New Delhi, June 10: L.K. Advani is back in the BJP president’s chair, but the seat is not likely to be very comfortable.
Until yesterday, the party had a “take-it-or-leave-it” attitude towards its leader. The near-unanimous view was that even after so many requests, offers of face-savers, brush-ins with the RSS and amended resolutions, if Advani chose to ride the high horse and press with his resignation, the BJP should let him go.
His remarks on Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the ripples it created in the Sangh parivar showed that even someone like Advani ' considered the undisputed leader of the BJP ' can be cut to size if he goes against the grain of the RSS’s ideology.
The episode had even his “loyalists” like Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley refusing to stick their necks out.
Last Saturday, when Advani’s secretary Sudheendra Kulkarni insisted on the BJP putting his comments on Jinnah on its website, the fractured second-rung dissolved its differences and put the party before the leader.
Members of the BJP’s media cell, badgered by Kulkarni from Karachi, contacted Sushma, Jaitley, Pramod Mahajan and M. Venkaiah Naidu. Only Sushma was in Delhi. “When Sushma spoke to each of us, our response was the same. Do not release the remarks, they are disastrous,” said a general secretary.
Advani was “advised” to explain his comments away as protocol-driven when he landed in India. But the BJP veteran, swept by a secular wave, refused.
The RSS and the VHP were furious, his party cadre dispirited and his colleagues demoralised.
No strategy was formalised, but as if on cue from the RSS, the party was cold to Advani’s Pakistan sojourn.
Sources said the leader was stung and asked Naidu why the BJP was so unsupportive when even the UPA government and the Prime Minister, whom he had attacked in the past, had lauded him.
Naidu, it is learnt, came close to tears but there was nothing he could do as barring an out-of-work politician like Sahib Singh Verma, no one was willing to back the trip across the border.
Yet why did Advani relent and withdraw his resignation'
He realised that if he ceased to be the party chief, it was a matter of time before he would lose the leader of Opposition’s post.
The Opposition leader’s post is vested with cabinet rank and carries the accompanying perks and privileges, not the least being calls by visiting foreign dignitaries and invitations to their countries.
Minus both the posts or either, Advani could be marginalised in politics.
Sources, however, admitted that Advani’s “return” could be at the peril of being reduced to a “lameduck” president, who would have to oblige the RSS from time to time and be mindful of what the VHP says.
With the split in the BJP wide open, the sources added, the possibility of the RSS increasing its leverage vis-a-vis Advani has increased. Asked if he would complete his term, they said they were “uncertain”.
The RSS maintained that the Jinnah chapter was over. “The matter about which there was a row for the past one week has ended today. We were not interested in the debate and had sought clarifications on the Jinnah issue only because it had taken a turn which was against our ideology,” its spokesperson Ram Madhav said.
The VHP dismissed Advani’s continuance in office as “high political drama” and said it marked a “victory for the party and defeat for Advani”.
Despite the RSS sounding “correct”, sources said in the days to come, its sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan, who is already at daggers drawn with Advani, would revive his quit call through the VHP or Joshi.
In a sense, Advani is in for an uncertain innings. His only consolation is that the “secular-liberal” cap he now dons has won him the support of the NDA, some of whose components were ambiguous about his hawkish image.