The unthinkable has happened. Lal Kishenchand Advani has been snubbed in front of the media by the woman who has all along been considered his protégé.
Advani, flanked on one side by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and on the other by a cool and composed Jaswant Singh, looked helpless, even vulnerable, when Uma Bharti on Wednesday challenged him to sack her and stormed out of a party meeting.
"She is a mad woman," said a party colleague.
Is she? Or is there a method in this madness?
Why was Advani angry?
It's unusual for Advani to tick people off at a meeting where journalists are present. But that's what he did on Wednesday. And he took names.
"One can have an opinion about a colleague, but it should not be aired through public statements," Advani said and added, "the differences should be sorted out among us and if the problem still persists, it should be brought before the president."
Then he named Uma Bharti, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Shahnawaz Hussein for violating party discipline.
On November 8, Bharti had met a few journalists in New Delhi and briefed them on the current infighting in the party at the national level and in its Madhya Pradesh unit.
She is believed to have mentioned three party colleagues by their names at this informal meeting -- Pramod Mahajan, her successor in MP, Babulal Gaur, and veteran leader and BJP chief of MP, Kailash Joshi.
The conversation was reported in a Hindi daily the next day. It upset many BJP leaders. Advani, too, could not ignore it; he had just taken over the party reigns and was keen to prove he was in control.
Why was Uma Bharti angry?
What Bharti told "friendly presspersons" is just one part of the story. Why they were fed the news bytes is the other part.
She has been feeling sidelined in the party after she quit the Madhya Pradesh chief ministership in a big show of sacrifice at the height of the Idgah controversy.
She was upset because her rivals in the party were planting stories against her in the media.
In Wednesday's meeting, when Advani urged party leaders to stop these "off-the-record" chats with journalists, Uma Bharti lost temper.
Reacting to Advani's remarks, she said there were a few leaders sitting in the room who planted stories in the media.
"There are four-five people in this hall who do the off-the-record briefings, which appear in headlines. So we are forced to save our honour by speaking on record," she said as she walked out.
She was referring to Arun Jaitley, Pramod Mahajan and Sushma Swaraj.
But one must not mistake Wednesday's dramatic developments at BJP headquarters as merely an accident.
Both sides have acted in a well-calculated manner.
Inside the Uma Bharti camp
Uma Bharti had several reasons to be that bubbling volcano that she was today.
For one, she has wanted the chief ministership restored to her for a long time now. Although she has denied this many times, the fact remains she had been campaigning vigorously to get the chair, which she sacrificed so famously.
This week Advani told her that she was unlikely to get the post back. She then told Advani that she be made the president of the state unit. That request was denied too.
But that still would not make her so angry as to rise in revolt against Advani.
What made her lose her cool was the gradual rise in party affairs of Sushma Swaraj. She believes that Swaraj now has a bigger presence in Advani's darbar.
In the rat race to emerge the first among equals in BJP's second-rung leadership, Bharti felt she was losing out.
Mahajan and Swaraj had formed a nexus to neutralise Bharti, according to party sources. Jaitley was banking on his own "credibility" to stay in the game.
Bharti 's outburst was more a cry of frustration than defiance.