New Delhi, Sept. 12: The BJP is determined to anoint Narendra Modi as its candidate for Prime Minister tomorrow, although L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshi were holding out till late tonight, sources said.
The RSS told BJP president Rajnath Singh not to delay the announcement. Soon after, whips were cracked and some leaders who were “scheduled” to be out of Delhi were told to be present in the capital tomorrow.
Rajnath, who is backed by seven of the 11 members of the BJP parliamentary board, is expected to call a meeting of the party’s highest policy-making body tomorrow evening.
The sources said Sushma, Advani’s most steadfast ally in the stall-Modi project, was planning to leave for Ambala tomorrow morning. She had conveyed to the party that she would not be available for a meeting in case one was convened on Friday.
But late tonight, she is learnt to have cancelled the trip, which means she will be in Delhi tomorrow.
It is not clear if Sushma will speak out at the parliamentary board meeting. The stand there will depend on the outcome of last-ditch — and late-night — efforts by the BJP to turn Advani around.
Well past 11pm, former BJP chief Nitin Gadkari, who rushed from Nagpur to Delhi, went into a huddle with Advani at the veteran’s home. The objective is to persuade Advani himself to announce Modi’s name.
Joshi, who has been wavering despite the RSS’s inclination for Modi, was scheduled to go to Madhya Pradesh in the morning for a “pre-scheduled” public rally, an aide had said. But BJP sources said later that Joshi would also be in Delhi.
Joshi used to be close to the Sangh. It was believed that “beyond a point”, he would not defy its writ.
“Advani will definitely attend the meeting. He has made his views known, he might iterate these,” an aide said in the evening before Gadkari called on the veteran.
Advani, said sources, continued to resolutely oppose naming Modi. His contended that the Gujarat chief minister’s “divisive” personality and politics would deflect the political discourse from the UPA’s “corruption and mal-governance”.
Not many in the BJP were swayed by Advani’s opinion. They feel Modi is now identified more in the popular mind with his brand of development and administration than with communal polarisation.
Advani’s former political aide Sudheendra Kulkarni, who is no longer in the BJP, today described Modi as a “polarising figure”, not only socially but politically in his own party. The former journalist’s views have been anathema to the BJP ever since he tried to inject a dose of “secularism and social inclusiveness” in its thinking.
Advani was reportedly upset with the tweets posted by Bihar BJP leader Sushil Modi, who was once his acolyte.
Sushil, who was deputy chief minister in the Nitish Kumar government, claimed Advani had “failed to gauge the public mood” (towards Narendra Modi). Sushil reminded Advani that since he had declared Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the presumptive Prime Minister in 1995, he could have done the honours for Narendra Modi as well.
Later, Sushi Modi extolled Advani as the BJP’s “tallest” leader.
Through the day, Rajnath called on the board members present in the national capital and assigned Venkaiah Naidu to work on Advani.
Sources said although Rajnath favoured an early announcement, he also wished for the process to be as “painless” as possible. “Nobody is sure of what Advani will do,” a source had said in the evening, adding that the veteran’s resignation from party posts, following Modi’s appointment as the head of the central campaign committee, had left a “bitter aftertaste” in the BJP.
The BJP’s constitution does not technically stipulate the board’s endorsement for naming the candidate for Prime Minister.
Sources recalled that in 1995, Advani, then the BJP president, unilaterally declared Vajpayee the presumptive Prime Minister in a party conclave in Mumbai, following unpublicised discussions with the RSS. Later, the board met to formalise the announcement.