The clamour for Narendra Modi to play a larger role on a bigger stage has grown since the Gujarat chief minister led the BJP to victory for a record third time on Thursday.
Many of his supporters inside and outside the party now want to see Modi as the next prime ministerial candidate of the party. Modi's hat-trick in Gujarat has silenced his critics and strengthened his prospects of being the party’s prime ministerial candidate in 2014.
As Narendra Modi's electoral hat-trick set off debate about his national role, Karnataka chief minister Jagadish Shettar on Thursday virtually batted for him as BJP's prime ministerial candidate saying the outcome showed a new leader who can guide the nation is emerging.
"The (Gujarat) poll results have shown that a new leader who can guide the future of the country is emerging," he said congratulating Modi for retaining power in the assembly polls for the third time in a row.
In a statement, Shettar said it is a victory of good governance and development. He also said the people of Gujarat have accorded their approval for "exceptional development politics" pursued by Modi during last eleven years which has come to be known as Gujarat Model.
The BJP cadre across the country, especially in the states like Karnataka which are going to polls shortly, are enthused by the party's victory in Gujarat, Shettar said.
Describing Modi's decisive win in Gujarat Assembly polls as "historic", Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray today said Congress would meet the same fate in Maharashtra.
"As in Gujarat, Congress will bite the dust in Maharashtra elections as well," Uddhav said in his congratulatory message to Modi. This was "a historic victory", Uddhav said. "This win has shown that it is impossible to beat Modi in Gujarat."
Under Modi's leadership, Gujarat had surged ahead in industry, energy, water and law and order, Uddhav said. In the neighbouring state, people had defeated Congress, and people of Maharashtra should also defeat the Congress, the Sena executive president added.
When Modi was addressing the rally of his supporters on Thursday, a section of the crowd could be heard asking Modi to go to Delhi to play a bigger role. Modi replied with a smile that he would visit Delhi for a day on Dec 27 if his supporters wanted.
National interest in the election has centred around whether the BJP will position the controversial state leader as its candidate for PM, and Modi appeared to make a pitch for a national role in his victory speech.
“This is not a victory for Narendra Modi. It is a victory for the six crore people of Gujarat,” he told a crowd of more than 10,000 gathered in the congested lanes of Khanpur, a Muslim-dominated area in Ahmedabad that also houses the BJP’s state headquarters.
“It is a victory for all those people of the country who are yearning for development. Through this verdict… I would like to tell (them) that we have to build a campaign for good governance,” said the bespectacled leader, dressed in his trademark short-sleeved saffron kurta.
Significantly, Modi opted to address the gathering in Hindi rather than Gujarati, which he normally favours. As national TV cameras lapped up the action, the normally combative CM steered clear of naming any rival or taking a personal dig in his 45-minute speech.
The euphoric crowd chanted “Delhi, Delhi”, willing him to embark on the road to becoming India’s second Gujarati PM after Morarji Desai, but Modi made light of the suggestion, saying he would “visit Delhi on the 27th of this month, if that was the wish of his supporters”. Modi will be sworn in as CM on December 26.
Any prime ministerial ambitions Modi may harbour face hurdles from his political opponents as well as from detractors within his own party, who see him as a divisive figure that could drive allies away.
The ruling UPA sought to play down the significance of the win, with finance minister P Chidambaram saying the results would have no implications for the 2014 general elections which were “still 16 months away”.
“Today we are celebrating our victory in Gujarat. Let’s focus our discussion on Gujarat,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar told NDTV when asked if the party would pick Modi as its PM candidate.
Also, a closer scrutiny of the results showed a worrying rural-urban divide in Gujarat’s politics.
The BJP swept the cities but fared poorly in rural areas, a trend that undermined Modi's claims on development. It also lost 1 percentage point from its vote share in the last election.
From a strategic standpoint, the Congress improved its performance over last time, winning a couple more seats and holding on to its vote share, analysts said.
In the eyes of many outside the state, Modi's reputation has yet to recover from communal riots in 2002 that his detractors say he did little to stop.
He has never apologised to the Muslim community for the violence.
On Thursday, he told the crowd: "Give me your blessings so that I don't make any mistake… so that nobody is hurt by a mistake committed by me," though it was not clear for what he was seeking forgiveness.