Nitin Gadkari, 52, might be the new chief of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but it is 82-year-old L.K. Advani, a veteran of many political battles within and outside the party, who has emerged as the most formidable leader within the party.
The recent developments within the party are a clear indication that the Advani era has not yet ended, despite prediction of many political pundits after the BJP lost miserably in May 2009 general elections.
The BJP and its allies projected Advani as the prime ministerial candidate before the Lok Sabha polls in May this year. The results left no one in doubt that the Advani-centric poll campaign was a tactical blunder and cost the BJP heavily.
As Advani assumed the role of the leader of opposition reluctantly after the polls, there was a growing talk within the party circles that the octogenarian leader was all set to bid adieu to active politics to pave the way for a younger leadership.
The move to replace old guard with a new younger leadership at all levels gained further momentum with the party's dismal performance in the Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections a few months later.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological patron of the BJP, had also indicated its preference for a generational change at the top in BJP.
Ironically, however, while Gadkari, seven years younger to Rajnath Singh succeeded him as the party chief last Saturday, Advani, the oldest of all, began a new innings a day prior to that.
Advani's confidants - Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley - now hold the important posts of leaders of opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha respectively. Advani himself has been elevated to the newly created post of the chairperson of BJP parliamentary party.
The post was specially created to accommodate Advani by amending party's constitution at a parliamentary party meeting last week.
This amendment also gave him the power to appoint leaders of party in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
"A party like the BJP doesn't amend its constitution too often to accommodate an individual. Isn't this itself an indication of Advani's stature and importance in party affairs? There is no talk about his retirement from politics. He would continue to guide the party," a former chief minister and senior BJP leader told IANS.
Several senior BJP leaders, who are not authorized to speak to the media, told IANS on condition of anonymity that former BJP chief Murli Manohar Joshi and outgoing BJP chief Rajnath Singh were in race for the post of leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha.
But as Advani stepped down from this post last Friday, he handed over the mantle to Sushma Swaraj. He also re-nominated another trusted member, Arun Jaitley, to the post of the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha.
This is a clear indication of Advani's unchallenged authority within the party, a senior BJP member in the Lok Sabha said.
Moreover, Advani himself made it clear after he was elevated to the new post that that he was not quitting politics.
"This is a new chapter in my life," he said.
(Arun Anand can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)