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TIME TO GO

In India, old politicians hate to fade away. In their desperate attempts to stay on, though, they often offer rather pathetic spectacles. Lal Krishna Advani, the 87-year-old leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, is clearly uneasy about the new order in it. He has made no secret of his frustration over the partyís choice of Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. Mr Advani had a simple choice to make at the time of Mr Modiís elevation ó he should have called it a day. Actually, he should have done so even earlier ó at the time of the BJPís defeat in the 2004 parliamentary polls. In a democratic party, a leader who loses an electoral campaign should accept the responsibility for the defeat and make way for a new leader. Unfortunately, Mr Advani did no such thing either in 2004 or this time, when Mr Modi was chosen by the party over him. Instead, he sought to use his small coterie within the party in order to try and get his way. Mostly thwarted and cornered, the veteran leader has ended up reducing himself to a factional leader who has been losing one battle within the party after another. It has been a great fall for a leader who once walked tall on the national political stage. But he has only himself to blame for this.

Mr Advaniís initial refusal to accept his partyís decision to field him for the Lok Sabha elections from Gandhinagar shows him in a poor light again. If he needed any further proof of his shrinking relevance to his own party, he should have found it in the decision. The only impression that his words and actions leave with both his partymen and the public is that of an old leader failing to come to terms with the loss of his place in the party. But Mr Advaniís hurt pride and prejudices may not change things either for himself or for Mr Modi. This was evident in the directive from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that Mr Advani must abide by the partyís decision on his candidature. Factional fights are common in all political parties in India or elsewhere. But a factional leader who loses some battles hopes to win some others. Mr Advani may not have much hope ó or time ó left for future battles. If he cannot fall in line with the BJP under Mr Modi, his best option is to fall out of party politics. In politics, as in everything else in life, it is important to know when the time is up.