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Advani keeps Bhopal contest option open

LK Advani

New Delhi, March 18: Gandhinagar and Bhopal “want” L.K. Advani as their Lok Sabha candidate.

An Advani aide said the veteran was keeping his option “open” and was “seriously” looking at Bhopal. If Advani chooses the Madhya Pradesh capital as his next constituency, he would be saying adieu to another capital that he has represented in Parliament since 1991 with a break between 1996 and 1998 after he was implicated in the “hawala” scam. Advani stepped in to contest only after he was judicially exonerated.

The parliamentary board of the Gujarat BJP, which met today, shortlisted a panel of names for the 26 Lok Sabha constituencies. Advani was an exception.

Vijay Rupani, state general secretary and board member, said: “Advani is the only name from Gandhinagar. We want him from here. But of course, the central parliamentary board will take a final decision on the very important names.”

The central board will meet in Delhi tomorrow and is expected to finalise the candidates for Gujarat and the remaining states.

Rupani said Narendra Modi’s name too was proposed by the state panel and it was up to the central board to take a call. “I already emphasised last week we want Modiji from Gujarat too, although his name was announced from Varanasi.

“He is the most popular leader for the six crore Gujaratis. Gujarat and the Gujarat model have become the central theme of political discourse in this election, so it is only appropriate that Modiji contests from our state too,” said Rupani.

Asked if a double candidature would provoke Modi’s political opponents like Arvind Kejriwal — he is expected to fight from Varanasi — to bait him with the “running scared” charge, Rupani said: “We invite Kejriwalji also to contest from Gujarat against Modiji. After all, he criticised the Gujarat model, so let him come and fight on that issue.”

Asked why Advani was considering Bhopal, a source said: “In any election, where you are wanting to ensure your party and coalition forms the next government, you should have a strategy which will maximise the gains for top leaders.

“That is why Varanasi was chosen for Modi, so that his candidacy could have a cascading impact in Uttar Pradesh. Advani is the BJP’s senior-most leader, so his presence in Bhopal will maximise the gains all over Madhya Pradesh.”

However, in a potshot at Modi and the manner in which Murli Manohar Joshi was pushed out of Varanasi to make way for him, the source added: “If Advani opts for Bhopal, he will not be upstaging anybody.

“The incumbent MP (Kailash Joshi) voluntarily left the seat, because of his health and age and does not wish to contest again. A few months ago, Sumitra Mahajan (the Indore MP) offered her seat to Advani. Had he accepted her offer, he would have unsettled a sitting MP.”

Asked if the possible move to Bhopal could unsettle the BJP’s internal equations and bolster a perception that Advani was relocating because Modi did not want him, the source said: “The decision has nothing to do with Modi.”

BJP insiders thought otherwise. Sushma Swaraj represents Vidisha near Bhopal. The Advani-Sushma axis has coalesced into an uncomfortable counter against Modi. Advani and Sushma have tried their best to position chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his “image” as “liberal, inclusive and secular” as a foil against Modi’s perceived “illiberal and communal” persona.

Sources said Advani and Sushma were counting on Chouhan as a prospective ally in a possible front they could forge to challenge Modi in a “muddled” post-poll scenario. So far, Chouhan has purveyed an impression that he was not Modi’s equal in any way, although he has played up his own larger “acceptability” on various occasions.