Demonstration outside Advani’s residence changes situation

The Bharatiya Janata Party is all set to crown Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the chief of the party’s 2014 general election campaign management committee but a formal announcement could be delayed to mollify senior leader L.K. Advani’s camp, which has put up a stiff resistance to the move.

As the two-day national executive meeting got under way here in Mr. Advani’s absence, ostensibly on grounds of his ill-health, the party brass was engaged in hectic consultations on a formula that would be acceptable to the two warring factions and save the party from further damage.

This is the first time Mr. Advani is keeping away from a national executive meeting.

Indications are that party president Rajnath Singh, in his concluding remarks to the delegates of the executive, would throw ample hints of a bigger role for Mr. Modi in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls and make the announcement after a formal meeting with Mr. Advani later.

Hours after the meeting had started, it looked like the decks had been cleared for Mr. Modi after party spokesperson Prakash Javadekar declared at a news conference that the delegates would go back “with new energy, new confidence and new enthusiasm” and asked journalists to wait for further announcements till tomorrow.

However, in the evening, another party spokesperson downplayed the comment, saying every national executive gave an energy pill to the members. Mr. Javadekar ended up the suspense on whether or not Mr. Advani would be there on the last day of the executive by saying that the veteran leader had been asked by doctors to rest for some days.

Party sources said the situation changed after a demonstration outside Mr. Advani’s residence in New Delhi by Mr. Modi’s supporters, which the BJP maintained were not its members. Several leaders felt that any categorical announcement at this juncture would further widen the rift and send a wrong message to the rank and file.

Besides the executive, the BJP president would be sharing the dais with Mr. Modi when the later addresses a meeting of the Goa unit party workers on Sunday. There again, Mr. Singh could give signals on the future role of the Chief Minister. Organisers of the meeting have reportedly been asked to ensure that no provocative speeches are made.

The party could not sell the “ill-health” reason for Mr. Advani’s absence, as other leaders such as Uma Bharti, Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha, Shatrughan Sinha and Yogi Adityanath, also considered close to Mr. Advani, are not attending the meeting either. Mr. Sinha said in Delhi that he was in good health and not suffering from “NaMonia.”

The party spokesperson had journalists in splits when he attributed the “ill-health” cited by some leaders for their absence to the effect of ‘season change.’ To a volley of questions on Mr. Advani, he said the senior leader did not usually fall ill but this time, “the changing weather has affected him.”

Mr. Javadekar said that though Mr. Advani was keen on attending the conclave at least on the last day, Mr. Singh asked him not to do so as the doctors had advised him rest. “Our party president said you take rest. We will come to meet you,” he added.

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