Saturday, May 16, 2009

End of the road for L.K. Advani?

Saturday,16 May 2009

New Delhi, May 16: Age was not on his side. And now it seems people were not either. Verdict 2009 seems to have dashed the prime ministerial hopes of Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) 'iron man', 81-year-old, L.K. Advani forever.

The 15th Lok Sabha election was arguably his last attempt to get the nation's top job in the twilight of his nearly five-decade-old political career, after being in the shadow of Atal Bihari Vajpayee for long.

Advani - the "symbol of the BJP's ideological battle" as some in the Hindu rightwing fraternity call him - may be the clear winner from his Gandhinagar constituency but lost the bigger fight that he, his family and party members heavily invested in.

With the rival Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) staging spectacular wins, it may well be the end of the road for Advani, whose Somnath to Ayodhya-Ram Janmabhoomi movement had put the right-of-centre party into political reckoning.

"It seems that it is the end of the road for him. He will be too old to contest the polls after five years," political scientist Sudha Pai at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, told IANS.

It was Advani who had taken charge of the BJP's Hindutva campaign, with the Ayodhya movement culminating in the destruction of the Babri mosque in 1992 and putting the party in the political reckoning within less than a decade of returning just two MPs in 1984.

But he lost the script somewhere in the compulsion of coalition politics that catapulted Vajpayee - the party's moderate face - to the post of prime minister, with Advani as the number two.

His later attempts to reposition himself into the secular mode left the BJP leader with no clear identity of his own, some say. It started off with his 2005 Pakistan visit where he praised Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

In his new avatar, Advani also put the cause of the Ram temple on the backburner. He was resurrected by his party and made the prime ministerial candidate since Vajpayee is out of action because of ill health.

Advani spared no effort to reach out to every nook and cranny of the country, travelling more than 60,000-odd km, braving the sweltering heat with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees celsius. The octogenarian even lifted weights and pitched himself in cyberspace.

His backroom boys worked round the clock, while the BJP leader also found time to interact with young and first-time voters on his website.

Advani made a strong case for himself by his continuous tirade against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, calling him weak and subservient to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. But it didn't work.

"This is clearly a vote for Manmohan Singh, who is clean, capable, educated and intelligent; no other leader, including Advani, has these qualities. Advani lost it for the way he attacked Manmohan Singh, the way he behaved right through the campaign, " says Pai.

The BJP's advertisements pitched Advani as a 'Loh Purush (iron man)', or tough leader, with pictures of him showing his fist.

"Advani is a symbol of the BJP's ideological battle," said Tarun Vijay, former editor of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) mouthpiece Panchjanya.

"There's no question of the end of the road for Advani or anybody. The BJP is not an individual centric party."

But his being projected as the prime ministerial candidate does not seem to have cut much ice with voters. Some sections of the BJP privately said a younger leader like Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi could have probably helped the party do better.

However, party general secretary Arun Jaitley said: "Advani was the NDA's face and this has not affected the party's overall performance."

He clearly failed to recreate the magic of Vajpayee who straddled the political spectrum like a colossus. On Saturday, with the party's debacle, BJP president Rajnath Singh said the party missed Vajpayee in the elections.

And now Advani may not get another chance.

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