Mumbai, Dec. 29: A stunned BJP heard a party stalwart announce his retirement from active politics today ' and it wasn’t L.K. Advani.
It was Atal Bihari Vajpayee, back at his enigmatic best.
The former Prime Minister chose a grand rally marking the end of the party’s national convention to make his dramatic announcement.
“I will not contest elections any more,” he said. “I will not be a part of power politics. I will, obviously, be at the service of the party as a loyal worker but I am opting out of electoral politics.”
As party leaders scrambled to decipher the cryptic statement, the only plausible explanation to emerge seemed this: the shrewd Vajpayee had pre-empted Advani’s retirement speech.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has laid down that both veterans must clear the way for younger leaders. While Advani fought for his survival, even going back on his Jinnah statement to try and cling to his chair, Vajpayee has done it with characteristic refinement, sources reasoned.
Advani is expected to step down as party chief towards the end of the silver jubilee celebrations, but has studiously avoided mentioning the time ' or even the name of the next president. It’s part of an arrangement to allow him a graceful exit.
“But Vajpayeeji has stolen his thunder, that too in a grand style,” a senior leader said.
Advani later said he knew about Vajpayee’s decision. “I came to know of his decision only this morning,” he told reporters.
Asked if Vajpayee had decided on the spur of the moment or whether it had been coming for some time, Advani declined to comment.
Asked about Vajpayee’s reference to his (Ram’s) coronation, Advani smiled and said: “Vajpayee is not keeping in good health and he had become very emotional after hearing the news of the demise of his old associate Manikchand Vajpayee (founder of the daily Swadesh).”
The rest of Vajpayee’s short statement was equally baffling. “I am like Parashuram who withdrew from Bhagwan Ram’s coronation. Just as he said he was bowing out, leaving Ram and Lakshman to rule, I too am withdrawing. Advaniji and Pramod Mahajan are our Ram and Lakshman,” he said.
The analogy with the Ramayan confused everyone in a party that owes its political growth to the epic. Many chose to see it as an attempt to clip Rajnath Singh’s wings even before he has taken over as president.
“If Advaniji is Ram and Mahajan is Lakshman, what happens to Rajnath' He will have to be Bharat who guarded the throne for his brother,” a senior leader said.
Others felt Vajpayee may simply have forgotten to mention Rajnath. “His memory is not as sharp as before. Sometimes he simply forgets,” a source said.
“Vajpayee,” said another, “has always used the public platform to make the most crucial political statement whenever he has felt left out.”