Monday, September 8, 2008

Power & Politics / Mail Today, September 08, 2008

A MEASURE of a leader’s success lies in his choice of a successor. The joint press conference that Lal Krishna Advani addressed along with Narendra Modi in New Delhi last week has the debate reopened within the BJP of who exactly will take over from the 81- year- old leader of the Opposition who I assume will be leading the BJP campaign for the last time next year.
Advani normally does not address joint press conferences and it was perhaps apt that on a day that he chose to speak to the media about internal security, he chose Modi to share the stage with him. Because if there is anything that gets the adrenalin pumping in Modi, it is internal security and to a somewhat lesser extent, minority appeasement, two issues that are expected to form the core of the BJP campaign in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

If the Washington Post hadn’t broken the story about the government’s doublespeak on the N- Deal, I have no doubt that the event at the BJP headquarters would have dominated the front pages and TV channels and reams and reams would have been written about Modi’s “ coronation”. Advani had in fact known about the N- deal bomb from the US capital that morning but since he had already committed to the Gujarat Chief Minister to let him have his say on the woeful internal security scenario, he went ahead with the news conference even at the risk of it being relegated to the inside pages.

It was familiar surroundings to which Modi returned: The same room at 11 Ashoka Road where till about a decade ago, as the general secretary of the BJP, he addressed the media on most evenings. For once Advani chose to play second fiddle, letting Modi steal the limelight while answering a volley of questions on the Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Bangalore bomb blasts and the Amarnath row, now mercifully resolved.

That Modi was the master of ceremonies was evident when he brushed aside two questions relating to economy and foreign policy, saying “ this meet is about internal security, so limit all questions to the subject”. Advani then butted in to say that he would ask Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh to answer queries relating to the economy and foreign affairs.
It set the cat among the pigeons. Was the PM- in- waiting opening up about his shadow cabinet? Since Sinha and Singh had held the finance and external affairs portfolios during the Vajpayee regime, was Advani hinting that in a future BJP government, Modi would be the home minister? Anyone remotely concerned with the pathetic internal situation would wholeheartedly welcome the suggestion.

Modi has one grouse though: that his party did not stand by him when the US State Department recently said it would not give him a visa which he in any case had not applied. He thinks his party seniors, some of whom share an excellent rapport with US lawmakers should have put that to good use to temper them. I think his grouse is unwarranted. Should he become home minister, why some day even prime minister – if IK Gujral and Deve Gowda can be – Washington will not only grant him a visa, but roll out the red carpet for Modi.

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