The drum beats had barely died when the fiction of party unity crumbled. Lal Krishna Advani’s resignation from important Bharatiya Janata Party posts within hours of Narendra Modi’s elevation to chairman of the party’s campaign committee is the strongest proof yet that the ceremony was hurriedly pulled off to pre-empt internal resistance from gathering strength. Party chief Rajnath Singh put up a pretence of not being affected by Mr. Advani’s absence from the party’s national executive meet in Goa. He said Mr. Advani was unwell, and when that was shown up to be an incomplete truth, he insisted that the BJP was in fine fettle, and indeed that Mr. Modi was the unanimous choice to head the BJP’s election committee. The Gujarat Chief Minister himself tweeted that he had spoken to and received the blessings of his former mentor. Curiously, Mr. Advani did not back any of the claims. Instead he gently turned the knife on his new bête noire, blogging about the Mahabharata, and fate that awaited Hitler and Mussolini. If there was a hint here, it was given a miss by the BJP president and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which forced the chief’s hand on Mr. Modi’s promotion. It is now clear that Mr. Advani felt pushed to the precipice by concerted internal attempts to downsize him and project him as a malcontent who could not digest the success of his younger rival.

Lumpen elements have long been part of the sangh parivar cadre. At the height of the Ayodhya movement, and with Mr. Advani in charge, they brought down the Babri Masjid. Twenty years later, a new generation of hecklers would turn up at Mr. Advani’s home, demanding that he accept Mr. Modi. They are unlikely to have known that they were targeting the original Hindutva hero and builder of a party that had for decades languished on the margins of power politics. The shadow of Ayodhya will admittedly always hang over Mr. Advani. But even his critics will acknowledge his invaluable contribution to the growth of the BJP. For that reason alone, Mr. Advani, now 85 and at the fag end of a career of five decades, did not deserve being humiliated in the manner he has been. Mr. Modi has so far been a deeply divisive figure and the Advani episode has revived all the doubts about his ability to lead an India distinguished by its diversity. The least the Gujarat Chief Minister himself could have done was to wait until Mr. Advani came around before going for the big prize. The BJP has rejected Mr. Advani’s resignation but it is a fair bet that it will come under pressure from its restive cadre to dump him. On the other hand, l’affaire Advani has emboldened the BJP allies to insist that the veteran stay as the NDA’s leader.

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