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Modi magic begins to fray

New Delhi, Aug. 27: A couple of days after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee ticked off Narendra Modi, doubts are being raised on whether he will be projected as the BJP’s candidate for Gujarat chief minister.

Last week, Vajpayee and HRD minister M.M. Joshi had censured Modi for slinging mud on chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh. Sangh spokesman M.G. Vaidya had also made a veiled attack on the infighting in the Gujarat BJP. But L.K. Advani and the VHP are still backing Modi.

A month ago, there was no doubt that Modi would be the candidate. He was extolled as “Chhote Sardar” (Sardar Patel junior) and “Hindu hriday ka samrat” (monarch of the Hindu heart). The second honorific had been used for Kalyan Singh after the Babri Masjid demolition, and the association suggested Modi had played an equally crucial role in consolidating the Hindus after the Godhra flare-up.

But his recent spat with Lyngdoh and its fallout have prompted some in the BJP to privately concede he is a “major embarrassment”. This is not because Lyngdoh was right or Modi wrong, but because, as one of them said: “Modi’s personal behaviour has irritated several persons, including senior leaders in the past. Therefore, no one is prepared to publicly defend him in the face-off with the CEC.”

This was the not the only problem with Modi, BJP sources added. “He is a necessary evil but not an indispensable one,” said a Gujarat MP, adding that if grassroots base and personal clout were the yardsticks, predecessor Keshubhai Patel would surpass him.

“Keshubhai’s popularity goes beyond the Patel community. He is the most respected figure in Gujarat,” he said.

It was in recognition of these assets that the high command appointed Patel chairman of its campaign committee and election management and planning.

“This indicates he will play as important a role as Modi, if not more, in ticket distribution. And this is the most crucial aspect because if we are in a position to form a government again, the prospective chief minister will have to get the support of a majority of the MLAs,” sources said.

The clincher for giving Patel primacy was feedback that there was a 7-8 per cent swing in the Patel vote away from the BJP towards the Congress after Modi was thought to have given the former chief minister and “loyalists” like Haren Pandya a raw deal. Vaidya even stressed this in Panchajanya. Sangh sources said with Vaidya’s condemnation, even the parivar may not throw its weight behind Modi.

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