Amid reports of an intense power struggle raging within the BJP at a time when Atal Bihari Vajpayee is unwell, LK Advani attempted damage control on Sunday.
"I was happy to find that his health had improved considerably since I last met him. I felt gratified when Rajnathji showed me Atalji's message saying he would be in our midst before long. Let us all pray that this happens very soon and he continues to lead and guide us as in the past," the Leader of Opposition told members of the BJP national executive on the concluding day of its meet in Bhopal.
The move was apparently necessitated by the realisation that the public impression about a succession battle and sharp divisions in the saffron party would adversely affect its image at a time when mid-term polls appear to be in the offing.
Advani's attempt to dispel the impression comes in the backdrop of speculation of a tussle between him and party president Rajnath Singh to hold the party's reins.
A selective interpretation of the lines from his poem cited by Vajpayee in his message to the conclave, "
Apnon ke vighno ne ghera"
(I am besieged by hurdles created of my own) had further fuelled speculation about Advani's role in the circumstances and his apparent haste to replace the party patriarch.
The former deputy prime minister said he was "naturally distressed" that for the first time, Vajpayee was unable to attend the national executive meet. He said he had visited the ailing leader before coming to Bhopal, and was happy to find that his condition had improved.
On his part, Singh attempted to dispel the notion of a power struggle within the BJP saying there was "no confusion" in the party on the leadership issue. "Atalji and Advaniji are our two supreme leaders," he said.
He also dismissed queries on whether he was a contender for the prime ministerial position if the NDA came to power.