It is no secret why senior patriarch LK Advani is angry with the BJP. At 85, Advani is terribly upset that he has been pushed to the sidelines, first by the RSS, and now by the BJP under Rajnath Singh. Yet to reconcile to the fact that the BJP is unwilling to back him again as the prime minister aspirant and is now turning to Gujarat strongman Narendra Modi, Advani is upset with the events unfolding in the party--though he will never admit so.
So Advani has finally deployed his most powerful instrument--public embarrassment of his party--to get back at the BJP a day after Modi became the party's campaign committee chief. He has ended his sulk of the last three days to damage the party's standing just a year before the elections.
By resigning from all top party posts--the national executive, parliamentary board and the election committee--Advani has also virtually thrown the gauntlet, which no one in BJP will pick up for obvious reasons.
The RSS, which wanted Advani to call it a day five years ago when the BJP lost the Lok Sabha polls in 2009 for the second time, won't like such a departure. They would want he's persuaded enough so that the opposition and the media don't accuse the BJP of treating an "elder statesman" shabbily.
His supporters say Advani is angry, essentially with Rajnath Singh. Advani wanted the announcement about Modi as the BJP campaign chairperson for the Lok Sabha elections to be made, along with Nitin Gadkari being declared as the chief of an election management committee for the five states going to polls this year: Delhi, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.
Why Gadkari now? Advani, who was instrumental in the ouster of Gadkari as BJP president, now thinks that the latter was a "victim" of conspiracy that saw raids into the Maharashtra leader's formerly held firm to trigger his exit. Also, when Gadkari was denied a second term as BJP president at the last minute, Advani wanted one of his nominess--Ananth Kumar or Shanta Kumar--to succeed, which did not find favour with the RSS for whom, Rajnath Singh was the best bet.
When Advani proposed Gadkari be given "some work", Rajnath Singh refused. The BJP chief said Modi and Gadkari, who had to quit as BJP president in January over his Purti Group's financial deals, could not be put on the same pedestal. Singh said he had no problems in giving work to Gadkari but two committees would send wrong signals. Gadkari could always be asked to do some work later.
When Rajnath Singh met Advani on Monday after he sent in his resignation letter, the patriarch did not mince words in telling him that his "plea" for a "small thing" like Gadkari heading a panel was not heeded by him. Advani's aides blamed Rajnath Singh for turning into a first-class crisis what was essentially a small matter.
Advani has been telling BJP leaders that the party since its Jana Sangh days had left the last word to its senior-most leader. Till Vajpayee was active, he had the last word. But most BJP leaders say they would not have a problem with Advani's decisions "if he had not reduced himself to projecting a faction" and if the RSS was not so opposed to him.
Also, Advani would prefer that the issue is kept open till the Lok Sabha polls so that the NDA got enough numbers and allies to form the government. Alternatively, he would like either his name to be considered again or that of Sushma Swaraj, his protégé and leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha, BJP insiders said.
But since the mood of the BJP cadre and the RSS were in no way in tune with Advani's approach, many BJP leaders are considering ways to project Modi ahead of the polls--given his popularity that several surveys and opinion polls have pointed to - without upsetting the existing NDA set-up.
Some BJP leaders said they were "exasperated" by Advani's digs in his blogs and wanted the Goa conclave to be devoid of such controversies. But others said there was no way they could do anything because of his stature
What can happen now?
Neither the RSS nor senior BJP leaders want Advani should bow out in this fashion. So, they will persuade him to withdraw his resignation. But, at the same time, everyone is sure Modi's apppointment as BJP campaign chief cannot be rescinded. That will send a terrible message to BJP cadres who clamoured for him.
Those with Advani like Sushma Swaraj, Ananth Kumar, and SS Ahluwalia tried at the Goa conclave to delay the announcement about Modi. But Rajnath Singh did not go back to Delhi without making the announcement. In 2005, Advani earned the wrath of the RSS when he went to Pakistan and praised its founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah as a "secular" personality. His comment, recorded in the mausoleum of Jinnah in Karachi, undermined the Sangh's doctrine that he was responsible the painful Partition.
When he returned to India, he refused to issue a contradiction. So the RSS asked him to step down as the BJP chief, which he did by the end of 2006. Later, Advani and the RSS patched up. He was projected by the BJP as prime minister candidate in 2009. But Advani could not lead the BJP to victory. After the elections, Advani was "persuaded" by the RSS not to become leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha again and allow a younger leadership to take over. Advani made Sushma Swaraj his successor in the lower House.
Today, after accusing the BJP of not following the path of its founders SP Mookherjee, Deendayal Upadhayay and Atal Bihar Vajpayee, Advani cannot easily come down though senior leaders will try their best. His remark in his letter to Rajnath Singh that "most leaders of ours are now concerned just with their personal agendas" will appear hypocritical when they see his action in the same light.
(The views expressed are personal.)