His stentorian voice dropped by several decibels just once. That was on October 18, 2004 when he announced he would quit as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, citing his wife, Usha’s illness as the reason and the need to spend more time with her. “My resignation is the result of an inner discussion and consultation with my conscience,” he declared at a presser in the BJP headquarter.
M Venkaiah Naidu’s dramatic proclamation did not surprise his BJP colleagues because it was coming for a while. First, under his leadership, the party lost the Lok Sabha election that May to the Congress-led coalition. Months later, it was beaten by the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party in the Maharashtra polls. The BJP rarely gives losers a long rope, impatient as it is with racing to the finishing line. Naidu had to make way for LK Advani’s return at the helm.
Not that the decision upset Naidu because he was an integral part of the Advani-headed core team that dominated the BJP’s policy-and-decision-making apparatuses for years. His fealty to Advani, who mentored his rise in Delhi, was so strong that in June 2003, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then the NDA Prime Minister, was out of the country, Naidu, who was then the BJP president, told the press that the 2004 Lok Sabha election would be led not just by Vajpayee but also Advani. Naidu’s co-mascots strategy stunned many in the BJP barring the Advani loyalists. He described Vajpayee as the “vikas purush” (development man) and Advani as the “loh purush” (iron man).
But his words so swirled the waters that as soon as Vajpayee returned, he famously told an audience gathered at his official residence for a function to felicitate his foreign trip that while he was “neither tired nor retired, but under Advani’s leadership, the party will march towards victory (in…