Narendra Modi was poised to be named the BJP's candidate for prime minister as early as Friday as the clamour from the party rank and file looked set to overcome dissent from some senior leaders.
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi addresses BJP's 'Suraj Sankalp Yatra' in Jaipur. PTI Photo
But just how polarising a figure Modi is was underlined by the fact that party president Rajnath Singh was struggling desperately on Thursday night to drum up a consensus behind the choice of the Gujarat strongman.
Thanks to Rajnath's hectic parleys, it was decided that the BJP parliamentary board would meet at 5pm on Friday to finalise Modi's name.
But some of the party's key leaders harbour PM ambitions of their own, and getting them to sign off on the deal was proving to be tough. It could well result in another showdown with party patriarch LK Advani, widening the obvious fissures in India's main opposition party.
Advani had quit the party in a huff in June when Modi was appointed head of the campaign committee, but had to climb down after the BJP's ideological patron, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), made it clear it would not change its mind.
Modi's backers contend that the charismatic leader represents the best chance of getting the party back to power after a decade in opposition.
Rajnath, who has consistenty batted for Modi since becoming party chief in January, spent the day trying to soften the dissenters, who included Sushma Swaraj, head of the party in the Lok Sabha.
Aides said he was trying his best to avoid invoking his powers as president to make the announcement first and get the BJP’s national council – and not its parliamentary board – to endorse Modi’s name.
While the national council is the party's largest body, it is generally the parliamentary board -- which includes Advani and Sushma -- that decides on issues as important as the PM candidate.
For much of the day, the dissenting leaders insisted the BJP parliamentary board take the call on Modi, and there was a possibility of the announcement being put off until Monday.
Rajnath held two rounds of talks with Advani, but the octogenarian leader stuck to his guns. Sushma, for her part, was keen to avoid a situation like the one in June which saw the ageing leader humiliated by the BJP.
She is understood to have pressed Rajnath to try for a consensus. Senior leaders Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar also met Advani to persuade him to give up his opposition, sources said. Ananth Kumar also met Sushma twice.
Advani kept saying that Modi's projection would hurt BJP's campaign against the ruling Congress over issues like corruption and inflation, as the focus would be squarely on Modi the personality.
Thursday also saw outbursts among the BJP ranks over the delay in naming Modi. Former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi stirred a hornet's nest by tweeting that Advani had "failed to gauge the public mood. Advaniji himself declared Atalji as PM candidate. Now also he could have done the same for Namo (Narendra Modi)."
Advani’s former close associate Sudheendhra Kulkarni attacked Narendra Modi, describing him as a "polarising" leader" and questioning his ability to run a stable and effective government at the Centre.
Rajnath did not betray any misgivings he might have felt, seeking to downplay Advani's reservations when asked if the leader was holding up the decision on Modi. "I want to clarify that nobody in BJP is unhappy and nobody has put any conditions (on declaring Modi as PM candidate)," he said.