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Hunt for an august chair for Advani

New Delhi, May 14: The BJP brass met for several hours in Gandhinagar this evening at Narendra Modi’s residence and discussed the prospective role that veterans L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi and a relatively younger Sushma Swaraj could be assigned if the party forms the government at the Centre.

The meeting, followed by dinner, was attended by Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Nitin Gadkari.

BJP sources said once Modi indicated he would like to adopt an arrangement that Atal Bihari Vajpayee had in his tenure, wherein the Prime Minister also functioned as the chairperson of the NDA parliamentary party, the leaders started to look at another role for Advani who has contested from Gandhinagar.

Advani is now the acting chairman of the NDA parliamentary wing.

It is learnt that when the veteran was “persuaded” to stand from Gandhinagar for the Lok Sabha elections, instead of relocating to Bhopal as he had wished to, Rajnath had reportedly assured him that if the NDA coalition came to power, the party would want to appoint him as the Lok Sabha Speaker.

Rajnath’s assumption was that because of Advani’s seniority and his having mentored Modi at some point, the veteran would find it untenable to function in a government Modi would possibly head. A Speaker’s position would grant Advani notional autonomy from the party and accord a constitutional status befitting his age, experience and stature.

Rajnath and the others are now in a bit of a quandary over whether Modi would endorse the idea of making Advani the Speaker. The Speaker has over-riding powers in the conduct of the proceedings of the House.

It is learnt that Modi, who is expected to keep “mum” until the last vote is counted on May 16 and the outcome pronounced, has not spoken his mind on the issues that have begun to exercise the Delhi BJP leaders.

Asked what role Advani wanted for himself, a source close to him said: “There has been no discussion on anything so far. Whatever’s being said in the media is pure speculation.”

The BJP parliamentary board is expected to meet on Saturday to discuss the issue.

Rajnath and Gadkari’s call on Sushma this morning set off speculation that they were out to “mollify” her with the offer of an elite ministry. Sushma, who left for Bhopal shortly after, said it was a “courtesy” call. “It is not true that I am annoyed or the party leaders are mollifying me,” she told reporters in Bhopal.

A BJP source said: “Modi wants hands-on colleagues who get down to business from day one. He won’t be the person to put up with sulks and pressures.”

Therefore, the question of whether Sushma will be accommodated in the topmost tier of the government with an A-list ministry remains open.

Joshi, who has contested from Kanpur, is unlikely to find a place under the sun because of his ambiguous statements on Modi’s leadership throughout his campaign. Joshi seemed inclined to downplay the “Modi factor”.

The Gandhinagar gathering was also expected to look at the various scenarios that could obtain after the results. If the BJP had to prospect for allies in case of a considerable shortfall, the leaders were expected to run through a list of who could be approached.

The two parties the BJP is considering favourably are the AIADMK and the Biju Janata Dal.