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Cadres in PM chant, Modi cautious
Poster ties CM to Atal

New Delhi, Dec. 27: When Atal Bihari Vajpayee was declared the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 1995, it was a decision taken by then RSS chief Rajendra Singh, L.K. Advani and former Vishwa Hindu Parishad boss Ashok Singhal.

But not many knew that the late Rajendra Singh, or Rajju Bhaiyya, was profoundly influenced by Chandra Shekhar. The Socialist leader and former Prime Minister, a fellow Rajput from Uttar Pradesh, had urged the RSS chief to go for Vajpayee, not Advani, as the BJP’s frontline leader because of Vajpayee’s wider acceptability.

Rajju Bhaiyya took the advice. But it was a choice the BJP couldn’t digest initially because cadres had assumed that Advani, viewed as the Ayodhya “hero” whose rath yatra for the Ayodhya temple was powered by the VHP, would be the natural occupant of 7 Race Course Road.

At 11 Ashoka Road this evening, the cadre clamour seemed to have returned — this time for Narendra Modi. As the Gujarat chief minister addressed workers at the BJP headquarters, it appeared as though the cadres, as well as the second and third-rung leaders, had made up their minds that the Modi moment had arrived.

For Modi, in Delhi on his first visit since winning Gujarat the third time last week, Ashoka Road would have been like a homecoming. For nearly five years in the late 1990s, he lived in a sparsely furnished room, ate in a common mess and worked as a prabhari (minder) of some northern states. Few, if any, imagined he would be anointed chief minister.

As for being a prospective Prime Minister, the thought wouldn’t have crossed anyone’s mind. It seemed the opposite today. The posters left little doubt. One described him as a loh purush (iron man), an epithet used for Advani in the past. Another said: “He has won Gujarat, now he will win India for us.”

Modi’s photograph dwarfed those of the other leaders, except Vajpayee’s. One had only him and Vajpayee with the caption: “Best PM Vajpayee, next PM Modi.”

One Modi loyalist suggested it was the Gujarat leader all the way. “Let our rootless leaders squabble at the top. We have signalled to them and to the RSS that if the party is to come back to power, it would be only under Modi’s leadership,” the Andhra leader said to cheers, drumbeats and crackers going off. To many, it seemed as though the Gandhinagar clamour for him as “PM” had travelled to Delhi.

But Modi, who appeared on the dais with BJP president Nitin Gadkari, played safe. He barely spoke of his national ambitions, and if some could spy a hint, it was decoded in a speech that nobody in the Sangh parivar could fault him on. He was keen to prove he was a “loyal servant” of the organisation and not the master of the universe.

“As a BJP worker, I will fulfil whatever responsibility I am given. But I shall do it to the best of my ability so that the lakhs of workers, who repose their faith in me, can look proudly at their own country and at the world,” was all that the chief minister would tell the crowd chanting “PM, PM”.

Then, he played the Gujarat theme. “India and a lot of other countries are watching Gujarat closely. Many dignitaries, including leaders of political parties, have come to Gujarat…. I invite you to come and see the Gujarat governance model and compare it with Delhi’s. If there are flaws, please point these out.”

The chief minister criticised the Centre for scaling down its growth projection for this plan period to 8 per cent from the initial 9 per cent.

“Nearly 45 per cent of India’s population is below 35. But the UPA has no action plan, no vision for them. If India has achieved anything, it is because of the hard work put in by some states,” Modi said.

In his concluding remarks, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh answered Modi and said: “The lowering of the growth target… has been commented on by some CMs. Several CMs have recognised that this is only a realistic reflection of the external constraints on growth.”

Today, Modi visited every senior leader, including Vajpayee, Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, unlike in the past when he rarely paid such courtesy calls while in Delhi.