The BJP can’t do without L.K. Advani. Neither can he do without the party — for sometime now.
The bickering in the party following the poll debacle has forced the saffron leaders to settle for a status quo.
Advani on Monday let himself be ‘persuaded’ by senior BJP leaders and Chief Ministers to continue as the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha — till such time they agree on big ticket changes to resurrect their party following one of its worst drubbings.
It means Advani (81) will stay on for the next six months, at least, so that the leaders agree on a key question plaguing them — who should succeed Rajnath Singh (57) as BJP president when his term ends in January next.
That issue will also resolve what kind of image the party wishes to project — more centrist to take on a resurgent Congress, or remain tied to the hard-line Hindutva moorings of its parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which was set up in 1925.
Senior BJP leaders, including Rajnath Singh, Jaswant Singh (71), Narendra Modi (58), Sushma Swaraj (56), Venkaiah Naidu (59) and Arun Jaitley (56) told him that his abrupt departure would add to the confusion in the party.
Second, they did not see a consensus emerging on the names doing the rounds as a replacement for him in Parliament.
Though many leaders favour the appointment of Swaraj in his place, they disagree on Murli Manohar Joshi (75).
Joshi, who felt he was sidelined by a group of leaders backing Advani, is keen to step into his shoes to show he could chart a different course for the BJP. He differed with Advani on many issues.
As a meeting of the BJP parliamentary board, the party general secretaries and BJP chief ministers ended at Advani’s residence on Monday, Rajanth announced his decision to stay on in the post.
“When Advani was informed that the party needed his leadership and guidance to rebuild itself to meet the challenges of the future, as it suffered a setback in the Lok Sabha elections, he agreed not to persist with his suggestion,” Singh said.
On Saturday, Advani had asked the BJP parliamentary board to choose another leader. The panel did not agree with his request and authorised Singh to persuade him.
What upset Advani was that the BJP, which was hoping to form the government, could get only 116 seats in the house of 543, while its NDA allies bagged 43 seats.
Meanwhile, a NDA meeting, called to discuss the poll debacle, was cancelled amid indications that some members like Ajit Singh might leave the BJP-led alliance.
NDA convener Sharad Yadav said, “The meeting will be held later as the leaders are pre-occupied with post-election activity.”