The RSS had suggested to former prime minister A.B. Vajpayee that he should become the President of India before A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was chosen for the office in 2002, according to senior BJP leader L.K. Advani.
In his memoirs My Country My Life, Advani narrates how the then RSS chief Rajju Bhaiyya told Vajpayee that he should become the President as the duties would be “less taxing” for him in view of a knee trouble that required a complicated surgery.
The suggestion had come at a meeting at the PM’s residence at a time when the ruling NDA was trying to forge a consensus on a candidate for the nation’s top job.
Though Vajpayee “said neither yes or no”, in Rajju Bhaiyya’s words, the idea obviously did not find favour with him as nothing more was said about it and Kalam succeeded K.R. Narayanan.
What Advani does not say in his memoirs is who did the powerful RSS leadership want to replace Vajpayee with. A strong contender would have been Advani himself as he was the No 2 in the NDA government. That was also a time when his relations with the RSS top bosses had not deteriorated and he was held in greater regard by them as compared to his senior colleague.
Advani also explains that the BJP wanted the presidential candidate to be a person from outside the party "because of our keen desire to convey a message to the nation that our party believed in inclusivity".
Initially, the NDA's choice was the then Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexander. But as the Congress opposed him, Kalam became the unanimous choice.