The growing rift between the BJP leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi took a new turn on Thursday, with the former emphatically denying that she had been pulled up for her public comment about the latter.
In response to a question about why Modi was not campaigning in Bihar, Swaraj had on Monday said that while the Modi magic worked in Gujarat, Bihar had its own magicians in chief minister Nitish Kumar and deputy chief minister Sushil Modi. This was widely perceived as a putdown to Modi.
A top BJP leader, who did not wish to be named, confirmed to Hindustan Times that Modi had called BJP president Nitin Gadkari to complain. Sources said Gadkari agreed with Modi that Swaraj’s comment was uncalled for.
Gadkari even discussed the matter with senior leader LK Advani at the latter’s residence, sources added, along with the BJP’s Gujarat prabhari (in charge) Balraj Punj.
The consensus at the meeting was that Swaraj should not have sparked off a needless controversy.
"Narendra Modi is a popular national leader. The BJP is proud of him and will make use of his services wherever required,” Punj told HT.
By Thursday afternoon, there was feverish speculation in BJP circles that Gadkari had pulled up Swaraj and that she had stood her ground, maintaining that with an election campaign on in Bihar, her remarks were politically savvy.
"Gadkari did speak to me but not on this issue,” Swaraj told HT. “We discussed US President Obama’s forthcoming India visit and what the BJP should do. The reports that he pulled me up are wrong and distorted.”
The episode is one more pointer to the intense power struggle among leaders of the country’s chief Opposition party.