Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on Thursday surprised his critics and loyalists alike, declaring he intended to serve the people of his state till 2017.
His statement, part of a broader reply to a child's question, came amid the clamour within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ranks to declare him the party's prime ministerial pick ahead of the 2014 polls.
Modi's critics were quick to read his remark as a sign that he was adopting a "tactical strategy" to show apparent disinterest in being declared as the BJP's choice for the top post, especially when the declaration is expected to be made shortly.
The critics of the Gujarat strongman, who is consistently dogged by accusations of inaction and even complicity in the 2002 religious riots in the state, said he also hoped to nullify the impact of a "damaging" resignation letter by jailed IPS officer DG Vanzara.
The encounter killings-accused Indian Police Service officer has urged Modi that he should "not forget to repay the debt which he owes to jailed police officers" in the "hurry of marching towards Delhi".
Modi's supporters in the BJP, however, saw in his statement elements of his typical style. His line that one should aspire to do "something" and not "become someone" was also an old one.
What would please Modi's political rivals is insiders in the BJP admitted Vanzara's letter, dated September 1 (it came to light two days later), continued to rankle him.
Vanzara has accused Modi and his key aide Amit Shah of ditching the policemen and reaping rich political benefits from the encounter cases.
Modi loyalists, however, dismissed the letter as a conspiracy building up against him because the BJP was about to name him as its PM pick.
Several BJP insiders saw Modi's latest stand as significant in the context of the September 1 meeting that senior party leaders LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj had with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) deputy chief Bhaiyya Joshi.
The RSS is seen as the ideological and spiritual guide of the BJP.
According to the insiders, Advani and Swaraj conveyed to Joshi their continued opposition to declaring Modi's name for the top post ahead of the assembly polls in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh in November.
BJP chief Rajnath Singh and Modi's backers apparently want the declaration done earlier.
Advani and Swaraj held Modi's elevation would obfuscate local issues, benefiting the Congress.
MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan also flew to Delhi that day to impress upon these leaders that declaring Modi's name for the 2014 run ahead of the state polls could adversely impact the BJP's tally, said an insider.
Chouhan is said to have argued that the Congress could succeed in mobilising the minority votes in greater number in at least 40 seats, rocking his plan to win 120 to 130 of the total 229 seats for a third consecutive term.
On Thursday, Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar--an ardent fan of Modi--also added to the Gujarat strongman's discomfort.
In an interview to New York Times' India blog, India Ink, he said the Gujarat riots could have been handled better. The comment was not new because Parrikar had said so in many interviews in June.
Nevertheless, BJP leaders including Venkaiah Naidu asked Parrikar to clarify, which he did. The Goa CM said his remarks were not against Modi's anointment and that he had been "selectively quoted".
As things stood on Thursday, senior BJP and RSS leaders were slated to meet on September 8 and 9 on various issues including Modi's elevation for a decision before September 20.
What Modi said in Gandhinagar
"I never see such dreams (of becoming PM), nor am I going to see such dreams. People of Gujarat have given me the mandate to serve them till 2017 and I have to do this with full strength. I have to do only that, will focus all my energy in doing that," Modi said, in reply to a query from a student at a Teachers' Day function in Gandhinagar.
"Those who dream of becoming something end up destroying themselves. One should not dream of becoming something, but one should dream of doing something."
He was responding to a child who asked him whether he would meet students if he became PM after the 2014 elections.