Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s appointment as head of BJP’s national election campaign committee elicited a ‘muted’ response from the JD(U), the party’s senior partner in Bihar’s ruling coalition.
“He has been made chairman of the BJP’s poll campaign committee, not the NDA’s,” said senior JD (U) leader Devesh Chandra Thakur, regarded as close to the apex leadership of his party.
Thakur said Modi’s new responsibility was an internal matter of the BJP. “BJP president Rajnath Singh has assured us that NDA allies would be consulted before any decision on the NDA’s PM nominee. That’s good enough for us”, he told reporters.Top BJP sources said Modi’s new charge meant he was now expected to make many political and poll related trips to Bihar, despite Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s known reservations on the issue.
Since 2005, when the JD(U)-BJP combine first came to power in Bihar, the BJP leadership had been keeping Modi away from election campaign trips to Bihar, reportedly on Kumar’s insistence.
This denial to Modi, BJP leaders said, had been fuelled by the fear of the JD(U) leadership that the Gujarat leader’s involvement in any Bihar poll would alienate its significant Muslim support base.
During BJP’s national executive meet in Patna in June 2010, the appearance of posters, which showed Modi holding hands with Kumar, had upset the Bihar CM.
The posters had angered him so much that he had cancelled his lunch invitation to the entire BJP leadership, including Advani and six BJP chief ministers, including Modi.
But, on Sunday, the JD(U) played down this matter, as well. “The BJP is free to call anybody it wishes for the party’s proposed hunkar rally in Patna in November”, said Thakur, when asked about this issue.
Last week, Bihar JD(U) spokesman Neeraj Kumar had stated the NDA in Bihar did not need to “outsource the Gujarat Modi” as Bihar’s own (deputy CM Sushil) Modi of BJP was all it needed for its election effort.
But, after Sunday’s news on Narendra Modi, Kumar, too, said it was for the BJP to decide who all it wanted to invite for its proposed rally in Patna in November.
Both Thakur and Kumar, however, made it clear that the JD(U) was firm on its stand it would only accept a person with a ‘secular’ image to be the NDA’s PM candidate.
This was widely read as JD(U) red flag to Modi’s possible candidature for the PM’s post, given that the 2002 Gujarat riots took place when he was chief minister.
“We are not in the business of offering a certificate of secularism to any party or individual”, said JD(U) spokesman Kumar.
This was in response to BJP spokesman Shahnawaz Hussain’s comment, earlier Sunday, that his party did not need anybody to certify its credentials, secular or otherwise.
State-level BJP leaders broke into celebrations outside the Patna headquarters of the Bihar BJP, as soon as the news of Modi’s ‘elevation’ was relayed by the media.
Carrying a poster of Modi, with his finger raised as if an umpire was giving an ‘out’ verdict, the motley crowd burst crackers and distributed sweets to hail the appointment.