The appointment of LK Advani as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in the next Lok Sabha elections has, hopefully, ended the factional tussle in the party. For years, there has been speculation that Mr Advani was the logical successor to the party’s ageing patriarch, AB Vajpayee. But despite being projected as the new-age Sardar Patel, he was always relegated to second position. In fact, it was at the BJP national executive in Bhopal earlier this year that a formal coronation was expected. Once again, that was derailed by a letter from Mr Vajpayee suggesting that he was not about to retire from the fray. The party has, for some years now, been unable to project a credible second generation leadership. Now that Mr Advani has formally been anointed the leader, he will have to look into this.
With this, the Vajpayee era appears to have come to a close. It is with his declining health that the internal feuds in the party, which had simmered beneath the surface, came out into the open. If there is any leader who can hold the party together today, it is Mr Advani. To this extent, Mr Vajpayee has wisely conferred his blessings on his successor. Despite having faded from public view, Mr Vajpayee still enjoys considerable respect and affection within the party. Even the RSS, which has never hesitated to take on various BJP leaders, have been wary of challenging his writ.
The immediate challenge for Mr Advani now is the Gujarat elections. His appointment is seen as something that will bolster Mr Modi’s chances, as he is an MP from there. He will also help to tone down the party’s aggressive Hindutva face, as being projected by Mr Modi. Once again, this will serve to bring in more votes from those sections who are chary of Mr Modi’s hardline politics. This also suggests that the problems that had arisen between Mr Advani and the RSS following his remarks on Jinnah have been partially resolved. However, hardcore RSS activists could also interpret this as the triumph of Jinnahvad over Hindutva. Nevertheless, after a long time, the BJP appears back in the reckoning as a credible Opposition. For the last few years, it has been unable, due to internal pulls and contradictions, to take on the government on crucial issues like the nuclear deal and price rise. It has been left to the Left to fill in the gap as an Opposition, something it has done with a little too much zeal on occasion. The developments in the BJP suggest that we can look forward to a far more interesting fight in the next election.