|Narendra Modi at the BJP national council in New Delhi on Saturday. (AP)
New Delhi, March 2: Ostensibly, the BJP national council had gathered this morning to ratify Rajnath Singh’s appointment as party president.
Instead, it became one more platform to unofficially acknowledge what now seems almost a formality: the anointment of Narendra Modi as shadow Prime Minister.
Rajnath himself led the charge, acknowledging Modi’s primacy among the assembled leaders right at the beginning of his acceptance speech at the Talkatora Stadium.
A standing ovation from the crowd, with many emphasising they had nothing to do with the BJP and had come only for Modi, underlined the point, as did the posters and CDs and the rave notices from party leaders.
“The best news we recently received was the Gujarat win,” Rajnath gushed. “It was historic for the BJP because for the first time, a chief minister of ours had pulled off a hat-trick. We were beside ourselves with joy when the results came out.”
He added: “But it would not be proper for me to welcome Modi with just words. I want to garland him and I want all of you to give him a standing ovation for a minute, because every worker present here wants to felicitate him.”
Rajnath then embraced Modi, who returned the gesture by greeting everyone seated in the front row of the dais.
One subplot of the leadership saga was reflected in Rajnath’s tribute-cum-political farewell to Advani. The veteran was gently told he would from now on offer the party “marg darshan (guidance)” whenever it finds itself in a crisis.
“At a time our esteemed Atalji is not active, under the guidance of respected Advaniji, (and by dint of) the hard work of our cadres and the strategies crafted by our popular and competent leaders, we will secure a victory,” Rajnath added as Advani looked a trifle bewildered at the thought of passing into the sunset.
Vijay Goel, the Delhi BJP president and the convention’s host, kicked off the Modi eulogies.
“Nobody in the country any longer thinks of Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister,” he claimed. “Every child wants Modi as the Prime Minister. Nothing of this sort has ever happened before.”
“Modi PM, Modi PM,” the crowd chanted.
Rajnath had indicated yesterday that he would walk the extra mile at the convention to indulge the Gujarat chief minister. Sources said he had “promised” Modi he would ensure the gathering collectively applauded him.
Outside the stadium, clutches of youths who called themselves “Modi’s diwanes (fans)” held up posters proclaiming that if their hero had written history in Gujarat, he would rewrite India’s future.
Rocky Mittal from Kaithal in Haryana distributed a CD titled PM Banega Modi (Modi will be PM), whose cover showed the Gujarat chief minister’s face against the backdrop of the Red Fort and a national flag.
The eight songs in the CD were all written by Mittal, who comes from a family of Om Prakash Chautala voters.
“Make no mistake, I am with Modi and not the BJP. The day the party declares him as its PM candidate, I shall give up my work and be at his beck and call,” Mittal said.
Asked when the BJP might formally anoint Modi as its leader for the 2014 elections, a source said: “The strategy will unfold in phases. Today’s signals are loud and clear.”
At yesterday’s national executive, three senior leaders, C.P. Thakur and Ashwani Choubey of Bihar and former Uttarakhand chief minister Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, had told Rajnath he must send out an “unambiguous” message on the party’s intentions to elevate Modi — else, the delegates would “not keep quiet”.
Asked whether a third win for poll-bound Madhya Pradesh’s chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, might muddle the scene by throwing up a “competitor” for Modi, a source decided to “explain the matter in my own way”.
“Modi covers the entire range of rankings from one to 10,” he said. “Chauhan and Raman Singh (the Chhattisgarh chief minister) rank 11 and 12.”