Without actually endorsing Narendra Modi to be BJP's PM candidate for 2014, new party chief Rajnath Singh on Thursday batted for the Gujarat chief minister's "secular credentials", saying he was not a "divisive" leader and had who worked for all sections.
In an exclusive interview to HT on Thursday, for the first time in seven years Singh conceded that he should not have dropped Modi from the BJP's parliamentary board during his earlier tenure as party chief.
"I need not have done that… Modi could have stayed on. The arguments then advanced (to exclude Modi on the ground that no other BJP chief minister was on board) were not a big issue."
The dropping of Modi from BJP's highest decision-making body had been a sore point in Singh's ties with the Gujarat strongman and his latest comments indicate new warmth in their ties, BJP insiders said.
Excerpts from the interview:
What are your thoughts on your first term and the second one that has just begun?
There will be a big difference. The previous term was my initial experience of national politics. There's a way of national working that takes 2-3 years to understand. I'll try to take all my colleagues with me in future and try to take the party forward. We may have lost the polls in 2009 but 2014 is going to be very different.
What should BJP do now?
We must immediately restart work at booth level so that every BJP worker is geared for the challenge.
Will Narendra Modi be your candidate for the PM's post?
We have not yet decided on who should be our PM candidate. That will be decided by our parliamentary board. But, as far as, Modi is concerned, no one can dispute the fact that he is very popular leader.
We are very happy that we have a person in our party of his stature and experience. We are fully aware of the sentiments of party workers towards Modi and will use his service. An appropriate decision would be taken at the right time after taking into account all factors.
Your allies like the Janata Dal(U) and others think Modi is a divisive figure.
We reject arguments of those who say he is not secular. In fact, Modi's track record is better than previous Congress governments that have ruled the state.
No chief minister wants to have riots. No major communal incident has taken place in Gujarat after 2002.
You had dropped Modi from BJP's parliamentary board because no other chief minister was on board. Will you bring him back?
I need not have done that as I realise today that Modi could have stayed on. The arguments then advanced (to exclude Modi on the ground no other BJP chief minister was on board) were not a big issue.
The new BJP board will be constituted soon. We will decide then.
What'll be the future role for Nitin Gadkari? How do you assess his term? You said you'd have stopped him from opting out of a second term.
He will remain in an important role. Yes, I would have stopped him. He performed very well as president.
In 2009, some felt that the BJP should have projected itself as a modern, moderate party to do well. Will Hindutva return under you?
We are committed to our political thought. In our ideology, there is no scope for hatred. It gives the message of global harmony. There is no contradiction between ideology and our commitment to development.
As the BJP president, would you want Shiv Sena and MNS to come together? Will it strengthen NDA?
If this happens, it'll very good. It should be welcomed.