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A signal in a missing nameplate

L.K. Advani

New Delhi, June 5: A missing nameplate at Parliament House today seemed to provide concrete evidence of L.K. Advani’s fade-out from the BJP’s scheme of things.

For the past decade, the slab outside a room adjacent to the BJP parliamentary party office had displayed the veteran’s status as acting NDA chairman.

Advani got the post after the alliance chairman, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, became indisposed. Vajpayee’s nameplate has not been touched, though.

There were indications that someone close to Advani had removed the nameplate but whether it was an attempt to highlight the party’s rebuff to him remained unclear. Advani is now likely to remain just an MP without even a sinecure.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi seem to believe that those over 75 should play the role of “marg darshaks” (guides). The others set to be put out to pasture are Murli Manohar Joshi and C.P. Thakur.

Advani had a large office with a visitors’ space and an enclosure for his personal secretary, Deepak Chopra. A source close to the veteran said that since Parliament opened yesterday, Advani had made it a point not to return to his office “out of respect for protocol and propriety”.

He met the media informally today at the BJP parliamentary party office, which is fitted with an anteroom meant for the deputy leader in the Lok Sabha.

Sources said Advani had been “told” he could not expect to get the House deputy leader’s room, either, although nobody would clarify who sent the message and to whom: directly to Advani or to his aides.

An insider claimed the veteran was “miffed” with Modi and party chief Rajnath Singh for not “clearly spelling out his role” in Parliament. “He expected to be retained as the NDA parliamentary party chairman,” the insider said.

When Modi was elected BJP parliamentary party leader on May 20 in the presence of Advani and Joshi, among others, it was a given that he would also head the NDA’s parliamentary party.

Those who endorsed Modi’s leadership included the chiefs of the Telugu Desam, Shiv Sena, Akali Dal, Lok Janshakti Party and other BJP allies.

A BJP source claimed that those close to Advani had today decided to hammer home the point of the party’s “rejection” of the patriarch by pulling out his nameplate.

A political aide of Advani denied the insinuation, claiming: “It was done in innocence because we presumed that the rooms would be reallocated and Advani, therefore, may not get to occupy his old office. Other leaders like (Arun) Jaitley, Sushma (Swaraj) and Rajnath too have got new offices.”

Asked why Vajpayee’s nameplate wasn’t removed too if it was simply a matter of relocation, the aide had no answer.

Insiders said Advani had been “unable to reconcile” himself with his new standing as a mere MP. “But he should have realised it was coming,” a source said.

For a couple of years, the Sangh had dropped clear hints that Advani and Joshi should “retire” from politics and not contest the Lok Sabha polls. When they insisted, it relented with the caveat that they might not get the seats of their choice.

Advani was keen on contesting from Bhopal instead of his old seat, Gandhinagar, because of the trust deficit with Modi. However, the Sangh and Modi persuaded him to shed his fears of sabotage and accept Gandhinagar.

Joshi had to leave Varanasi for Modi and move to Kanpur. Once they won, it was signalled that they should work as MPs and mentor the party.

The BJP parliamentary party is expected to meet tomorrow. “Maybe there will be an indication from Modiji on Advaniji’s role in future. Maybe he will be allowed to keep his room,” a source said.

The Modi-led dispensation has several other key decisions to take too. The BJP is increasingly inclined to giving the deputy Speaker’s post to the AIADMK, with which it is keen to forge a long-term understanding in Parliament.

The party also has to make up its mind whether the leader of the Opposition should come from a Congress that has failed to win a tenth of the Lok Sabha seats, which, according to one view, is a requirement for the post.

The other posts that by convention go to the Opposition are those of the chairperson of the public accounts committee and the standing committee on finance.