On 23 April, the Gandhinagar constituency in Gujarat will vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party stalwart LK Advani has held the seat since 1998, winning five consecutive elections. But this year, the 91-year-old leader will not contest elections—in his stead, Amit Shah, the BJP national president, will stand from Gandhinagar in his first Lok Sabha elections. The end of Advani’s electoral career is in many ways a culmination of a journey that began in 2013—with the BJP’s old guard having to make way for younger leaders like Narendra Modi.
In 2013, Modi’s elevation as the face and leader of the BJP’s 2014 Lok Sabha campaign generated considerable controversy, with a section of the party’s leadership threatening to block his potential prime ministerial candidacy and even come out in open rebellion. Advani was among the leaders who expressed dissatisfaction with the path paved for Modi’s emergence. Through its nominees in the BJP’s national leadership, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh diffused the tension, quelled the rebellion and effectively accelerated the demise of LK Advani’s political career. In the following extract from “Stratagems and Spoils,” our July 2013 cover story, Poornima Joshi argues that the RSS enabled Modi’s rise to power. She traced the RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s efforts to engineer a generational shift within the BJP and strengthen the Sangh’s control over its political progeny.
The rumblings began just before the storm, and the wise men predicted its arrival with uncanny precision.
In the first week of June 2013, a few days before the Bharatiya Janata Party’s national executive meeting in Goa, the former BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi placed an urgent phone call to Suresh “Bhaiyyaji” Joshi, the second-in-command at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. At the upcoming meeting in Goa, the party planned to announce that the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, would be elevated to chair the party’s campaign committee. The purpose of Joshi’s call was to warn the RSS leader of the chaos that would ensue. “Aap baat keejiye Advaniji se. Jo ho raha hai theek nahin hai. Tamasha ho jayega”—Talk to Advani. What is happening is not good. There will be a public spectacle, Joshi said.
Only a few days earlier, the party patriarch LK Advani, whose opposition to Modi’s further ascension was hardly a secret, had demonstrated that he was willing to make his displeasure widely known. In a speech to BJP workers in Madhya Pradesh that would turn up in every newspaper the following day, Advani declared that the state’s chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, had compiled a development record more impressive than Modi’s. Furthermore, Advani added, Chouhan had done so while remaining “humble” and “far from arrogance,” like the party’s revered former prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Advani’s message was not hard to decode, and BJP stalwarts like Joshi, as well as the RSS leadership, saw that it did not bode well for a Modi coronation in Goa.