For a majority of the BJP brass and that of its ideological parent the RSS, Narendra Modi’s elevation as campaign chief was a given, till a few days ago.
The plans were all in place for the big declaration to be made on Sunday, hours before the national executive meet was to end.
But senior leader LK Advani’s decision to stay away stumped many.
Leaders waited on Day 1, hoping the 85-year-old leader would come the next day. On Day 2, it was a no-show again, leaving many leaders unsettled and wondering if a decision on Modi would be taken in the party patriarch’s absence.
Rajnath Singh perhaps faced his first biggest test after taking over as the party chief. He burnt the phone lines Saturday night as well as early Sunday, talking to Suresh Soni, RSS’s pointsman for the BJP, and Advani.
By Saturday evening, insiders knew that Modi’s elevation was on track but talks continued.
On Saturday night, the party brass met after a cultural programme. By then, the decision to go-ahead had been taken. A flurry of activities followed at midnight and party units were told to expect a “big announcement” the following morning.
“We decided it’s best to do it now. One, this will send a message to cadres at a crucial meet. Second, the move had the Sangh’s in-principle approval. Third, the issue was moving towards a consensus in Goa, and would have taken lots of effort to achieve later,” said a BJP insider, who didn’t wish to be named.
Modi called up Advani. “Spoke to Advaniji on the phone. He gave me his blessings. Honoured and extremely grateful to receive his blessings,"
Modi tweeted after the big announcement. Another effort to reach out to the sulking leader, who was once Modi’s mentor.
Sushma Swaraj, too, didn’t seem too excited but decided to go with the flow. She was with Singh when he addressed a huge media contingent waiting in pouring rain outside the Marriot Resort – the conclave venue – at 2pm.
Minutes ago, Singh’s announcement was greeted with a long thunderous applause by the delegates. The party, he said, had the blessings of Advani, who he had spoken to.
"Now Modi will announce the committee's composition as the next step," said a BJP leader.
But Advani – seen by many as having been sidelined in a party he had built – didn’t send a formal message. By then, his blog in which he wrote about themes as varied as Kamal Haasan’s spy thriller Vishwaroopam, Mahabharta’s Bhishma Pitamah and Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and World War II, was making waves. It left BJP workers wondering why a message couldn’t come if a blog post could. The symbolism in his choice of people/characters he wrote about too wasn’t lost.
Advani sent in a recorded address to the audience at a non-political event in Jaipur, where he was to address a gathering. He said an upset stomach had prevented him from travelling.
In Goa, Swaraj skipped the party convention she was to attend with Modi and Singh – interpreted by many as a sign of her displeasure.
Party colleagues, however, said she had a flight to catch.
Clearly, realignments have begun. While Arun Jaitley was keen to see Modi get a bigger role, for Singh it was an opportunity to be seen as consensus-builder by the RSS. “While taking the decision, I didn’t bat an eyelid, as it was the demand of justice that the most popular leader be elevated,” he later told party colleagues.
“After being chosen the party president through a consensus, he has involved everyone in creating a team and now successfully handled this matter,” said a leader close to Singh.