The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday put the ball in party veteran LK Advani’s court as Rajnath Singh said it was for the 86-year-old to choose either Gandhinagar or Bhopal as his Lok Sabha seat.
“We got a proposal from Madhya Pradesh for Advani to contest from Bhopal. The party decided to field him from Gandhinagar, but it is Advaniji's choice to contest from wherever he wants… He is our senior leader and it is wrong to say he is being sidelined,” BJP chief Singh said. Television news channels, however, reported that the RSS told Advani his candidature from Gandhinagar was final.
Earlier on Thursday, the BJP continued to reach out to LK Advani, who has put his party in a difficult situation after making his reluctance to contest the Lok sabha elections from Gandhinagar in Gujarat clear, by sending senior leaders to placate him.
Party spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters there are no differences within the party and "everything will be settled peacefully and calmly".
She added senior leaders will discuss internal matters.
"It's been a practice that when seat distribution is discussed, concerned leaders may miss meeting, don't read too much into it," said Sitharaman.
Her comments came after party's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and Sushma Swaraj failed to settle the seat issue, other senior leaders like Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu, too paid him a visit.
"There will be a happy end to all this," Naidu was quoted as saying by NDTV.
Modi went to Advani's residence in the morning to convince him to contest the Lok Sabha elections from his state.
According to reports, the two held discussions for over 40 minutes.
Swaraj went in to meet Advani who did not yield and stuck to his “desire” to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Bhopal even after his talks with Modi, reports said.
After the election committee meeting on Wednesday, senior leaders Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari had driven to Advani’s residence to persuade him to accept the party’s decision.
Party chief Rajnath Singh and Modi also joined in the efforts to persuade Advani — who was apparently miffed that his name wasn’t announced in the first list on February 27.
The drama over Advani suddenly expressing his “desire” to contest from Bhopal, instead of Gandhinagar, did not just underscore the unease between him and Modi.
It was, perhaps, a message Advani sent out: He is not dependent on Modi to get a ticket or even win a Lok Sabha seat, BJP insiders said.
Though he has represented Gandhinagar for five times, it is no secret that Advani is not in the best of terms with Modi — ever since he opposed Modi’s anointment as the PM candidate last September.
He backed Modi subsequently. But it was understood then that his change of heart had to do with “some kind of understanding” with Modi and the RSS, probably that he would be allowed to contest from Gandhinagar again.
Two months ago, an attempt to persuade senior leaders, including Advani and MM Joshi, to consider berths in the Rajya Sabha — instead of the Lok Sabha — got “leaked” before they were even approached, leaving red faces.
On February 27, the BJP released its first list of candidates. Advani was upset that his name did not figure in it, as Gujarat was not taken up by the central election committee, of which he is also a member.
Last week, he made it clear that he was disappointed that his name had not been announced yet, and his “desire” was to contest from Gandhinagar again.
On March 13, when the BJP announced its Madhya Pradesh list, Bhopal was not mentioned, leading to a speculation that Advani followers Sushma Swaraj and Shivraj Singh Chouhan had saved it for him if Modi insisted on contesting from Gandhinagar too.
The events further unfolded on Wednesday when Advani is first learnt to have informed party chief Rajnath Singh about his preference for Bhopal.
He reportedly argued that since most of the seniors were giving their preferences, he, too, should be allowed to make a choice.
Advani conveyed that he had no problems in contesting from Gandhinagar “as such”, but was keen on Bhopal as he considered it a safer seat. He, however, left it to the party.
He skipped Wednesday’s crucial BJP parliamentary board meeting where senior party leaders, including Singh and Modi, apparently discussed the issue.
Later, they concluded “unanimously” that his shifting of constituency will send “wrong signals”.