New Delhi, Jan. 17: L.K. Advani made a last-ditch attempt to scupper Nitin Gadkari's reappointment as BJP president but in vain, party sources said.
Advani apparently tried to persuade Sushma Swaraj to accept the post but she refused, saying she would rather continue as Lok Sabha Opposition leader.
The sources said that during recent BJP-RSS talks, Mohanrao Bhagwat's emissaries had made it clear to Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and others that the Sangh chief's choice was Gadkari and Gadkari alone.
Advani and Joshi had objected that Gadkari's "integrity" was under a cloud because of charges relating to his company's financial dealings. But they were "politely" reminded that these were media accusations and that Gadkari had offered to face a government probe.
Advani was not persuaded, the sources said. When the Sangh suggested Rajnath Singh as an alternative, Advani again demurred.
He said that if it was a matter of reappointing a former party president (Rajnath was Gadkari's predecessor), then why not bring M. Venkaiah Naidu back? The Sangh was unenthusiastic about Naidu who had quit his post in 2004 citing his wife's "illness".
Then Advani mentioned Sushma. The Sangh apparently said that if he could persuade her to accept the post, they would not have an issue.
One reason Sushma wouldn't oblige Advani is that her Lok Sabha post is a prestigious one. Another is one that may also delay Narendra Modi's projection as the BJP's face for the 2014 general election: the upcoming Karnataka and Jharkhand polls.
The party is not expected to do well, and election defeats soon after taking charge as party chief could have reflected poorly on Sushma.
A proposal to ask Modi to head the party's central campaign committee may not fructify immediately.
"The BJP's first political test will be the Karnataka elections, due in April. The assessment is, it will lose after (B.S.) Yeddyurappa's desertion. (A loss of power in) Jharkhand might follow or happen simultaneously," a source said.
"Assuming that Modi is brought in as star campaigner and we lose these states, he will come down with a thud and perhaps get written off before the 2014 battle. We are told that Modi is prepared to campaign but in a limited way ' as just another BJP leader. He has indicated he cannot be expected to work a miracle in Karnataka or Jharkhand."
Sources said a final decision on Modi's foregrounding was expected towards the end of the year when the BJP fights the next slew of polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi. It hopes to retain power in the first two states and wrest the others from the Congress.
"If this happens, we will get a big momentum for the next big fight and Modi will provide the push everyone is looking for," a source said.