The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday announced that its prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi will contest from Vadodara apart from Varanasi and said senior leader LK Advani will fight the Lok Sabha elections from Gandhinagar in Gujarat.
The BJP’s parliamentary board discussed the matter amid tussle in the party over the seat of Advani who did not want to be fielded from Gandhinagar again. The leader did not attend the crucial meet, held earlier on Wednesday.
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Advani had earlier expressed his desire to contest from Bhopal, shifting from Gandhinagar, a constituency he has represented five times in the Lok Sabha.
His desire to shift from Gandhinagar could be seen as a reflection of the unease in his relationship with Modi. Advani is not on the best of terms with Modi after he opposed the Gujarat chief minister's anointment as BJP's PM candidate last year.
Modi called Advani on Wednesday morning and urged him to contest from Gandhinagar seat while Madhya Pradesh chief minister had urged him to contest the general elections from Bhopal.
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Party president Rajnath Singh too wanted Advani to contest from Gandhinagar, reports said.
After the election committee meeting, senior leaders Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari drove to Advani’s residence to persuade him to accept the party’s decision. Party chief Rajnath Singh and Modi also joined in the efforts to persuade Advani — who was apparently miffed that his name wasn’t announced in the first list on February 27.
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Asked if Advani had accepted the decision, party leader Thawarchand Gehlot, reading out the list, said: “I have told you about the decisions taken.”
The announcement of Modi’s second seat followed days of speculation that he could be fielded either from Ahmedabad East or Vadodara. His decision to contest from Gujarat was attributed to pressure from the state unit to help maximise the party’s tally from there. Modi’s candidature from Varanasi was announced last week with the BJP expecting it would help its prospects not just in UP but in neighbouring Bihar too.
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After the election committee meeting, Modi drove to the RSS headquarters to meet its chief Mohan Bhagwat. This was their first meeting after a controversy over the RSS chief’s apparent disdain for the ‘NaMo NaMo’ chant. The meeting lasted about an hour but details of what ensued weren’t forthcoming.
Apart from the big two, the BJP list had several other prominent names — former Congress MP Jagdambika Pal, who officially joined the saffron party on Wednesday, from Domariyaganj; Dr Heena Gvait, daughter of NCP strongman and Maharashtra minister Vijay Kumar Gavit, from Nandurbar; Hema Malini from Mathura.
Olympian shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore was fielded from Jaipur Rural, Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje’s son Dushyant Singh from Jhalawar, former DGP Harish Meena from Dausa and social activist Swami Sumedanand from Sikar.
The list of 67 candidates covered Gujarat (21), Rajasthan (21), Uttar Pradesh (15), Bihar (3), Kerala (1), Maharashtra (2), Jharkhand, Andaman & Nicobar Island, Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu (one each).
Advani, 87, has been the sitting MP from Gandhinagar for the past 16 years and speculations about his shift to Bhopal had gained ground ever since the BJP did not announce a candidate for that seat when it released its list for Madhya Pradesh.
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The Gujarat unit of the BJP had sent only Advani's name for Gandhinagar and strongly recommended Modi should contest from his home state (apart from Varanasi) as well because it is the "wish and demand of the people of Gujarat as well as party workers."
The decision to make recommendations about Modi and Advani, besides other seats in Gujarat, to the party's central leadership was taken by the state parliamentary board, which met in Gandhinagar on Tuesday at Modi's residence.
The saffron party had on Saturday announced Modi would contest the Varanasi seat in Uttar Pradesh after sitting parliamentarian Murli Manohar Joshi gave in to the pressure from top leadership. Joshi will fight from the Kanpur seat now.
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His nomination for the seat, however, was a tough challenge for the saffron party, which hopes to put up a spectacular show in UP under his leadership.
Modi's decision to enter the fray from the holy city, as demanded by BJP strategists, underscored anxiety on the part of the party brass to maximise the saffron party's tally from UP and Bihar — two key states accounting for 120 Lok Sabha seats that could help the BJP reach the magic figure of 272 in the House to form the next government.
The Gujarat chief minister's rallies in UP ahead of the polls were a huge success, giving the BJP a shot in the arm and making stronger the "Modi from Varanasi chorus". Exit polls have also predicted a huge gain for the BJP in UP, where Muslims make up 20% of the population and have 17% of the vote share.
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But media reports suggest that with Joshi initially putting his foot down after being asked to make way for Modi, the BJP's unity in politically vibrant UP, which has the highest Lok Sabha seats in the country, has suffered a blow.