“Too early to say” is what Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders say when asked who will succeed party chief Rajnath Singh when his term ends next January.
But the race has already begun, although the task of pulling the party out of the morass awaits whoever succeeds Singh.
As the BJP’s parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), reportedly prefers someone in the age group of 50-60, the scope for speculation has narrowed down. A large number of aspirants are already past that age limit.
On Monday, BJP leader L K Advani had a meeting with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, which led to much speculation on the succession issue. But on Wednesday, Advani denied having been asked by the RSS to nominate a successor.
Making it clear that he intended to complete his five-year term as Leader of the Opposition, Advani said Monday’s meeting related to the BJP’s performance in the budget session of Parliament and the current political situation.
“I still stand by what I had said at the press conference (at the end of the session last week on August 7). If I accept something reluctantly, I cannot contribute my best to it,” he said.
Now, BJP insiders see the possibility of three scenarios emerging in the coming days (see box).
A party leader, who refused to be identified, said if Advani had a free hand, he would choose Arun Jaitley.
“If Jaitley’s name evokes opposition or Jaitley himself prefers Parliament to the party, Advani may press for Venkaiah Naidu, 59, and Ananth Kumar, 50, in that order,” he said.
Some BJP leaders are arguing that the south must get a chance now – as the party’s potential for the next phase of growth is in that region.
But Advani critics say the Sangh must choose a die-hard anti-Advani leader, like 75-year-old Murli Manohar Joshi or 70-year-old Bal Apte.
“But that is hardly likely because the choice of these leaders could be seen as not a move to unite the party,” an RSS official said.
An aide close to Bhagwat said, “The Sangh is aware of all that has happened in the BJP in the last few years – the schism has only widened. The Sangh would wish to avoid that now and prefer a smoother transition.”