A sudden change in the seating arrangements at Parliament’s Central Hall Tuesday seemed to serve a pointer to the relative stature of seniors in the BJP. Five chairs stood at the podium but were reduced to three to accommodate only Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh and L K Advani. The two for whom the other two chairs had presumably been meant, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, sat instead in the front row.
Sushma appears the one leader left out so far in Modi’s efforts to reach out to seniors. He has been consulting Jaitley, and called on Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi too Sunday. In contrast, it was Sushma who called on Modi at Gujarat Bhawan Monday. Before the apparent surrender, she had visited RSS number two Bhaiyyaji Joshi and Rajnath.
While including Modi in the party’s parliamentary board last year, one of the reasons Rajnath cited was seniority, with Modi having become a CM (in 2001) before Raman Singh and Shivraj Singh Chouhan did. By that yardstick, Sushma had become a CM (of Delhi) in 1998 and was senior to Modi and even Rajnath (UP, 2001).
She was a minister in the first BJP government at the Centre in 1996. Modi had become BJP national secretary in 1995, before being made general secretary (organisation) in 1998. From 2001, he remained a CM while Sushma grew in stature and was made leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha in 2009 at Advani’s behest.
Sushma and Modi’s paths crossed when Modi emerged a contender for the PM candidature. Unlike Advani, Sushma did not go public about it but is said to have presented her objections to Rajnath. Top RSS leaders had to get Advani, Sushma and Rajnath together about a week before the formal announcement. Sushma retreated, but her branding as an opponent of Modi stuck, while Jaitley publicly rooted for Modi.
Now, the BJP majority has handed Modi all the aces, including deciding what position Sushma will hold. Her mood was noticeably sombre when she came forward to second Advani’s proposal to name Modi parliamentary party leader.