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Gadkari ‘surprises’ Advani on birthday

New Delhi, Nov. 8: Nitin Gadkari was an early caller— indeed one of the first— on L.K. Advani to wish him on his birthday today with flowers. Witnesses also let on that Gadkari touched Advani’s feet and sought his blessings.

Advani, who turned 85, was a trifle “taken aback”, because for the last two days the BJP president had refused to see him, sources said.

This happened even as Gadkari visited other leaders like Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley to first marshal support in his defence and then to thank them for giving it.

Gadkari’s conduct didn’t surprise insiders. By Tuesday night, when it became clear that Gadkari would stay in office till at least his term in December, thanks to the RSS’s blessings, the power scales had tipped irrevocably from Delhi to Nagpur, from the hands of veterans like Advani to Mohanrao Bhagwat, the RSS chief.

The “tipping” point, the sources said, came when Advani did not attend the party’s core committee meeting on Tuesday. The committee expressed faith in Gadkari’s leadership in a statement signed by the BJP’s Opposition leaders.

The statement followed the findings of an “internal” probe into the charges of financial irregularities against Gadkari. It was done by Chennai chartered accountant, S. Gurumurthy, a trusted person of the RSS and once close to Advani.

The BJP chief spokesperson’s explanation that Advani need not have come because he was already briefed by Gurumurthy did not wash with insiders.

Not after the veteran leader himself had signed an earlier statement pledging solidarity with Gadkari.

Advani’s “absence” was treated by the RSS as an “affront” to Gadkari. Even Gurumurthy did not intervene on his behalf to broker truce, the sources said.

The BJP laid it on thick on Advani’s birthday today. Its leaders and workers congregated in strength. They included Karnataka chief minister Jagadish Shettar and former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje.

From President Pranab Mukherjee to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Samajwadi boss Mulayam Singh Yadav, everyone phoned.

In normal circumstances, their wishes would have been music to Advani’s ears. The last thing the leader resented being called was a “political untouchable”.

Some in the BJP had hoped in the NDA’s prime-ministerial sweepstakes, he could emerge as a “consensus” choice because his “secular” credentials “shone” when compared with party favourite Narendra Modi’s.

Indeed, Advani’s remarks on Jinnah in Karachi were an attempt to rectify his image as a Muslim-baiter. Ironically, no Muslim in India received them in Advani’s intended spirit.

Worse, he became suspect to the RSS.

Today, when he was asked about his “ambitions” for the top job, Advani said: “The party has given me so much all my life that when someone says you have to become the PM, I say becoming the PM is not more than what I have got from the party.”

Advani had replied similarly to an identical query in the past.

Asked if the remark signalled the end of his prime ministerial aspirations, sources said everything depended on whether the RSS would green-flag his desire to fight the next Lok Sabha election.