Former deputy prime minister L K Advani has made it to the headlines only sporadically ever since the NDA government assumed office in 2014 and he himself was relegated to the Margdarshak Mandal along with another veteran Murli Manohar Joshi – his compatriot in the Babri case.
However none of occasions when he did – the veterans had written a letter demanding accountability of the party leadership after the Bihar election debacle, and in Parliament Advani had lamented the repeated disruptions to fellow MPs – may have dented his speculative chances of being the next President of India more comprehensively than the framing of charges by a Special CBI court in the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition case.
Advani, along with Joshi and Union water resources minister Uma Bharti are the tallest BJP leaders against whom charges were framed on Tuesday under Section 120 (B) of the IPC (criminal conspiracy). Bharti, though may face the brunt of the opposition attack on the government given that she holds a cabinet office. The firebrand former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh who has never shied away from admitting her role in the demolition of the 16th century mosque may actually revel in it; and what’s more, it may be just the recipe for her party to re-energise its core Hindutva votebank and ideology.
While nobody from BJP has confirmed or denied speculation about Advani being in the running for the country’s top post, his name has not just done the rounds of political circles for some time now, but as late as in March Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee had told a Bengali television channel that she is not averse to his candidature. Opposition coordination meetings since then have taken the conversation way forward but that the decision of the CBI court will severely affect his acceptability as the custodian of the Constitution is beyond doubt. The fact that Advani is not known to be a favourite with the present leadership of the party he helped built may only make his path to Raisina Hill that much more difficult – if ever there existed one.
Joshi meanwhile may be the least affected of the three given that his role in the party has already diminished to a large extent from the time when he had been the controversial human resources development minister of the last NDA government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee.
For Bharti on the other hand, the framing of charges may have completely opposite repercussions even though it is likely to send the opposition baying for her blood. Congress naturally would draw comparisons to the resignations of the likes of Shashi Tharoor, Pawan Bansal and Ashwani Kumar to set probity standards but Bharti’s assertions out of court about her role in Babri demolition and her pride in it – contrary to the petition in court that was rejected – suits BJP.
There is currently no law that requires a minister to resign when charges are framed against him or her. The Representation of People’s Act debars a person from contesting elections if convicted in a crime that is punishable by imprisonment of two or more years. Incidentally new rules in the process of being framed by the Election Commission do have the provision of an elected legislator being obliged to resign under these circumstances.
In his press conference last week to mark three years of the NDA government party president Amit Shah while replying to a question had emphatically said: “No we have not forgotten (our promise of Babri Masjid)”. Bharati continuing in the cabinet in the face of repeated opposition demands for her resignation would be a reaffirmation of that commitment.
The more it is raised over the next two years during the runup to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, happier the BJP leadership would be.