The "power struggle" between BJP leaders Narendra Modi and Sushma Swaraj generated considerable heat within BJP circles on Thursday with Swaraj stepping out to counter reports of a rift.
Replying to a question a few days ago about why Modi was not campaigning in Bihar, Swaraj had reportedly said that while Modi's magic worked in Gujarat, Bihar had its own magicians in Nitish Kumar and Sushil Modi.
This was widely seen as her attempt to run down Modi, with an eye on a future power struggle around the party's prime ministerial choice for 2014. It was also seen as her attempt to reach out to key BJP ally Nitish Kumar, as the BJP's choice would require ally acceptance.
A central BJP leader confirmed that Modi called up party president Nitin Gadkari to complain against Swaraj's "uncalled for" remarks. Sources said Gadkari was in agreement with Modi that Swaraj's remarks were avoidable.
Later in the evening, Gadkari discussed the matter with L.K. Advani at the senior leader's residence with Gujarat Prabhari Balbir Punj. The mood, sources said, was that Swaraj should not have sparked this unnecessary controversy.
Punj later said, "Narendra Modi is a popular national leader. The BJP is proud of him and will make use of his services wherever required."
By Thursday afternoon, there was a buzz that Gadkari had pulled up Swaraj, and that she stood her ground saying her remarks were politically sound in view of the alliance situation in Bihar.
Swaraj denied the reports. "Gadkari talked to me but not on this issue. It was a conversation on a meeting we will have to make plans for US President Obama's India visit. The reports that he talked on this or pulled me up are wrong and distorted," she said.
"I recently talked to Modi to congratulate him on the Gujarat panchayat polls victory. Misleading reports of a rift are being planted to dent opposition criticism of Commonwealth Games corruption."