The first list of Lok Sabha candidates released by the Bharatiya Janata Party on Wednesday does not include the name of Lal Krishna Advani, the leader who brought the party to the centre-stage of Indian politics through his Rath Yatras and Ayodhya movement. Advani, who was deputy Prime Minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet, has been replaced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s close associate and party president Amit Shah, who will contest from Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency in Gujarat represented by Advani since 1998.
The party leadership’s decision draws curtain on the political career of a giant leader who not only groomed most of the top leaders of the party occupying high offices in the government and organisation today, but also built the party brick-by-brick into a formidable force in Indian politics, winning 180 seats in 1999 from just 13 seats in 1980. Advani handpicked and groomed leaders like foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, finance minister Arun Jaitley, home minister Rajnath Singh, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Kalyan Singh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi among other top BJP leaders.
In fact, Advani stood by Narendra Modi when he faced serious criticism following the 2002 Gujarat riots and helped him survive as chief minister of the state when former Prime Minister Vajpayee considered his removal.
Advani was one of the top three leaders of the BJP for decades, second only to Atal Bihari Vajpayee. These three leaders, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani and former party president and HRD minister Murli Manohar Joshi were always referred as the First Triumvirate of the BJP, the party that successfully dethroned India’s grand old party Indian National Congress from the power at the Centre twice in 1999 and 2014.
Ayodhya movement led by Advani
It was Advani s Ayodhya Rath Yatra, which started from Somnath in Gujarat in September 1990 with the aim to reach Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh next month, catapulted the party to power in several Hindi heartland states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. Although the Rath Yatra was stopped midway and he was arrested by Lalu Prasad Yadav, the then chief minister of Bihar, but the consolidation of Hindus votes in favor of the BJP in north India and ensuing electoral gains paved the way for the party to increase its tally and eventually form the government at the Centre thrice in June 1996, March 1998 and October 1999.
Marg Darshak Mandal
Although, he was given ticket from Gandhinagar in 2014, but despite sending feelers to the party high command he was not nominated for the sensitive post of Lok Sabha speaker after the BJP’s spectacular victory that year. As a consolation, Advani was hoping to be the Lok Sabha speaker, the fifth highest constitutional office after President, Vice President, Prime Minister and former Presidents in the country. However, the party instead nominated 8 time Lok Sabha member Sumitra Mahajan to the post.
The party high command nominated all the three members of the First Triumvirate of BJP to a panel called Marg Darshak Mandal for giving overall direction to the party.
Office of President of India eludes Advani
Similarly, a section within the party and media widely speculated his name for the office of President of India in 2017 Presidential Election as a reward for his long services to the party and the country. However, the party high command nominated relatively little known Ram Nath Kovind, two time Rajya Sabha member and then governor of Bihar, to the highest office of the country.
End of Advani’s electoral career
However, this time the party’s decision is not on unexpected lines. Two things led to the denial of ticket to the veteran BJP leader – his age as he is 91 years old and his falling out of favour of Prime Minister Modi and party president Amit Shah’s powerful combine that has total control over the party. The first sign of trouble had emerged between Advani and Prime Minister Modi when Advani opposed the party’s decision in 2013 to nominate Narendra Modi as head of the party’s campaign committee for 2014 Lok Sabha election. Thereafter he was never considered for any important constitutional office or position in the government by the party high command.
Several senior BJP leaders set to retire
This is the first Lok Sabha election after the complete change of guard within the party following the BJP’s massive victory in 2014. It’s not just Advani who has walked into complete political oblivion but the second generation groomed by him is also about to retire from the active electoral politics.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has already declared her intent to not contest the Lok Sabha election. Finance minister Arun Jaitley has been grappling with health problems from last two-three years. Only Rajnath Singh from that generation is active into electoral politics and occupying a key position in the government. Kalyan Singh, Rajnath Singh’s senior party colleague and former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh during whose tenure the disputed Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Masjid structure was demolished by Kar Sevaks, retired from active politics long ago and has been appointed governor of Rajasthan.
The BJP high command’s decision not to give Lok Sabha ticket to Lal Krishna Advani also raises question about the fate of the third member of the party s first triumvirate – former HRD minister Murli Manohar Joshi – who is a Lok Sabha member from Kanpur and has also fallen out of favor of the party high command.