince LK Advani and bring him onboard so that there are no glitches. He is the senior most leader of the party and we would not like to comment on the letter written by him,” said a senior BJP politician who didn’t want to be named.
The appointment of Modi and the dissent expressed by Advani publicly has provided the Congress party ammunition to hit back at BJP and Modi and describe the Gujarat chief minister as a dividing force.
“Modi is a dividing force and has always been one. He divided Gujarat, he divided his own party and now he has divided the party at the central level,” Meem Afzal, Congress spokesperson, said. “The whole country is seeing this drama and those who themselves cannot unite are staking claims to unite the nation.”