Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi may have formally arrived on the national stage on Sunday but the ultimate prize — the prime ministerial nomination — is still some distance away, party insiders believe.
Ignoring a raft of criminal cases against him, BJP chief Rajnath Singh appointed controversial Modi aide Amit Shah, a former Gujarat home minister, as a party general secretary. Smriti Irani, considered close to both Modi and Arun Jaitley, is now among 13 party vice-presidents.
Yet, these do not make the Gujarat CM the unchallenged top gun in the BJP. In fact, a closer look at the names announced by Singh reveals that barring these names and that of Meenakshi Lekhi, appointed spokesperson, Modi does not appear to have succeeded in pushing more of his aides into the “Team of 2014”.
Party patriarch LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj have had a big say in who stays in and who goes out. The intense behind-the-scene parleys that went on for days — and late into nights as well — indicate the tightrope walk party chief Rajnath Singh had to do in balancing demands of senior party colleagues.
Advani pushed for Murlidhar Rao, backed by RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy, to be named general secretary.
Varun Gandhi's appointment as general secretary, and elevation of Balbir Punj and Uma Bharti benefitted from Advani's backing. Gandhi, however, also had the support of Singh and his predecessor Nitin Gadkari.
Modi and Jaitely wanted Irani as a general secretary, a position far more powerful than that of a vice-president. But, Sushma Swaraj's stiff opposition ensured the no woman leader made it to the general-secretary rank.
Another Modi aide, Purushottam Rupala, was pushed down the hierarchy—from vice-president to a permanent invitee to the party's national executive.
File Photo of BJP president Rajnath Singh with Gujarat CM Narendra Modi (PTI)
Swaraj fought hard for supporter SS Ahluwalia, who was named vice-president overcoming Jaitley's opposition and Singh's reluctance. She also supported induction of late Pramod Mahajan's daughter Poonam as one of the secretaries.
Jaitley managed to save Dharmendra Pradhan, blamed for the mess in Karnataka and debacle in Uttarakhand, from being dropped. He also helped Anurag Thakur keep his position as the BJP yuva morcha chief even though the party lost power in Himachal Pradesh, where his father was the CM.
The party chief had his say in the naming of Rajiv Pratap Ruddy as general secretary. His political aide Sudanshu Trivedi was appointed spokesperson and Vani Tripathi stayed on as secretary.
By keeping Yashwant Sinha out, Singh sought to send out a clear message ahead of the poll season— party discipline would have to be adhered to. Sinha on many occasions has turned to media to air his grievances.
As for Shah, BJP leaders worry that — if reactions from the Congress are any indication — he may be too busy firefighting to be of help to Modi. The CBI may again turn on the heat on Shah, out on bail in the infamous Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, say party sources.
Modi still has a distance to go before the parliamentary board to which he was nominated Sunday sees him fit to be named the PM candidate, say party insiders. The board is in not in a "tearing hurry" and may even wait for a clearer indication of the timings of the Lok Sabha polls before making any decision.