ON THE eve of the BJP’s national executive, the question of whether Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani will be the party’s prime ministerial candidate in the next parliamentary election has once again been raked up with a senior leader asserting that till Atal Bihari Vajpayee is around, no one else can be considered for the position.
At a time when other senior leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi and Yashwant Sinha have questioned Advani’s claim to the top job if the BJP-led NDA comes to power, party vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has added fuel to fire by stating that the party patriarch is still very much in the reckoning for the position. His current bout of ill health does not mean the party has written him off, he stressed.
“Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too has been unwell of late. So does that mean he can’t continue to be PM? Atalji is our supreme leader and the BJP has always functioned under his guidance,” Naqvi said. He added that people would get to know who would be the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate when the elections are announced.
All speculation on whether the ailing Vajpayee would attend the meet was also put to rest with a categorical announcement that he wouldn’t participate as his doctors had advised him against it. Party sources said his condition was rather serious and he was in no state to even move out of his residence. Naqvi stated that Vajpayee was “very keen” to attend the national executive but had to drop the idea. The decision was apparently conveyed to BJP president Rajnath Singh, who met him during the day.
The succession issue will not figure at the meeting. But with Advani scheduled to deliver the valedictory address on the concluding day of the three-day conclave, it becomes quite clear who will take Vajpayee’s place at the gathering. All national executive meetings held so far have ended with a speech by Vajpayee, delivered in his characteristic style laced with wit and subtle political message, and looked forward to by all.
With the party leadership expecting snap polls early next year, the meeting is significant as it will chalk out strategy and review the preparedness of all state units. Advani will be the senior-most party leader to preside over the exercise along with Rajnath. Vajpayee’s absence is expected to send a clear message to the rank and file as to who will lead the party in the elections, if they are announced anytime soon.