By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS
NEW DELHI â€“ It has been a long wait for Lal Krishna Advani, who has been finally selected as his party, Bharatiya Janata Partyâ€™s prime ministerial candidate. Though the decision was long on the cards, it was formally announced last week (December 10) after a brief meeting of the partyâ€™s parliamentary board. Making the announcement, BJP president Rajnath Singh said: â€œAtal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani have been instrumental in bringing BJP to this position. Every party worker accepts this decision. I would like to congratulate L K Advani on my partyâ€™s behalf.â€
With Advaniâ€™s candidature for the prime ministerial position approved sometime by former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, the board unanimously supported his name. Ahead of the boardâ€™s meeting, Advaniâ€™s name was cleared by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Expressing his gratitude for his selection, Advani said: â€œOn this occasion, all I would like to say is that I am grateful to BJP president, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and I hope I can do my best to serve the people and the party.â€
Though 80-year-old Advaniâ€™s desire for the prime ministerial position has never been a secret, its announcement at this stage has sprung a surprise. Nevertheless, this definitely clarifies that if BJP wins the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for 2009, Advani will be the prime minister. This clearly signals Vajpayee, due to health-problems, is no more in the race. It also rules out prospects of BJP president Singh considering his candidature for the position. With the RSS having endorsed Advaniâ€™s selection, it signals his return to their fold, which suffered a slight setback when he praised Mohammed Ali Jinnah as a â€œsecularâ€ leader in June 2005.
The timing of the announcement just a day before first phase of assembly elections was held in Gujarat cannot be ignored. There is a view that the announcement was deliberately timed to enhance BJPâ€™s chances in Gujarat elections It is also held that this announcement sends a strong message to state chief minister Narendra Modi. The saffron brigade wants Modi to learn, irrespective of whether he wins or loses Gujarat polls, he must not have any prime ministerial ambition. Dismissing the latter view, BJP leader Arun Jaitley said: â€œThis is the imagination of a fertile mind. The consultation process was over in the party and the announcement was made.â€
There has been mixed range of reactions from BIP rivals and supporters to Advaniâ€™s selection for the top post. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh commented that this decision was based on the party fearing a â€œdangerâ€ from Modi. â€œModi se khatra tha, isiliye BJP ne Advani ki taj poshi kar di hai (Fearing danger from Modi, BJP has crowned Advani,â€ Manmohan remarked while speaking to media persons in Vadodara (Gujarat). He declined from commenting further saying that it was an internal affair of BJP.
Countering the PMâ€™s comments on Advaniâ€™s selection as the partyâ€™s candidate, BJP spokesperson Prakash Javedkar said in Ahmedabad (Gujarat): â€œBasically, by making such a statement, the PM has conceded that Modi is going to win in Gujarat.â€
The Congress has also described the BJPâ€™s move as â€œemotionally blackmailingâ€ the people. â€œIt is a desperate attempt of a desperate BJP ahead of the Gujarat polls amid reports that Chief Minister Narendra Modi is on his way out,â€ Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said. Dismissing prospects of Advani making it to the top position, Ahmed said: â€œThere is no vacancy as Manmohan Singh is the PM now and the UPA will get a full majority in the next poll.â€
The â€œsecularâ€ allies of BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) have confirmed that they have no objections to Advani being the prime ministerial candidate as long as there is no deviation from their common agenda. The common agenda does not refer to saffron brigadeâ€™s Hindutva options. The NDA allies and right-winged associates have welcomed BJPâ€™s decision. Clarifying that his party (Janata Dal-United) will not accept any deviation from the common agenda of NDA, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said: â€œThe JD-U welcomes and supports Advaniâ€™s candidature as PM.â€
Without doubt, Advani is hopeful of midterm polls enhancing his chances of becoming the next prime minister. The midterm polls may take place if the rift between the Congress and the left bloc widens over the India-United States civilian nuclear deal, leading the latter to withdraw its support to the government. Whatever may be differences between the Congress and the left over the deal, prospects of latter withdrawing support to pave way for BJP forming the government may be viewed as non-existent. Nevertheless, Advani is hopeful that results of assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will lead to midterm polls. As he said, â€œThe BJP is going to win in both Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. And the results are going to decide the timing of the mid-term (parliamentary) elections. The Lok Sabha elections which were to happen in 2009 will now happen in 2008 due to instability at the center.â€
Howsoever hopeful Advani may be, in the opinion of Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav: â€œThe post of Prime Minister is not in his (Advaniâ€™s) stars.â€
Though Advaniâ€™s wait is over for being selected as his partyâ€™s candidate for the top position, he still has a long road ahead to actually become the prime minister.