NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Lal Krishna Advani offered to quit as president of opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Tuesday after angering Hindu nationalist allies with comments praising Pakistan”s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
But a BJP official said his resignation had not been accepted and senior party leaders would try to persuade the former deputy prime minister to continue as party president.
In theory, Advani could resign as party president but remain leader of the opposition in parliament.
Advani submitted his resignation a day after returning from a week-long visit to Pakistan, where he described Jinnah as a "secular" and "outstanding" leader who had made history.
Right-wing Hindu groups led by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the BJP”s ideological parent, regard Jinnah as a Muslim fundamentalist and blame him for the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.
The BJP has been struggling for direction since losing national elections last May, seemingly unsure whether to pitch itself as a moderate force in Indian politics or pander to its Hindu-nationalist supporters.
Advani was seen as a champion of the hardliners, but has steered a more moderate line since taking over the party leadership for a fourth time last October.
Analysts say the party needs to appeal to moderates to remain electable and keep its opposition coalition intact.
"I am sure acceding to my request (to resign) would be in the best interest of the great cause I have served all my life, as also of the party which has given me so much," Advani said in his resignation letter, a copy of which was distributed to reporters.
While in government he was also regarded as a hawk who mistrusted Pakistan. Here again, he sounded a more moderate line while visiting Islamabad and Karachi, and appeared to be making his case as someone who could be trusted, as a potential future prime minister, to carry the peace process forward.
"I have not said or done anything in Pakistan which I need to retract or review," the 77-year-old Advani added in the letter.
In Karachi, where he was born before Pakistan”s creation, Advani praised Jinnah after a tour of his mausoleum.
"Many persons find a place in history but there are very few who actually make history, and Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader) Mohammad Ali Jinnah was one such rare personality," he said.
Analysts said the BJP would be reluctant to lose Advani. Even if he quit, they said the party would still face the same pressure to find a balance between moderates and hardliners.
"We have to wait for the response of the party but it would be difficult for them to dispense with him given his experience and his ability to straddle over various divisions and strands of opinion," said Mahesh Rangarajan. "There is no real alternative."
Relations with Pakistan also improved dramatically in the final 18 months of BJP-led rule, and the party is seen as unlikely to abandon its support for the peace process.
"The peace process constitutes a rare point of agreement between the previous government and the present government as both of them want to claim credit for furthering it," he said.
Advani led the BJP”s campaign in the early 1990s to build a Hindu temple on the site of a 16th century mosque, leading to its demolition by a Hindu mob and sparking some of India”s worst religious riots.