New Delhi, Sept. 9: Bal Thackeray today flagged Sushma Swaraj as the “ideal” prime ministerial candidate for the NDA, further churning the already boiling leadership cauldron.
Asked who would be the right person for the job, Thackeray told Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna: “At present, there is only one person who is intelligent, brilliant. That’s Sushma Swaraj. I have said this many times: she would be a great choice for the PM’s post. She is a deserving, intelligent woman. She would deliver a great performance.”
The Lok Sabha Opposition leader had met Thackeray in Mumbai recently to solicit support for the BJP’s agitation on the coal-block controversy. But BJP sources stressed that their meeting should not be linked to his statements.
Sena sources said the interviewer’s question was “perhaps pre-determined to take forward an agenda”. They said Thackeray was worried at the BJP’s “indecision” and “conflicts” over who would helm the NDA in 2014.
In the interview, Thackeray said: “The NDA of the past had a leader like (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee. Now there is no such leadership. I am talking about the NDA, not the BJP.”
A surprised BJP refrained from responding. “I was asked a dozen times today at a news conference to react. Each time, I said ‘let us stay focused on the coal scam and not think of any other issue’,” spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said.
BJP sources, however, noted that this was the first time an NDA leader had openly mentioned a name instead of dropping hints and making veiled insinuations.
For instance, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had said the candidate would have to be “secular” to be acceptable to the NDA constituents. Nitish’s pre-condition would exclude Narendra Modi from the race.
Thackeray was non-committal on Modi. The BJP’s other major ally, the Akali Dal, has not spoken out publicly.
Akali sources have, however, admitted that though they don’t have a problem with Modi, the Congress has “succeeded in painting him as communal” and this would have to be factored in before taking a call. Sena sources expressed similar fears.
BJP sources said the leadership issue was embargoed till December when the Gujarat poll verdict would be out. If Sushma’s name is placed on the table, it will test the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s ability to break out of the gender gridlock that has prevented it from considering women for high posts.
The Sangh has a women’s wing whose members have been insulated from its policy and decision-making structures. However, Sushma’s elevation as Opposition leader, endorsed by the Sangh, was seen by some in the BJP as a sign of change, dictated by compulsions.