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Advani invites jeers & cheers in NDA

New Delhi, Aug. 7: L.K. Advani’s prediction of the next Lok Sabha poll throwing up a non-Congress, non-BJP Prime Minister has caused ripples across the political establishment.

The BJP was expectedly upset with him; NDA allies were angry and pleased depending on which leader/party Advani’s projection helped; the entities not aligned with either the Congress or the BJP were the happiest.

Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray sounded apoplectic in an editorial in his party’s mouthpiece Saamna. “What is wrong with the BJP? Are they (the leaders) ill? Have internal fissures made the party frustrated?”

His punch line was: “As usual it is their internal matter, but I cannot say, ‘forget it’.”

Thackeray explained why. “It is because the question is not just of the BJP but of the NDA’s future and of unseating the Congress-led UPA. In this context, Advani’s blog has put the BJP in confusion.”

Thackeray went on: “There is widespread frustration with the rule of the Congress and we believe that this will lead to its defeat in 2014.”

But another BJP ally, the Janata Dal (United), gave a thumbs-up to Advani’s “impeccable” assessment.

The Dal (U) — or at least a dominant section — fancies Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar as a prospective Prime Minister. His party’s general secretary, Shivanand Tiwari, claimed Nitish was indeed an “eligible” candidate and said as the country’s “most experienced” leader, Advani knew the “people’s pulse”.

“If we have to become part of a third front, we will have to shed the baggage of the past,” said a source in the Sena, a party whose objectionable rhetoric against the Muslims and non-Marathi speaking residents of Maharashtra limits its political options.

On the other hand, Nitish’s embrace of a secular polity and his self-projection as Narendra Modi’s principal adversary on a national canvas enlarged his choices. “We do have a problem with the Sena. Nitish’s a friend,” a Samajwadi Party MP said.

The BJP’s inference was the Sena was “far more dependent” on it — despite the BJP being weaker in Maharashtra — than the Dal (U). “So Advani’s observation is to Nitish’s liking and not Balasaheb’s,” a BJP source said.

Lauding Advani’s blog, the Samajwadi MP remarked: “He is the most candid leader we have. He might have dampened his party’s morale but his blog is a booster for us.”

V. Maitreyan, the AIADMK’s Rajya Sabha MP, said: “The hard reality is the Congress is declining and the BJP’s not ready to take it on.”

A Telugu Desam MP said: “Advani shrewdly recognised that the next election is the regional forces’ election.”

Advani’s blog reverberated as far as Bangalore but not because of the “non-Congress, non-BJP Prime Minister” bit.

His observation that despite the Karnataka “bungling” recent public opinion surveys had revealed that the BJP was the “principal beneficiary” of the Congress’s “fast-eroding reputation” revived a verbal war between two former chief ministers — B.S. Yeddyurappa and D.V. Sadananda Gowda.

Gowda, who recently quit, endorsed Advani’s view and obliquely suggested that the “bungling” alluded to the corruption charges against the Yeddyurappa regime.

Yeddyurappa protested, saying: “He (Gowda) must come out and speak openly if he is trying to indicate there were instances of corruption in my tenure.”

Late in the night, the BJP’s media cell mailed to journalists a copy of an article written by the Rajya Sabha Opposition leader Arun Jaitley. Published in July in a news weekly, it was titled “National parties haven’t faded away”. Sources said it was the BJP’s answer to Advani’s “damaging” blog without directly joining issue with him.

Jaitley acknowledged that regional parties had become “increasingly assertive” and said trends indicated they will “constitute a significant section of India’s Parliament” in 2014. But he stressed: “The nucleus of the coalition necessarily has to be a large player.”

He also invoked Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s “management” of the 24-party NDA coalition as a “lesson to be learnt”. “So the corollary is we have to find an Atalji,” a BJP leader said.