New Delhi, April 6: L.K. Advani, ramrod straight at 85, has signalled he is not ready to hang up his boots.
Over a thousand miles away, in Ahmedabad, Narendra Modi, 23 years younger, spoke in a coded language that barely cloaked his ambition to be at the service of “Bharat Mata”, a concept created and fleshed out in Bengal before Independence.
Kiran Chandra Bandyopadhyay had first depicted the image of Bharat Mata in his eponymous play staged in 1873. Later, Abanindranath Tagore portrayed her as a four-armed goddess in saffron in a painting.
Decades later, the Hindutva fraternity has transformed the nationalist symbol against British colonialism into the ultimate test of its version of patriotism.
Modi used the imagery to debunk the analogy of a “beehive” — as distinct from the Chinese dragon — that Rahul Gandhi had used to describe India at his interaction with business leaders on Thursday.
“Usually,” he said, “I don’t react to any leader’s statement but when a leader calls India a beehive, it is too much. It is an insult to India.”
Modi had BJP president Rajnath Singh as the prime endorser of his national aspirations. If the Gujarat chief minister wanted one certificate, Rajnath provided him with a sheaf.
Advani found a backer in Vijay Goel, the newly appointed Delhi BJP president who clarified his support hours later.
The BJP’s foundation day to celebrate 32 years of its life did not promise to breathe new life into it when the “celebrations” kicked off this morning. Instead, the fault-lines etched through an interminable saga of power jousts, often out in the open, seemed about to be redrawn.
By late evening, after Rajnath-Modi’s love-fest in Ahmedabad’s Sardar Patel Stadium had culminated in a pledge, sworn in the glow of lighted diyas, it was clear the scales had tipped unshakeably towards the new power duo. At least for the moment.
The pledge, or “sankalp”, was a giveaway. It said every BJP worker should toil to restore “surajya” (good governance) in India. “It seems that for the BJP, the road to New Delhi will come from Gujarat,” a leader in Delhi said, improvising on an old political adage of Lucknow bestowing on India its Prime Ministers.
In Delhi, as Rajnath hoisted the BJP flag at its headquarters, Advani played spoilsport and said the party of today did not fit in with his “idea” of what it was or should be. “I am deliberately raking up this issue today because I believe this party can benefit the country a lot. But the country cannot be benefited just by winning state elections. We have to have a policy of complete intolerance towards indiscipline and corruption,” he said.
Advani had spoken similarly at the BJP national council in February. Most cadres felt Advani was a “wet blanket” — “forced” to accept the “reality” that he had to pass into his political twilight.
Today, Goel gave him a consolation prize, saying that under Advani’s “guidance” (TV channels reported it as “leadership”), the BJP would come to power in 2014.
After TV went to town claiming Advani had positioned himself as a contender for the top job, Goel, who is not on any of the BJP’s top decision-making panels, admitted he was “nobody” to declare the party’s Prime Minister candidate.
While it is still hazy if Rajnath’s pro-Modi articulations and gestures were played according to the RSS’s script, en route to Ahmedabad, he defended the chief minister against the Congress’s latest offensive to the hilt.
Modi, he said, was India’s “most popular” leader and warned the Congress the “country” (and not just Gujarat) would not forgive it for labelling him “Yamraj” (the god of death), just as Gujarat’s voters had “punished” the Congress in 2007 when Sonia Gandhi had labelled him a “merchant of death”.
He claimed Modi was born of the soil that gave India Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel, “walked” in the Mahatma’s “steps” and made Gujarat a “model” state and tried to justify the effusion as “praise for a charismatic leader”.
Modi returned the words. He referred to Rajnath as the BJP’s “margdarshak” (guide), an honorific usually reserved for Advani. Not only was Advani, an MP from Gandhinagar, not invited to the event, his portrait also did not feature on posters.
Modi seized on Rahul’s comparison of India with a beehive. “For us this country is Bharat Mata, sacred…. If somebody doesn’t understand Bharat’s legacy and culture, he should not speak about it because his ignorance is destroying the country,” he said.
Sources said this was the language workers wanted to hear. “Advaniji is out of sync with our mood. We want an all-out attack on the Congress and the Gandhis…. The Advani phase is over for all purpose and intent, we have entered the Rajnath-Modi one,” an office-bearer said.