New Delhi, March 20: Narendra Modi took less than an hour today to coax a sulking L.K. Advani into agreeing to contest from Gandhinagar.
Modi successfully used a combination of soothing phrases and firmness of manner — “like a mother trying to cajole a disobedient child”, said a party insider privy to the discussions.
He apparently asked Advani bluntly why the veteran did not trust him despite their long association and the long years Advani had spent in Gujarat.
Modi then asked whether Advani seriously thought he would shirk his responsibility of ensuring that the patriarch won from Gandhinagar by an “unprecedented” margin.
In a statement this evening, Advani said: “This morning Shri Narendra Modi… also came over to my residence and emphasised that the people of Gujarat are keen that I represent Gandhinagar Lok Sabha once again….
“Having represented Gandhinagar… in the Lok Sabha since 1991, I have decided to contest the 2014 general election from Gandhinagar itself.”
Released by the BJP, the communiqué caps the latest round of the Modi-Advani run-ins — prompted by the one-time mentor’s refusal to reconcile to the change of guard in the party — and mirrors the former protégé’s supremacy in the party.
Between the time his nomination from Gandhinagar was announced last evening and the meeting with Modi, Advani had been insisting he would contest from Bhopal or not at all. He knew that his recalcitrance would embarrass the party and its prime ministerial candidate.
Had he quit Gandhinagar, BJP sources said, it would have amounted to a vote of no-confidence against Modi.
“It might have reinforced the view that Modi is authoritarian,” a source admitted.
Sometime before Advani made his capitulation official, BJP president Rajnath Singh had offered a face-saver.
Around the time Modi was addressing a rally in Vidarbha, Rajnath issued a statement saying: “It is the unanimous view of the party that the choice of where to contest from should be left to Advaniji himself.”
He stressed that the BJP would “respect” Advani’s choice.
Rajnath mentioned that the Gujarat BJP had “unanimously” recommended Advani’s nomination from Gandhinagar and the party central election committee had “unanimously” endorsed the recommendation.
Then came the sop: Rajnath added that there was an “alternate suggestion” that Advani should contest from Bhopal so that the BJP’s “gains” in Madhya Pradesh would be “enhanced”.
Like the Gujarat unit, he said, the Madhya Pradesh BJP too had recommended Advani’s name.
Three BJP office-bearers from Madhya Pradesh, spoken to separately, emphasised that nobody had recommended Advani from Bhopal.
“There are five seats which require candidates and Bhopal is one of them. But no names have been short-listed for any of them,” said one.
Asked why Rajnath had incorporated the bit about Bhopal in his statement, an insider said it was an “afterthought”.
“We had been given to understand that Advaniji was upset at being denied the so-called privilege that Rajnath and Modi had had of choosing their constituencies,” the source said. “So the (party) president inserted (the statement).”
Not everyone in the BJP was pleased with Rajnath’s gesture, but the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh suggested that Advani deserved a “sweetener” to coat the “bitter pill” administered last evening.
A member of the BJP parliamentary board and the central election committee had then said: “The (Gandhinagar) decision stands because it was taken unanimously by the highest panels (and will stand) until they meet and reverse it. Normally, such decisions are not subject to individual whims.”
The Congress, which is looking for strong candidates against Modi, did not apply that criteria in Gandhinagar and gave the ticket to newcomer Kirit Patel.
Advani’s friend and peer Jaswant Singh today threatened a revolt if he was denied a ticket from Barmer, his old constituency in Rajasthan.
Chief minister Vasundhara Raje is keener to field Colonel Sona Ram, a defector from the Congress, sources said. Sona Ram is a Jat while Jaswant is a Rajput.
A cabal of Rajput leaders from various caste organisations have threatened to “boycott” the BJP if Jaswant is not fielded from Barmer.
One of them, Mahavir Singh from the Maharana Pratap Foundation, told The Telegraph: “This would straightaway cost the BJP eight Lok Sabha seats.”
Jaswant said that if he was not fielded, he would contest as an Independent.
Rajasthan BJP sources said Jaswant’s nomination was still “uncertain”.