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How LK Advani is hastening his own fall by seeking the Bhopal seat

For the last one year, ever since the BJP began inexorable moves to make Narendra Modi its mascot for 2014, we have seen only one side to Lal Krishna Advani: the Big Sulk.

The man widely credited with the rise of the BJP in the late 1980s and 1990s has been unable to put personal pique aside in the larger interests of the party. He has repeatedly tried to queer the pitch for Modi’s rise instead of being his prime support and cheer-leader.

While at a personal level one can understand Advani’s disappointment that he will always remain the BJP’s best man and never its groom, surely, at 86 years of age, he cannot seriously harbour any great visions of what the future holds for him.

The latest drama over whether he will fight the Lok Sabha elections from Gandhinagar or Bhopal is further evidence that the BJP’s tallest leader is shrinking in stature, and he is the one doing it to himself. Having sought to fight from Gandhinagar as recently as January, he now says he wants to shift to Bhopal – a move that cannot but lead to speculation about his equation with Modi. In order to give Advani space, the party, in fact, moved Modi to Vadodara when it could have chosen Ahmedabad East for him.

 How LK Advani is hastening his own fall by seeking the Bhopal seat

Advani should realise that he's no longer the face of the party. Reuters

But Advani remains in sulk. The only thing he will achieve by seeking to contest from Bhopal is sharpening intra-party factionalism by propping up Shivraj Singh Chauhan of Madhya Pradesh against Modi. One can only suspect that Advani is very cut up with Modi, and does not want to be beholden to him for any win from Gandhinagar.

So, this is clearly more about Advani’s personal grouse than anything else for Modi has not done anything overtly to undercut him.

However, one cannot rule out an underlying battle of egos here: having been Modi’s mentor and backer all through till last year, Advani may be expecting more reverence and more payback from Modi. But Modi’s personality is not the type to kowtow and self-efface. In fact, there is good reason to presume that he has a strong ego of his own – and may not be willing to make the first move to placate Advani.

But beyond this obvious clash of egos, one cannot but lay the fault more at Advani’s door. For several reasons.

First, if he is not in contention for power, he ought to have accepted this reality and played statesman and mentor to whoever the party anointed as its prime ministerial candidate. But Advani thinks he should play favourites: he has thus been using proxies like Sushma Swaraj and Shivraj Singh Chauhan to stem the Modi tide.

Second, even assuming his personal equation with Modi is not good, it does not automatically follow that he must play spoiler to Modi’s growth plans. Modi’s rise is due to the groundswell of support in his favour among the party’s grassroots. Just as Advani was BJP’s man of destiny in the 1990s, today it is Modi. Advani’s inability to accept this shift in equations is what is at the root of his rift with Modi.

Third, outside a dynasty, power is not conferred from above. It comes from one’s ability and track record. Advani’s mistake is to believe that Modi’s rise was due to his support – which was crucial at critical points in Modi’s career - when the reality is that Modi’s current popularity is purely the result of his own efforts. History shows that power is usually not the result of charity from above – and former mentors usually have a falling out with their protégés at some point (eg: Kamaraj with Indira Gandhi, NTR and Chandrababu Naidu, Pranab Mukherjee and Mamata Banerjee). Mentors have to ultimately give space to their mentees and move into the background. Else, they lose their moral standing.

Advani, unfortunately, has taken the diminution in his power with poor grace. In June last year, when the party looked set to make Modi the campaign committee chief, he sent in his papers and ranted against unnamed persons who were “concerned just with their personal agendas.”

In September, when the party wanted to officially nominate Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, Advani & Co tried to stall it by saying the party should wait till after the assembly elections.  The RSS and the BJP clearly saw through this ruse, for had the party waited, and the BJP had won three states, Advani would have pushed the candidacy of Chouhan – and put the party in a quandary. The party did right to squash Advani’s efforts to create a rift before the Lok Sabha elections.

In January, he squelched talk of going to the Rajya Sabha, making it clear that he wanted to fight the Lok Sabha elections. He had said then: "I have not said anything (about going to RS) and if somebody offers me this suggestion I will think about it. But it is natural, I think, that if I had to consider it I would have done it earlier.”

Now that the party says he can fight from Gandhinagar, he wants to go to Bhopal.

Whichever way this controversy ends, one thing should be clear to everybody: Advani is a bitter man and uncomfortable with his own growing irrelevance. He ought to have accepted his reduced relevance with grace; he is choosing to play sourpuss instead.

In the process, he is hastening the arrival of his own irrelevance. Everyone knows that he is not the key to the BJP's future any more. All that's left is a strong memory of the man who built the party and is now playing party pooper.

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Updated Date: Mar 20, 2014 14:50:09 IST