Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is set to be formally declared the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate next month. This would end suspense over the issue ever since he was made the party’s face as head of the campaign committee.
His name will get the final push after Parliament’s monsoon session ends on September 6, top BJP sources told HT. An announcement about his candidature could come as early as mid-September, before dates for Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajashtan and Mizoram assembly elections are out.
A section of BJP leaders, particularly LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj, are still firmly opposed to the announcement about Modi and insist that the party wait for the outcome of the November assembly polls. They reckon that the clamour for Modi within the BJP would subside if Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh — chief ministers of MP and Chhattisgarh — manage, like Modi, impressive third-term wins.
That could prompt BJP to not choose anyone as the PM candidate, leaving the field open once the Lok Sabha results are out.
But other senior BJP leaders and the RSS, the party’s ideological parent, are convinced that the BJP cannot dither any longer. Modi’s popularity is about to peak across the country. They believe his appeal rivals what former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee enjoyed in the late ’90s.
Modi backers want the announcement made before the assembly elections to give the BJP an early edge in its campaign for the Lok Sabha polls due in April-May.
He is slated to launch a “carpet bombing” campaign across cities from October, starting with Uttar Pradesh. In September, Modi will address rallies in Jaipur (September 10), Rewari (September 15) and Tiruchi in Tamil Nadu (September 26).
Party chief Rajnath Singh has “made up his mind” to anoint Modi and try his best to convince Advani and Swaraj to agree to the decision, the sources said.
Following this, the BJP’s parliamentary board would be called to endorse his name. In case Advani and Swaraj stuck to their opposition, the sources said, Singh and other BJP leaders would face the fallout and put the matter before the parliamentary board for a final call. The board, BJP’s highest decision-making body, is expected to favour Modi.
Several surveys and assessments by the party strategists have given the Gujarat CM a higher rating than any other leader. Modi supporters say any delay to anoint him as the PM candidate would only result in “restlessness” among the BJP cadre and erode the party’s claim of being an attractive alternative to the Congress-led UPA.
Sources close to Singh believe that Modi’s formal projection would galvanise the BJP rank and file and make it aspire for 180 to 200 Lok Sabha seats. Modi’s critics within the party say his leadership won’t help the BJP gain more than 140 to 150 seats.
The Lok Sabha has 543 elected seats and the magic figure to stake claim to form government is 272. The BJP chief gave the first hint of what’s on his mind on August 2 when he said his party was clear about its prime ministerial face and the Congress must show who will be its PM candidate. On August 24, senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley pitched for his party naming Modi. “Our mind is clear and the early we move ahead on this, the earlier we will work towards taking the nation out of the crisis,” he said.
Jaitley and many other BJP leaders want the 2014 campaign to be like the US presidential election — a personality-based clash — in which Modi dominates his rival.