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Advani tantrum tests BJP temper

New Delhi, March 19: The BJP tonight declared L.K. Advani as its candidate from Gandhinagar, overlooking his reservations and eagerness for a “safer” seat and suggesting that the party is veering towards a “so-be-it” moment if the octogenarian refused to contest the election.

Late tonight, Advani, who is keen on moving to Bhopal, is learnt to have conveyed to BJP president Rajnath Singh that he would not want to fight from Gandhinagar. If the BJP still insisted, he said he would opt out of the Lok Sabha fray altogether, according to sources.

A close Advani aide said: “So what if an announcement has been made? As of now, there is only a proposal from the central election committee. There is also a proposal that he should fight from Bhopal. He should be allowed to choose from one of the two options. I hope he is given this privilege just as the others were allowed to.”

When BJP general secretary Thawarchand Gehlot read out Advani’s name first from the list of candidates, it sounded like a formal announcement, not a proposal.

But the Advani aide’s reference to “privilege” reflected the churn and whispers among the old guard.

The aide pointed out that Rajnath was given the “privilege” of relocating from Ghaziabad to Lucknow and Modi was allowed to choose to fight both from Varanasi as well as Vadodara. Advani’s peer Murli Manohar Joshi was told to vacate Varanasi for Modi and move to Kanpur.

Behind the brewing war over “privileges” and “entitlements” is an increasing apprehension among older leaders like Advani and Joshi that they have been pushed to the margins by Modi and Rajnath.

Some aides had “convinced” Advani that Madhya Pradesh’s capital would be more “hospitable” than that of Gujarat because of the fear of “sabotage” by BJP cadres. The party ranks are yet to forget the dissent Advani openly displayed when Modi was declared as the BJP’s pick for Prime Minister.

Sources said that unlike Joshi, Advani was unprepared to accept Gandhinagar without “putting up a fight”.

But the BJP leadership, the sources indicated, was not willing to brook the tantrums beyond a point. Modi called on the RSS sarsanghachalak tonight and explained the situation arising out of Advani’s newest challenge to the BJP.

A senior BJP leader was directed by the RSS to speak to Advani and reason with him that “abandoning” Gandhinagar would send a “negative” signal three weeks before polling.

Such a move would be projected as fresh evidence of a war between Modi and Advani. The Congress has already alleged that Advani was a “casualty” of the “terror” unleashed by Modi in Gujarat.

A personal well-wisher who is very close to Advani squarely asked him if he would like to sign off his “distinguished” political innings by bailing out of a constituency he won since 1991.

However, Advani reportedly went into a “sulk” after Gehlot declared his candidacy from Gandhinagar late in the evening.

Advani had made his unhappiness evident by staying away from the central parliamentary board meeting this morning and the central election committee that met subsequently.

The official explanation was that since Advani’s candidacy was under discussion, it was “inappropriate” for him to be present. Some sources, however, drew attention to precedents: when the candidacy of a member of one or both these panels was on the table, he or she left the room for the duration of the discussion.

Apart from a call from Rajnath indicating the party was keen that Advani contest from Gandhinagar and that Modi wanted him to win from the “bottom of his heart”, there was no active outreach during the day.

After the name was announced, Nitin Gadkari and Sushma Swaraj called on Advani, followed by Rajnath. Modi did not directly communicate with Advani.

The BJP also announced that in deference to the “wishes of six crore Gujaratis”, Modi will contest from a second seat, Vadodara.

Other sources said that Modi had directed the Gujarat BJP to pull out all stops and ensure Advani won Gandhinagar by a “record” margin. “Unfortunately, the coterie ringing Advaniji has poisoned his mind about Modiji. Modiji wants to dispel his senior’s misgivings once and for all,” a Gujarat BJP leader claimed.

A section of leaders said while Modi was expected to extend courtesies to Advani, that could not mask an emerging reality in the BJP. “The old order has to make way for the new dispensation headed by Modi,” a source said.

It was insinuated in Delhi that Advani might have “bargained” for his close Gujarat confidant, Harin Pathak, to be fielded again from Ahmedabad (East), a constituency Pathak never lost since 1989, in lieu of agreeing to Gandhinagar. But sources in Ahmedabad discounted the theory.

Pathak and Modi share a long animosity. In 2009, Advani repeatedly intervened with Modi to secure a ticket for Pathak. His constituency did not figure among the 21 for which nominations were declared today.

The candidacy of Jaswant Singh, the former finance and foreign minister, too, was not declared in the first list from Rajasthan. Jaswant is close to Advani and had fallen foul of Modi for critiquing his leadership.

Among the names that made the cut today were Hema Malini from Mathura and Olympian shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore from Jaipur (Rural).

The latest defectors from the Congress, Samajwadi Party and the NCP were gifted tickets. They included Heena Gavit (NCP), Jagdambika Pal (Congress) and Shyam Charan Gupta, Kirti Vardhan Singh and Brijbhushan Sharan Singh of the Samajwadi Party.