Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Coffee Break

When Advani declared Atal PM in 1995
Kanchan Gupta

Twelve years ago, addressing the concluding session of the BJP Mahadhiveshan at Mumbai's Mahalaxmi Race Course, renamed Yashobhoomi for the event, LK Advani declared on November 12, 1995, that not only would his party form the Government after the 1996 general election, Atal Bihari Vajpayee would be India's next Prime Minister.
For a moment there was stunned silence. Then followed thunderous applause. The declaration came at the fag end of Advani's speech. It was not a matter-of-fact statement, but an emotional announcement.
He later told some of us it was a "historic moment" for both him and the party, something that he had been waiting for years to declare. "Now that we are in a position to win, the moment has come," he added.
Before Advani, his voice by then choking with emotion, could return to his place on the dais, Vajpayee got up, took the microphone and, giving a pass to his long pauses, said, "The BJP will win the election, we will form the Government and Advani will be Prime Minister."
Advani said, "Ghoshana ho chooki hai...". A smiling Vajpayee retorted, "To phir mai bhi ghoshana karta hoon ki pradhan mantri...". Advani chipped in, "Atalji hi banengey". "Yeh to Lakhnawi andaaz me pahley aap, nahi pahley aap ho raha hai," Vajpayee said.
For a while, both of them looked at each other, two old colleagues and close friends who had nursed the Bharatiya Jana Sangh since its formation and later the BJP, both of them clearly moved to tears. Advani was party president, Vajpayee Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
That declaration, like Monday's, also came in the backdrop of hectic political activity in Gujarat. Shankersinh Vaghela had led a rebellion against Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel and dislodged him from office with the help of 'Khajurias'. Suresh Mehta was the 'consensus' candidate who had just taken over as Chief Minister. Narendra Modi had been exiled to Delhi.
As party president, Advani reluctantly accepted the terms of truce arrived at between the 'Khajurias' and 'Hajurias' to save the Government in Gujarat. But he didn't forgive Vaghela. Those covering the BJP National Executive meeting at Pune on November 7-8 just prior to the Mahadhiveshan would recall how Vaghela touched Advani's feet but failed to elicit even the slightest response.
In the summer of 1996, Advani's public declaration came true. The BJP emerged as the single largest party and was invited by President Shankar Dayal Sharma to form the Government. Vajpayee was sworn in as Prime Minister. The Government fell on the 13th day after Vajpayee, failing to put together a majority, resigned.
The rest is history.


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