The changes effected earlier this month were supposed to have settled the Vajpayee-Advani issue once and for all. By elevating L.K. Advani to deputy prime minister, the prime minister was seen as anointing his successor and quietly stepping into the background. The BJP was abuzz with a vision of the "real" leader finally leading it into the future.
But last week, Vajpayee made one of those famous moves that have made him so much more acceptable to a larger constituency than his party. By being absent from the House during the debate on Gujarat, he sent a clear signal that he was not in full agreement with his party's line on early elections in the state. Interestingly, Vajpayee loyalist finance minister Jaswant Singh was also absent from the Rajya Sabha, where he is the BJP parliamentary party leader, when Advani was replying to the Gujarat debate and fiercely defending chief minister Narendra Modi. Vajpayee's absence from the BJP's parliamentary party meet earlier that morning was also significant. The previous week, Vajpayee had attended the parliamentary party meet but handed the floor to Advani.