Bhopal, Sept. 21: The BJP leadership today hinted that L.K. Advani would be its candidate for Prime Minister but an ailing Atal Bihari Vajpayee soon caused a flutter in the party with a few cryptic lines.
Vajpayee’s letter appeared to hint at a comeback, at unfinished tasks and at “obstacles” raised by “one’s own”.
Jaswant Singh had told the media before the meeting started that Advani was the obvious choice for Prime Minister after Vajpayee. If there was any confusion about this, he said, it was in the media and not the BJP.
He added that Vajpayee’s guidance would always be available to the party. Other leaders avoided talking about the subject, but the leadership issue had clearly returned to haunt the third successive national executive meeting.
It was in this atmosphere that Vajpayee’s letter arrived. Those talking about Advani’s elevation had pointed to the former Prime Minister’s ill health — which kept him away from the conclave — but the veteran had clearly not given up.
He rued that his doctor’s advice had forced him to be absent and added that he was getting better and would return soon.
Delegates read various meanings into his sentence “shighra hi aapke beech aa sakunga (I shall return to your midst soon)”, with some even joking about a “spanner in the works”.
Vajpayee ended with lines from his poem Aao Phir Se Diya Jalaen, which talks of an incomplete yagna and appears to ask for sacrifices.
“Aahuti baki, yagna adhoora, apno ke vighno ne ghera, antim jay ka vajra banana, nav Dadhichi haddiyan galayen, aao phir diya jalayen,” Vajpayee wrote.
Roughly it means: the sacrifices are yet to be made, the yagna is incomplete because of obstacles raised by one’s own people; to emerge victorious, a new Dadhichi must donate his bones; let’s light a new lamp.
Hindu legend says the sage Dadhichi immolated himself so the gods could use his bones to build the super weapon vajra and destroy the demons. He said it was better that his bones should help a good cause rather than rot on the ground.
Questions were asked about these lines at the news conference, evoking laughter from BJP spokespersons. The hair-splitting by the media and the interest shown by some BJP leaders, however, reflected the atmosphere of suspicion and distrust in the party.
Vajpayee has been known to send the party into frenzies of speculation with enigmatic messages. In December 2005, during Advani’s last few days at the helm of the party, Vajpayee had termed himself “Parashuram”, called Advani “Ram” and Pramod Mahajan “Lakshman”, leaving everybody guessing about what he had actually meant.
Earlier, questioned about Jaswant’s comments backing Advani, party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad had said Vajpayee and Advani were the party’s tallest leaders and an announcement would be made at the appropriate time.
Asked if he was ruling out a third contender, he evaded a direct reply but reiterated the two names.
The party hadn’t earlier restricted its choice to two leaders. Talk of “many prime ministerial candidates” had triggered questions over Advani’s acceptability.
Whenever dissenters such as Murli Manohar Joshi or Yashwant Sinha spoke, they seemed to be challenging Advani’s superiority. Today, Advani supporters had taken the initiative to trigger a positive debate.
Sources close to Rajnath Singh argued the party president should not be undermined. They said Rajnath was in full control and the question of choosing a candidate for Prime Minister had not been discussed in the party.
The question, however, has been on senior leaders’ minds since early elections became a possibility.
Bhopal’s streets reflected an attempt to project Rajnath. Huge cutouts of the party chief flanked the road to the conclave venue and his photographs outnumbered both Vajpayee’s and Advani’s.
This would have been unthinkable when Venkaiah Naidu, Jana Krishnamurthi or Bangaru Laxman headed the party.