|L.K. Advani walking past a portrait of Mohammed Ali Jinnah before meeting Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in Islamabad on May 31. (AFP)
New Delhi, June 7: A villain in a part of his political parivar and a tragic hero across the border, Lal Krishna Advani today resigned as BJP president.
Fifty-eight years after Partition, Mohammed Ali Jinnah has caused a division in a political entity at the other end of the spectrum with Advani’s laudatory comments on the father of Pakistan plunging the BJP in a crisis deeper than the one after last year’s poll defeat.
As the RSS formally sought retraction of his remarks written in the book at Jinnah’s mausoleum in Karachi and more hardcore elements like the VHP’s Praveen Togadia labelled him a “traitor”, an anguished Advani quit.
His resignation letter made no mention of his position as the leader of the Opposition in Parliament, though there were already suggestions from even within the BJP that he should surrender that post, too.
The party was asking him to reconsider his decision but other than Atal Bihari Vajpayee, no frontranking leader defended his comments on Jinnah.
Advani stuck to what he wrote about Jinnah. “I have not said or done anything in Pakistan which I need to retract or review,” he said in his resignation letter addressed to Sanjay Joshi, the party general secretary who is also the Sangh point man in the BJP.
The letter is dated 6th/7th June and says it was being written “before departing from Karachi”.
The BJP parliamentary board and its office-bearers will meet at 5 pm tomorrow with the agenda of asking Advani to “reconsider”. But the party did not address what is apparently Advani’s cause of anguish in that it did not defend him against attacks from Sangh hardliners.
Last night, all BJP general secretaries met Mohan Bhagwat, tipped to be the next RSS chief, but no one came to the BJP president’s defence.
For the record, RSS spokesman Ram Madhav, who had suggested Advani should review his remarks, said: “Leadership is an internal issue of the BJP. We have not sought anyone’s resignation.”
Vajpayee, who is known to speak with a forked tongue often, was more forthright than his party colleagues.
“Whatever has been said is being misinterpreted. His (Advani’s) remarks on Jinnah are being misinterpreted,” Vajpayee said before Advani drove to his residence for a half-hour meeting.
Behind the move to formally ask Advani to review his decision, stray voices had begun to express criticism.
Yashwant Sinha, once close to Advani, said: “His remarks in Pakistan were unnecessary and avoidable.”
Asked if Advani’s resignation would create a vacuum, Sinha said that, on the contrary, the party would emerge stronger. “Advani has resigned as BJP president, he should also consider whether he can be an effective leader of the Opposition.”
It was a clear hint Advani should give up that post.
After a meeting of the general secretaries and the available vice-presidents this evening, senior vice-president M. Venkaiah Naidu, a shadow of Advani, gave what seemed a valedictory address.
In a news conference, Naidu said: “Advani has made yeoman contribution to the cause of nation-building, to the cause of Hindutva, to the cause of the BJP'. We are proud of Atalji and Advani’s leadership and guidance and we are confident he will reconsider his decision.”
As Advani’s future hung in the balance, Pakistan expressed “surprise”. “This time in Pakistan he impressed by a new gesture and his remarks about Quaid-e-Azam and other things have given him a new look,” information minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said.