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Supporters look for ‘honourable exit’ for Advani

Neena Vyas

The position being thought of for him is NDA chairman

RSS prefers a “neutral” leader

NEW DELHI: Supporters of Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani in the BJP are looking for an “honourable exit” for him. No definite time frame has as yet been fixed but there is talk of Mr. Advani announcing his “decision” to quit on his birthday on November 8. He will be 82 that day.

Clearly, the “position” that is being thought of for Mr. Advani is as chairman of the National Democratic Alliance, a post held by the former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, since the NDA defeat in 2004. Mr. Vajpayee, even when he enjoyed good health, did not use that position to interfere in routine party matters. On the other hand, party leaders at various levels fear that Mr. Advani as NDA chief could overshadow any new Leader of the Opposition or party president.

This is what the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, informed sources say, wants to avoid. Hence, it will take some time before the names of successors, including for party president Rajnath Singh, are finalised. “The new team cannot be a 100 per cent Advani team,” a senior leader told The Hindu a few days ago.

It did not go unnoticed in party circles and the RSS that the four next generation leaders — Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, M. Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar — went together to meet RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat a couple of days ago. They met at Mr. Advani’s residence before proceeding to the Jhandewalan complex and met again for late-night confabulations at his residence.

One party leader wondered how the “news” of what was presumably decided at the meeting with Mr. Bhagwat was flashed on television screens as soon as it was over.

It has been known in the party for some time that Mr. Advani would like Mr. Jaitley or Mr. Naidu to take over as president after Mr. Singh’s tenure ends. It was Mr. Advani who was instrumental in getting Mr. Naidu the post just ahead of the 2004 Lok Sabha polls.

Mr. Advani, it is learnt, was also keen on handing over his baton as Leader of the Opposition to Ms. Swaraj when the time comes. It seems that the RSS would prefer a “neutral” leader, not aligned to one camp or the other.

Mr. Bhagwat, in his interview to a television channel prior to the BJP’s Shimla chintan baithak, indicated he would like the party to look “beyond” the three or four names doing the rounds for next president. He said there were “70” party leaders he could think of as being competent and able to lead the party.

It is the search for “neutral” replacements that could take some time.

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