The BJP announced on Monday that LK Advani would be the party’s prime minister candidate for the next Lok Sabha elections due in 2009. Ending a long and bitter internal debate and uncertainty, the party’s parliamentary board took the decision to declare Advani’s name on the eve of the first phase of assembly elections in Gujarat, considered by many as crucial for the party’s future.
BJP chief Rajnath Singh announced after a hurriedly convened meeting of the BJP board: “The Lok Sabha elections are not far now. The BJP parliamentary board decided unanimously that Advaniji will lead the party in the next Lok Sabha elections.”
<b1>He said senior party leader AB Vajpayee had given his consent to the decision to project the 80-year-old Advani. "We met Vajpayeeji. He said because of health reasons, he cannot participate in active politics. So, it is better that Advani leads the party."
The announcement was seen as an urgent move to bolster prospects in Gujarat where BJP candidates are battling rebel nominees campaigning against Chief Minister Narendra Modi. On Tuesday, polling will take place for 87 seats in South Gujarat, Saurashtra and Kutch regions, where Modi faces the toughest challenge from dissidents tacitly backed by his rival Keshubhai Patel. By projecting Advani as the PM candidate, BJP leaders expect a cascading effect in Gujarat as he is a Lok Sabha member from Gandhinagar.
Soon after Rajnath Singh declared his name, Advani thanked his party, the BJP chief and “particularly Atal Bihari Vajpayee under whose leadership I have worked for a long time”. The former deputy prime minister, who had been BJP chief twice, said: “I pray to God to give me strength to fulfill the expectations.”
Late in the night, Vajpayee called Advani to congratulate him. Advani said he would meet the former prime minister on Tuesday.
Earlier, Rajnath Singh said Vajpayee had conveyed that his blessings would always be with the party in future.
Some BJP leaders saw the announcement thwarting Modi’s national ambitions (in the event of a Gujarat victory) even as effectively stopped the bitter internal tussle on the leadership issue.
In fact, the buzz about Advani being declared for the top slot had been doing the rounds for some time — since the RSS and the BJP brass held several rounds of discussions on this matter after Vajpayee took ill and could not make it to Parliament’s sittings and several BJP meetings.
The talk peaked before the Bhopal meeting of the party’s national executive in September. But a “message” from Vajpayee to the rank and file, which was read out by Rajnath Singh, that he is on the road to recovery and will be back in their midst very soon, dashed the hopes of Advani supporters.
Later, in October, reports about further deterioration in Vajpayee’s health saw more parleys between BJP and RSS leaders. The RSS brass urged Advani to shed his “aloofness” from BJP’s organisational matters — a posture he had adopted ever since he was forced to quit as BJP president following his controversial remark on Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah in 2005. Since then, Advani addressed BJP leaders from the states, accompanied by Rajnath Singh.
An announcement from the RSS was expected as a birthday gift around November 8 when Advani turned 80. But it did not happen.
Finally, the declaration of Advani’s candidature came a day after CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat set a December deadline for the government against proceeding further on India-US civilian nuclear deal or face fresh Lok Sabha polls.
Even though the BJP had stated officially that it did not expect the Left to withdraw support to the government, party leaders have been debating the possibility of the elections taking place in early or late 2008.