Advani turns emotional on birth day

New Delhi: The issue of whether he was still in the race for BJP`s Prime Ministerial candidate figured today at the 85th birthday celebrations of L K Advani who turned emotional as party colleagues praised him for his leadership.

"He is a natural choice for the PM post…," said former party president Rajnath Singh, who along with a hoard of BJP leaders, including Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, her Rajya Sabha counterpart Arun Jaitley and Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, wished Advani at his residence here on his birthday.

Advani, born in 1927 in Karachi, had taken a break from his ongoing yatra across the country against corruption, to celebrate his birthday.

As the senior leaders heaped praise on Advani, the octogenarian leader appeared emotional several times during the programme. He was seen wiping tears and even left the dais for a few minutes to regain his composure.

In his speech, Rajnath Singh raised the issue of Advani being in the race for PM candidate of the party. "When I read in the papers about Advani being in the reckoning for PM post, I feel pained. Will a person of Advani`s stature ever present his claim for Prime Ministership?…. He is a natural choice for the PM post.It is painful to see these reports in the media," Singh said.

He recalled that as BJP president he had gone to former Prime Minister and senior leader Atal Bihari Vajyapee before the 2009 Lok Sabha polls to know who should be the party`s Prime Ministerial candidate.

"Atalji said that if anybody is to be projected as Prime Ministerial candidate it is none other than Advani. Then for the Parliamentary Board it was a mere formality to declare him the candidate," Singh said.

BJP President Nitin Gadkari, and senior leaders M Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar were conspicuous by their absence at the celebrations. Several other senior party leaders-including those from Delhi- also did not turn up to wish Advani.

A book "Advani:Man and His Thoughts" was released at the programme.

Thanking his party colleagues for all the accolades, Advani said he was in tears as he cannot bear too much praise or criticism. "You people must have seen that during the programme I was in tears…. All these leaders have praised me as a family member praises a head of the family," Advani said.

He also referred to the RSS as his ideological family and remembered how he has been a swayamsewak since the age of 14. Advani`s relations with the RSS prior to this yatra were being discussed in party cirlces as the Sangh founthead was said to be unhappy with his decision.

Advani reportedly got the support of the RSS only when he met its chief Mohan Bhagwat in Nagpur and reportedly assured him that the yatra is not aimed at projecting him as BJP`s Prime Ministerial candidate.

No RSS leader was present at the programme. Though this was said to be a party programme, usually a senior functionary of the RSS represents the Sangh on such occasions.

The former Deputy Prime Minister said he was able to bear all the exertion of this yatra at such an advanced age as he had undergone rigorous training as a RSS worker. "Having done this yatra, I can say that I have never got so much support from the masses as I have for this yatra," Advani said.