Stanly Johny

A scribe by sheer accident, Stanly Johny is a PhD in international relations from JNU, and keeps an eye wide open for politics, and the other for almost everything else under the sun.

Stanly Johny

Does Advani have a Plan B?

| Updated on April 04, 2014

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The Modi-Rajnath-Jaitley triumvirate's move to consolidate power within the party has not gone down well with the old guards, who remain apprehensive about Modi. Will the revolt within the BJP gain strength post-polls?

Narendra Modi started campaigning for the post of Prime Minster well before he was chosen as the BJP’s PM candidate in September 2013. Despite support from RSS and most of the second generation leaders of the party, Modi’s ascent within the BJP has never been smooth. In June 2013, when Modi was anointed the party’s election committee chief, opposition came from none other than the BJP’s ‘tallest’ leader, LK Advani. Advani sent shockwaves across party ranks when he announced resignation from all positions. Later he withdrew the decision in an apparent acceptance of a setback, but the power struggle within the BJP has never been over.

Modi, Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley are now calling the shots in the BJP. Their efforts to consolidate their positions within the party have not gone down well with the old guards. With elections coming closer, this conflict is steadily gaining traction: The Modi-Rajnath-Jaitley triumvirate is not wasting any opportunity to weaken the old guards. Murli Manohar Joshi, former president of BJP and one of the stalwarts of the anti-Babri Masjid agitation, was forced to vacate the Varanasi constituency for Modi. Lalji Tandon had to give up the Lucknow seat for Rajnath Singh. Sriramulu was taken back into the party despite Sushma Swaraj’s strong opposition. Advani’s plan to contest from Bhopal was nixed. And Jaswant Singh is now out of the party.

Interestingly, by every latest incident, the old guards are becoming more confident. In Varanasi, Joshi had started campaigning when he realised that Modi was eyeing the seat. The city was awash with Joshi’s posters and a booklet about his development initiatives was released. But when the party leadership finally asked him to vacate the seat, he did so without raising a noise publicly. Tandon, however, went public with his displeasure over Rajnath Singh moving to Lucknow from Gaziabad. He said he will vacate Lucknow, which was Vajpayee’s constituency for a long time, only for the party’s PM candidate, Modi. But he, too, had to give in to the leadership.

When BS Sriramulu, a close aide of the jailed mining baron Janardhan Reddy, was welcomed back to the BJP, Sushma had expressed her displeasure publicly. “I want to make it absolutely clear that in spite of my stiff opposition, Sriramulu has been inducted into the party,” she tweeted. The revolt within the BJP assumed greater significance when Advani defied the party’s decision to field him from Gandhinagar, Gujarat. He wanted to contest from Bhopal. In the face of his opposition, party president Rajnath Singh held talks with him and later issued a public statement that Advani can choose any constituency. He later toed the party line, but only after sending a message to party workers that he hasn’t completely given up his opposition to Modi. When Jaswant Singh was denied ticket from Barmer in Rajasthan he resigned from the party and filed nomination from the constituency as an independent candidate.

At present these are isolated revolts by disgruntled leaders. But there’s a link connecting these incidents—opposition to the new leadership within the BJP. If the party fails to win at least 180 seats in the Lok Sabha election (the best of BJP won under Vajpayee’s leadership), the old guards could challenge Modi’s leadership. Long-time BJP watcher and a former associate editor of The Hindu Neena Vyas had recently written party insiders believe Advani, along with Sushma Swaraj, have a Plan B in place in the event of the BJP winning less than 180 seats. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Chauhan is also an Advani loyalist. Advani’s decision to contest from Bhopal, the capital city of Madhya Pradesh, and the BJP leadership’s opposition assume greater significance against this backdrop.

When I met a BJP national executive member in Delhi a few months back, I asked him why the party is projecting Modi as the PM candidate despite strong opposition from within the party and also from allies. He told me that in the present political situation, Modi is the best choice for the BJP. “Modiji can raise the confidence levels of the party. After the polls, if the BJP doesn’t win expected seats, we may then think about another leader who can win us allies. Advaniji knows it. He was our leader for years, but then it’s Vajpayee who became the PM," he said.

Published on April 02, 2014

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