Before emerging as the face of the BJP before the 2014 polls, Narendra Modi had never been surrounded with so much of eminence. And never has LK Advani, the man who is credited with building the political right from scratch — along with AB Vajpayee, of course — let himself be so lonely.
Not only Advani, a section of very powerful BJP leaders found Modi’s ascent to be such a phenomenon which they could neither negotiate nor stall. They accepted it with great heartburn to avoid embarrassment later.
Earlier, most BJP leaders — contrary to the wide perception — were ready to give Advani the benefit of the doubt that he could not have a “personal” agenda against Modi or could be part of a conspiracy.
Perhaps, Advani genuinely thought Modi’s image would harm the party in the assembly polls and, hence, wanted the issue to be settled later. But, a very few people outside his immediate circle were willing to believe that Advani was not being “manipulated” by a group which was scared of the future under Modi.
The fence-sitters believed that a game plan — perhaps with some help from the BJP’s opponents — was afoot to eventually stop Modi’s juggernaut. And former DIG of Gujarat Police DG Vanzara’s letter, slamming Modi for ignoring the police officers caught in the allegedly fake encounter cases, would trigger the process.
They also linked a Gujarat BJP MP — who managed to get re-nominated in 2009 with Advani’s help in spite of Modi’s opposition — to Vanzara’s unexpected swipe.
Had Modi’s anointment been delayed by a few months, went the grapevine tale, the anti-Modi activists and the CBI could have got enough time to file fresh cases to “fix” Amit Shah, and, by extension, his mentor Modi. The subsequent outcry could be used to scuttle Modi’s chances.
It was around this time that pressure was building up on other BJP leaders, including Rajnath Singh, to delay Modi’s anointment till the assembly elections were over in November. But Singh conveyed to Advani at least twice that the decision on Modi could not be gone back on.
Singh did not mince words while telling Advani that the support from the RSS brass and the perception of a groundswell for Modi could not be ignored.
Once Singh left no one in doubt about Modi’s ascent, leaders such as Sushma Swaraj thought it politically wise to switch sides although she had never hesitated to tell others that she thought Modi’s name could not be declared before the assembly polls.
In fact, those who backed Advani depended on his stubbornness. But at his last meeting with Singh, Advani said he would attend the party meeting where Modi’s ascent would be announced. But it is another story that he changed his mind and preferred to watch it on television.
Finally, some questions still remain unanswered. Though highly regarded as a father figure, did 85-year-old Advani fail to realise the changes that his own party had undergone since 2009?
Did he bet too much on the veneration and gratitude he commanded within the party? Also, did he realise that the sharpest weapon in his arsenal — the capacity to damage the BJP’s credibility — was getting blunt with too frequent use?