New Delhi, Sept. 18: Murli Manohar Joshi, a member of the BJP triumvirate, put its second head, Lal Krishna Advani, in trouble by announcing he will resign if charged in the Babri Masjid demolition case.
“If charges are framed against me, I will tender my resignation,” Joshi told PTI.
A day before a Rae Bareli court hears the case, the human resources development minister spread turmoil in the party, whose leaders have been insisting in private that there is no need for Advani to resign if charges are framed against him.
If Joshi sets a precedent by quitting, it will be difficult for Advani to continue. Uma Bharti, also accused in the case, is the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in Madhya Pradesh.
Asked why he was contemplating such a move since the BJP has said the case is political and not criminal, Joshi said: “It is up to the Prime Minister to decide what he considers of the order. It is up to the party to decide.”
BJP sources said Joshi’s offer took them by surprise because for the last two days their consistent stand has been that none of the accused should step down even if charges are framed. But the BJP’s assertion was made in the context of Advani and not Joshi and the others.
“But now that he has said this, he has taken the moral high ground and has virtually forced the hands of Advani,” a functionary said ruefully.
Joshi rubbed salt into the wound by emphasising he was speaking only for himself and not on behalf of the other ministers. “Ask them. I have nothing to say about them. This is my view. I can’t say about anyone else.”
Advani’s cheerleaders at party headquarters 11 Ashoka Road felt Joshi should not have “pre-empted” the court’s judgment. “What was the hurry to take a moral position with less than 24 hours left'” they asked.
The BJP believes a distinction should be made between those implicated in corruption cases and those in political movements. Advani backers refused to even accept the legal classification of the Babri charges as “criminal”.
“When an agitation like the one for the Ram temple had the backing of the entire community, how can a leader’s role in it be termed criminal'” they asked.
Joshi abolished the argument by taking the line that it is “normal protocol” for a minister to resign if charges are framed against him.
This statement has embarrassed the BJP most. General secretary Pramod Mahajan rushed to Advani. BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu cancelled his programmes in Maharashtra and headed to Delhi. He is likely to hold a meeting of office-bearers tomorrow after the court verdict.
The BJP planned to felicitate law and commerce minister Arun Jaitley for the Cancun “success” tomorrow. Sources said if the special court exonerates Advani and the others, it will be occasion for a “double celebration”. “If it does not, we will regret having organised such a function,” sources said.
The best-case scenario the BJP is hoping for is that if charges are framed, Advani and Joshi will send their resignations to the Prime Minister who will turn them down following “pressure” from the party. “The party line will be a crucial input in whatever decision Atal Bihari Vajpayee (who completes the triumvirate) takes,” they added.
On the outside chance of the resignations being accepted, the BJP’s best bet is for Advani to return to head the party.
In the worst-case scenario, the party is mentally preparing itself for its senior ministers’ career being impaired for at least 10 years because appeals to higher courts could be an endless process.