Of revolts & rumours: Did Advani desert the Margdarshak to become President in 2017?
- BJP\'s sidelined veterans, the Margdarshak Mandal, led by LK Advani had lashed out at the party brass after the Bihar defeat
- On 10 Nov, the seniors had issued a scathing letter criticising the current leadership, led by PM Modi and Amit Shah, and demanded changes
- However, the Margdarshak Mandal\'s revolt fizzled out suddenly
- Insiders say Advani withdrew his support, leaving others like MM Joshi in a bind
More in the story
- What is the inside story?
- Is Advani eyeing the President\'s post, which falls vacant in 2017?
- Who changed Advani\'s mind and helped Modi and Amit Shah consolidate?
There's an intriguing political question that has slipped off the radar without clear answers. After the BJP's rout in Bihar, on 10 November, the party's elders led by LK Advani -- the Margdarshak Mandal -- had released a scathing letter tearing into PM Modi and party president Amit Shah for the debacle.
The question is: why did this revolt die a quick and quiet death?
Rebellion is something that keeps popping up in the BJP from time to time - be it from Sanjay Joshi, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti or the party's grand old man, Lal Krishna Advani.
It's an open secret that Advani and MM Joshi haven't shared the most amicable of relationships over the BJP's 35-year history. The bickering between the two stalwarts is a regular subject of gossip in media and political circles, and even after Modi's ascent to power sidelined them, this seems to have continued.
Advani, MM Joshi and Yashwant Sinha had lashed out at the BJP brass after the Bihar humiliation
However, so far in the last 18 months, they've managed to keep their differences under wraps - which is probably good best for them.
It was, therefore, a surprise when these veterans put up a united front against the current BJP brass after the Bihar defeat.
The letter bomb
The Mandal demanded 'deep introspection' and accused Modi and Shah of destroying consensual decision-making within the party. It alleged that no lessons were learnt from the embarrassing Delhi election fiasco.
The letter also advocated action against those responsible for the Bihar defeat. It stated: "The review of the party's performance must not be done by the very persons who have managed and who have been responsible for the campaign in Bihar."
Apart from Advani and Joshi, the letter had the backing of Yashwant Sinha and Shanta Kumar.
However, the matter was forgotten within days. The scathing letter ruffled a few feathers in the party leadership. But it left many unanswered questions - why was this letter thrown into the dustbin? Why were the issues raised in the letter overlooked? What led these veterans to go back into slumber soon after releasing this letter?
To put things in perspective, let's go back to December 2005, when the BJP was busy organising its silver jubilee summit in Mumbai. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had already announced he would not be contesting any more elections. The former Prime Minister had designated Advani and Pramod Mahajan as his political heirs.
But, the Advani camp found little chance to celebrate, as speculation over Vajpayee's failing health never ceased till the year 2006-07. Advani's detractors used the uncertainty over Vajpayee's condition to their advantage.
In 2006, a letter was circulated in the party executive meeting on Vajpayee's behalf. It stated that his health was improving and that he could soon make a comeback into active politics.
According to former RSS ideologue KN Govindacharya: "It's difficult to say who circulated this letter. But, we can infer that it was meant to weaken Advani's leadership."
Later, rumors emerged that the letter was the handiwork of Joshi's camp, in order to derail Advani's coronation as Vajpayee's successor.
The coming together of these two leaders on the night of 10 November heightened the political temperature of Lutyens' Delhi. But, their clarion call had lost steam the very next evening.
So, what changed within that short span?
The President's chair
The timing of this rebellion by the Margdarshak Mandal raised several questions. The group had chosen silence when the BJP was routed in the Delhi assembly elections. It did not speak out amidst the huge outcry over the Dadri lynching. Why did they pick the Bihar defeat to raise their voice?
One might argue that as a 'Margdarshak Mandal', it is the veterans' moral responsibility to guide the party and make relevant suggestions. However, 'moral responsibility' is a slippery notion in politics.
A BJP leader told Catch on the condition of anonymity: "These leaders are least bothered about serious changes in the party structure. They are only interested in keeping their relevance intact. This is why the party had no trouble in handling their revolt."
