Can the BJP do without its poster boy, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, as the ties between him and the RSS get frosty? The answer to this question may lie in the outcome of the current round of assembly polls, say BJP leaders.
So far, Modi has stayed out of electioneering in UP. Earlier, he did not go to Punjab and Uttarakhand where the polls took place on January 30.
Modi is said to be "busy" with his "sadbhavana yatra" across Gujarat. But, BJP insiders say, the real reason is the "ego war" between Modi and the BJP establishment, which has been told by the RSS brass not to submit to party leaders who are unwilling to work in a team.
Modi is upset with BJP chief Nitin Gadkari for inducting Sanjay Joshi, a former BJP general secretary, for election work in UP. The RSS had backed Gadkari’s decision to involve Joshi who is known for his election management skills, particularly in cherry-picking candidates.
By staying out of the campaign, Modi wants to "teach" a lesson to Gadkari and the RSS that, without him, their campaign would flounder, BJP sources said.
But, unfazed by the "cold war" between Modi and the BJP establishment, Gadkari decided to take charge of the campaign himself.
Gadkari, together with former Madhya Pradesh CM Uma Bharti, have conducted a whirlwind tour of the state. Other star campaigners included former BJP chief Rajnath Singh, another former BJP chief Murli Manohar Joshi, and Opposition leaders in the Parliament Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.
Asked about Modi’s absence, Gadkari told HT: "We have requested senior leaders to give time for the campaign. As and when they convey their availability, the party will organiser their rallies."
Already, some BJP poll managers have sought to make light of the situation, saying it may well suit the party if Modi was absent, depriving the anti-BJP parties of a "wand" to mobilise Muslim voters in their favour.
"If the BJP manages to notch up a decent number of seats in UP without Modi's campaign, Gadkari and other BJP leaders would have shown that he's not indispensable," said a BJP aide.
But, if the BJP loses seats, Modi may end up having the last laugh. Sangh sources said RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, however, has conveyed to BJP leaders that Modi must learn to work in a team, which will be the most important criterion for him to be projected as the PM candidate in the 2014 polls.