Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti along with nine other BJP leaders were granted bail by a special CBI court on Tuesday. However the court rejected their petitions to dismiss charges of criminal conspiracy against them. This virtually seals the fate of Advani and Joshi, key claimants for the presidential-elect candidate, of BJP. What it also does is that it puts pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to remove Uma Bharti from the ministry.
Modi and Advani share a love and hate relationship. After the Godhra riots, when former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee wanted to remove Modi from the chief minister's post of Gujarat, Advani threw his weight behind Modi, and managed to save his chair. The rest is history. In 2009, the BJP lost badly in Lok Sabha elections under the leadership of Advani. This significantly lowered his stature in the party along with the Jinnah episode.
In 2013, when Modi was appointed the chief of election campaign for BJP for 2014 Lok Sabha elections and then anointed as the prime ministerial candidate, Adavni resisted the move. He boycotted both the events making his displeasure clear. How could he work under his junior. Advani tried everything — even pestering ally JDU to break ranks — to prevent BJP from naming Modi but RSS and Rajnath Singh had identified their Tendulkar for the big match. Advani's camp members Ananth Kumar, Sushma Swaraj, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Venkaiah Naidu left him and hopped onto the new order.
Advani was cajoled to contest the Lok Sabha elections and he won with a comfortable margin. However, soon after the elections, he along with Joshi were removed from BJP's Parliamentary Board and made part of Margdarshak Mandal. This mandal has been opposing Modi's moves and attacking the prime minister after the party lost Delhi and Bihar elections last year. The margdarshaks kept sulking, but Modi and Amit Shah never came to them for any margdarshan.
Modi, touted as the second tallest leader in BJP's history, hoped that making Advani the president would be the ultimate guru dakshina. This would have been a perfect gift and farewell for Advani whose Ram Mandir movement propelled BJP to national politics.
According to sources, Advani called his camp members Naidu, Prasad and Ananth for dinner. He broached the subject and wanted them to push his name for the President with Modi. They agreed out of respect. After a few days Advani called each of them and got only excuses as response. One of them advised him that any such lobbying will go against Advani. The veteran BJPleader then approached Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who promised support. TDP's Chandrababu Naidu remained non-committal.
Knowing Modi and his style of functioning, the prime minister would not want Advani as the President, who he feels could play spoilsport to his 'ordinance' style of working. With Advani being senior, Modi probably wants to avoid any such discomforting situations. But he also has an image to manage. An image of a chaiwallah who rose to become a prime minister through hard work; an image of a loyal disciple. He has never publicly supported nor refuted Advani's candidature.
Keeping all of this in mind, timing of CBI court's decision to frame charges against the BJP leaders is thus susceptible. Now, Modi can publicly portray that he wanted to make his guru the President, but CBI case has weakened Advani's chances. Modi's clean image gets a boost. The prime minister further solidifies his image as a man of principles. However, it was a known fact in political circles that something of this sort was approaching which would automatically disqualify Advani.
However, in the scheme of events, Joshi has been the collateral. Modi is not averse to Joshi's claim for the presidential post. Joshi has a clean image and is seen as an intellectual. He even vacated his Varanasi seat for Modi and shifted to Kanpur. Modi wanted to pay back but he cannot now apply different yardsticks for different people.
By the same logic, continuance of Uma Bharti in the Cabinet is doubtful. Congress is already demanding her resignation. Modi is also unhappy with the tardy progress on his ambitious Namami Ganga Plan. It's a two-bird-one-stone moment for Modi. The issue, however, is that Uma has had a chequered past and revolted against Advani earlier. She is no push over, she is hot-headed and Advani-Joshi camp may back her to the hilt to take revenge on Modi.
Internal politics in BJP is set to intensify. Ministers from Advani camp, like Naidu, are making statements of support to Advani. Modi camp is cautious and has not openly supported Advani. The margdarshak camp doesn't enjoy the same support in BJP. However, the next month or so could see intense manoeuvering in the BJP. Advani can come out and speak against Modi if he is not the presidential candidate. This could be embarrassing for the party and will not help Modi's image. How can Advani watch his juniors, like Sushma Swaraj, Sumitra Mahajan or Draupadi Murmu, become the President?
Advani and his supporters believe the Ram Lalla movement was a public movement and he had no role in Babri Masjid demolition. Considered the tallest leader after Vajpayee in BJP, Advani should be considered for the presidential position as a gratitude for his services to the party all these years. Interesting times ahead…
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Updated Date: May 31, 2017 13:45:54 IST