Govindacharaya, a respected party ideologue, seems to agree. He says, "Advaniji is eyeing the President's chair, which will be vacated in 2017. Yashwant Sinha wanted to become the Chairman of BRICS, but it could not materialise. He is now looking for some consolation deputation. A group with such aspirations is always prone to squabbling," he said.
The visit that changed the course
The current stewards of the party sprung into action as soon as the Margdarshak Mandal sounded the bugle. Arun Jaitley paid a visit to Joshi and Advani just a few days later. The pretext given for these visits was to invite the veterans to Jaitley's daughter's wedding. Shanta Kumar and Sinha had also congregated at Joshi's house the same day. Govindacharya and another party rebel, Arun Shourie, had already come and met them.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley met the veterans soon after the letter was released on 10 November
The Margdarshak Mandal clearly took a calculated risk. Perhaps its leaders had expected the whole of the dissident lot of the party to rally behind them. Nothing of the sort happened.
Modi has already managed to sideline most of his potential detractors, including Advani. The only people who could be an irritant to him are the contemporaries in his cabinet. And none of them would have risked their jobs by speaking against Modi and Shah.
Shah has further strengthened his position by appointing loyalists at the central and state level. There was hardly any leader of prominence who would dare to challenge him. On the contrary, many have started supporting Shah to prove their loyalty to Modi.
According to sources, the Margdarshak Mandal also tried to rope in Govindacharya and Sanjay Joshi in this revolt. Their refusal was a big blow to the Mandal, as both still command considerable influence within the RSS. It sent a message that there were few takers for the Mandal's tactics in the Sangh.
MM Joshi and Sinha were projected as the stage managers of this entire episode. Advani tried to give the impression of a reluctant participant. Even the letter bore the signature of Sinha.
But Sinha might have his own compulsions. His son Jayant Sinha is Minister of State for Finance in the Central government. Fatherly concern for the son's career could have made it difficult for him to wage a moral war.
So, what did the Margdarshak Mandal achieve through this endeavour? Its leaders hogged the headlines for some time, but gave the party leadership a chance to silently push the group further into oblivion. It may have shed some of its arrogance after the Bihar defeat, but there's little chance of a major overhaul in the organisation.
According to a party insider, Advani was quick to see that the Margdarshak Mandal was totally isolated, and quietly distanced himself from the controversial letter. He left Joshi and his other colleagues mid-way. Many observers attribute this change of stance to his meeting with Jaitley.
Soon after, the party sent Advani to vote in the Gandhi Nagar elections. Here, he proclaimed during a public meeting that the Modi government was on right track to bring 'achhe din.' The statement came on 21 November.
On 21 Nov, Advani told a public meeting that the govt was on the right track to bring 'achhe din'
This twist apparently worried Joshi. He called journalists for tea on 23 November. Some of the journalists present in this gathering claim Joshi was visibly perturbed over Advani's U-turn. He reportedly vowed to take his complaint to the RSS headquarters in Nagpur. It does not seem to be a coincidence that Joshi visited Nagpur on 27 and 28 November. It is not yet clear what transpired during this visit.
Asked about this entire situation, Shanta Kumar told Catch: "The party itself has ended the matter, so there's no point talking about it." Asked if Advani had deserted the other veterans, he said: "I don't want to say anything on this matter. What had to be said has been said - the matter is over."
Attempts to contact Advani and Sinha for their comments did not yield any results.
A favour for Shah?
Advani's actions have had two repercussions - it has ended the debate over the erosion of democratic functioning within the party. Any challenge to the monopoly of the Modi-Shah duo is a distant possibility, at least for now.
Advani has also virtually cleared the way for Shah's second term as party president. There is no leader in the party who could put any sort of pressure on Modi and Shah after Advani has been made to fall in line.
It is not possible to make any definitive assertions on whether Govindacharya is right and Advani is indeed eyeing the President's chair. But the veteran has clearly intrigued his colleagues with his latest political somersault.