BJP chief Rajnath Singh on Monday played down senior party leader LK Advani’s remarks last weekend which put Gujarat CM Narendra Modi’s accomplishments a notch lower than Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s.
Advani, who is seen as being opposed to Modi as BJP’s PM candidate, had raised temperatures in an already tense party with his remarks.
As Advani’s assertion left other BJP leaders and cadres confused and angry, Singh said at a press conference in Hyderabad, “Without a doubt Narendra Modi is the most popular leader in the country. I think Advani’s statement has been wrongly interpreted.”
Even Chouhan on Monday described Modi as his “senior and elder brother” and sought to rule himself out of the PM race.
“Narendra Modi is my senior, an elder brother. Raman Singh [BJP’s Chhattisgarh CM] is also senior to me. Leave alone being number one or number two, I am not even at number three,” he said, adding that Advani had praised Modi too.
Apparently, the tension brewing afresh in the BJP ahead of the party’s Goa conclave from June 8 over the leadership issue saw Rajnath Singh speaking to Advani, Modi and Chouhan before his statement in Hyderabad. According to many in the party, Modi had told Singh that he did not like being publicly derided by anyone on leadership and wanted an end to the controversy.
Advani was seen to be echoing what Bihar CM Nitish Kumar had been saying about Gujarat’s progress. BJP insiders said Advani wants the BJP to leave it to him to decide on the leadership — just as he had done in 1995 announcing AB Vajpayee's name unilaterally for the top slot.
Advani has been telling BJP leaders that the party since its Jana Sangh days had left the last word to its senior-most leader. Till Vajpayee was active, he had the last word. But most BJP leaders say they would not have a problem with Advani’s decisions “if he had not reduced himself to projecting a faction” and if the RSS was not so opposed to him.
Also, Advani would prefer that the issue is kept open till the Lok Sabha polls so that the NDA got enough numbers and allies to form the government. Alternatively, he would like either his name to be considered again or that of Sushma Swaraj, his protégé and leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha, BJP insiders said.
But since the mood of the BJP cadre and the RSS were in no way in tune with Advani’s approach, many BJP leaders are considering ways to project Modi ahead of the polls — given his popularity that several surveys and opinion polls have pointed to — without upsetting the existing NDA set-up.
Some BJP leaders said they were “exasperated” by Advani's digs in his blogs and wanted the Goa conclave to be devoid of such controversies.
But others said there was no way they could do anything because of his stature.
Advani usually delivers the valedictory address on such occasions.
Will Advani open Modi-for-PM run?
BJP patriarch LK Advani could well find himself in a fix. He may have praised Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan over Gujarat CM Narendra Modi to dent Modi’s prime ministerial chances, but a group working to project Modi as PM has invited Advani to endorse the Gujarat strongman’s claim to the top post!
A group of youth has invited Advani to flag off a ‘NaMo-for-PM-marathon’ from India Gate here on June 30 as the event's chief guest. The group — led by former BJP youth wing activist Tejinder Pal Singh Bagga — has already launched a campaign by printing of Modi T-shirts and music albums.