It appears the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will have to announce Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate without the blessings of LK Advani because, hours before the important decision is expected to be made, attempts to placate him failed.
Former party president Nitin Gadkari on Tuesday made one final attempt at cobbling together a consensus, or a semblance of it. He met BJP president Rajnath Singh and dissenters Advani and leader of Opposition in Parliament Sushma Swaraj. But Advani reportedly stuck to his stand after the meeting with Gadkari.
Despite Advani’s unrelenting opposition, and thanks to hectic parleys by Singh, the BJP yesterday decided that its parliamentary board will meet at 5pm on Friday to finalise Modi’s name.
Singh has decided to go ahead after holding consultations with the RSS top leadership, including general secretary Suresh 'Bhaiyyaji' Joshi and joint general secretary Suresh Soni.
Joshi had met Advani on Monday to persuade him on declaring Modi as the PM candidate, sources said. Rajnath held two rounds of talks with Advani, but the octogenarian leader stuck to his guns. Sushma, for her part, was keen to avoid a situation like the one in June which saw the ageing leader humiliated by the BJP.
A host of senior leaders, including Gadkari, Ananth Kumar and M Venkaiah Naidu have also met Advani to convince him on Modi's name.
However, Advani is learnt to have conveyed to the party that making him the PM candidate will divert attention from BJP's core issues against the Congress like price rise and corruption. Modi’s personality, he feels, will become the issue if he is made the PM candidate.
"Advani suggested yesterday that the BJP chief ministers should also be consulted on this issue," a party leader said.
Swaraj and senior leader Murli Manohar Joshi also have suggested that an announcement should be made only after the upcoming assembly elections to Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi.
Joshi, meanwhile, has said though he has reservations about the issue, he will abide by the majority's view in the panel. He has left for Sagar, MP, to attend a party programme and will return only late evening. He is not likely to be present in the meeting if it is held today.
Swaraj, however, has cancelled her trip to Ambala after she was asked to stay back in the capital. Other senior party functionaries have been asked to be present in the capital today.
Advani had quit the party in a huff in June when Modi was appointed head of the campaign committee, but had to climb down after the BJP's ideological patron, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), made it clear it would not change its mind.
Modi's backers contend that the charismatic leader represents the best chance of getting the party back to power after a decade in opposition.
Singh’s aides said he was trying his best to avoid invoking his powers as president to make the announcement first and get the BJP's national council – and not its parliamentary board – to endorse Modi's name.
While the national council is the party's largest body, it is generally the parliamentary board – which includes Advani and Sushma – that decides on issues as important as the PM candidate.
On Thursday, the dissenting leaders insisted the BJP parliamentary board take the call on Modi, and there was a possibility of the announcement being put off until Monday.
Thursday also saw outbursts among the BJP ranks over the delay in naming Modi. Former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi stirred a hornet's nest by tweeting that Advani had "failed to gauge the public mood. Advaniji himself declared Atalji as PM candidate. Now also he could have done the same for Namo (Narendra Modi)."
Advani's former close associate Sudheendhra Kulkarni attacked Narendra Modi, describing him as a "polarising" leader" and questioning his ability to run a stable and effective government at the Centre.
Rajnath did not betray any misgivings he might have felt, seeking to downplay Advani's reservations when asked if the leader was holding up the decision on Modi. "I want to clarify that nobody in BJP is unhappy and nobody has put any conditions (on declaring Modi as PM candidate)," he said.