The rise of the BJP in Indian politics from a fringe player to national alternative to the Congress, from a party of permanent agitators to responsible party of Government is intricately intertwined with the persona of LK Advani. Of course, it is the political chemistry between Atal Bihari Vajpayee's cross-party appeal and Advani's ability to create and mould a gigantic organisation that enabled the BJP to take quantum leaps and get catapulted into leading the alternate pole of Indian politics. There was never any question in the minds of those who understood BJP politics that it would be Advani once Vajpayee relinquished his formal leadership. Since the defeat of 2004, this has been particularly apparent, mainly because of Vajpayee's failing health.
- I can say that unlike most leaders he has a rare ability to blend strategy with tactics and chart a route to victory from the depths of defeat.
- Second, few individuals possess such clarity of thought as he does.
- Third, his energy levels are superhuman even at 80, an age barrier he crossed just a month ago.
- Fourth, he is authoritative: Not given to raising his voice or losing patience, even a gentle reprimand from him sends party colleagues into a tizzy.
- Fifth, he can convincingly and passionately argue his case to a point where opposition melts.
- Finally, over the years he has become Prime Ministerial in his conduct. Advani has been Leader of the Opposition earlier too, but since 2004 his manner of handling situations, his interaction with leaders across the political spectrum and also foreign dignitaries has clearly positioned him to take over the reins of the country's highest executive office as and when the opportunity arises.
Contrary to the media depiction, Advani is no hardliner in his dealings, personal or political. In fact, people who go to meet him smarting under the media stereotype, return pleasantly surprised by his reasonableness, ability to empathise with their situation and a remarkable willingness to accommodate their point of view. However, that does not mean that he concedes his argument or belief. But he is always ready to debate and if consensus does not emerge, willing to agree to disagree.
Apart from his being the obvious successor to Vajpayee, the BJP could not afford to leave the issue hanging fire indefinitely. During the Bhopal meeting of the National Executive in September, a flutter was caused by Vajpayee's letter saying he would be back among party colleagues very soon. While it would have been inappropriate to name a successor soon after the sudden deterioration in the former Prime Minister's health, there was unseemly speculation about a tussle for power. That had to be scotched at the earliest and to that extent Monday's announcement has come at the right moment.
For some time, it has been clear that the RSS has progressively withdrawn from micro-management of BJP affairs, something that Advani had cautioned against at the National Executive in Chennai in October 2005. He can, therefore, take the RSS's support into account as he begins the campaign to dislodge the UPA-Left combine from power at the next election, which could well happen in 2008 judging by the CPM's renewed barking.
Within the party, Mr Advani's support has never been in any doubt. The entire second line leadership was handpicked and groomed by him. He also successfully drafted talent from outside the core party to get associated with the BJP's ideology. In the two years that Mr Rajnath Singh has been at the party's helm, he has always referred to Mr Advani's seniority, maturity and unquestioned supremacy on deciding its strategy.
So, all in all, here is a succession that was waiting to happen. It is bound to charge party workers who had anxiously awaited this moment and will certainly have a positive impact on voting in Gujarat -- a State Mr Advani represents in the Lok Sabha, the one to which his family migrated when it left Karachi in the prelude to the Partition.