Panaji, June 8 (IANS) An "ill" L.K. Advani Saturday skipped the BJP national executive meet, a first time in his entire political career, casting a long shadow on Narendra Modi's prime ministerial aspirations.
The party was at pains to explain the absence of 85-year-old Advani, with a spokesperson insisting that his "health is really bad".
Modi, who arrived in confidence at the three-day conclave and had a string of leaders clamouring to anoint him as the party's prime ministerial candidate for the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls, now has until Sunday to swing the tide to his favour, after a host of leaders led by Advani skipped the meet citing "ill health".
The absence of Advani and his reported reluctance to endorse Modi's credentials just yet has forced the party to delay, even if temporarily, the move to make Modi the face of the Lok Sabha polls.
Party insiders suggested that BJP president Rajnath Singh had offered Modi a compromise formula where the latter would be appointed as the convenor of the campaign committee for the general elections.
Modi is, however, learnt to have rejected the offer for now.
While party leaders remained tight lipped on the issue, sources say leaders of party's parliamentary board will have an informal meeting late Saturday to decide on the issue.
Party spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman toed the party line, saying Advani was being briefed about all the developments.
"Rajnathji has talked to Advaniji yesterday and today. He is being briefed about all developments here," Sitharaman said.
The Goa developments led to alleged supporters of Modi protest outside Advani's home in New Delhi. They demanded that he clear the way for Modi to become BJP's prime ministerial candidate.
Sitharaman was quick to condemn the protest.
"Party workers don't protest against party leaders. BJP has nothing to do with the protest. We condemn it," she said.
Putting up a brave face, party spokesperson Prakash Javadekar also played down rumours of a rift and quoting Singh's inaugural address, said that attendees at the national executive would go back "happy, energised and enthusiastic".
"Advaniji's health is really bad. The doctor has advised him rest for four to five days," Javadekar said, adding that this was the first time in his entire political career that the stalwart had missed out on a major meeting.
Interestingly, Javadekar described the absence of Advani and other senior leaders as "nothing unusual".
At the national executive meeting Rajnath Singh spoke on various issues ranging from internal and external security, corruption, politicisation of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the need for creating strong and confident relations with neighbouring countries.
Singh said that the dropping of a disproportionate assets case against former personal secretary of Congress president Sonia Gandhi by the CBI was a clear example of how the central agency was still being used as a "political tool" by the Congress.
The party also took strong exception to both Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party leaders taking what it called "cheap" potshots at the euphoria within the party in anticipation of Modi's ascent.
"The Congress should stop making such unbecoming remarks. We never speak in similar vein about Sonia Gandhi," Javadekar said, after Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury suggested that an epidemic of "Namonitis" was spreading in Goa and taking a toll on the party leaders who are camping in the resort state for the conclave.
The outspoken Yashwant Sinha, in a comment to media in Delhi said: "I don't have 'NaMonia'. I am in perfect health. There can be other reasons for not going to Goa."
'NaMonia' is a term being used widely on social media to refer to the virus causing illness for several BJP leaders, who have given the meet a miss.
Apart from Advani, other important leaders missing from the meeting were Jaswant Singh, Uma Bharti, Shatrughan Sinha, Varun Gandhi, and Maneka Gandhi.
If day one of the three day BJP meet was all about Modi's charisma and Advani's sulk, day two showed that an "ill" Advani was still good enough to baulk a steamrolling Modi juggernaut. At least for a while.