BJP president Rajnath Singh at the Assocham event. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi, July 19: Narendra Modi’s place as the BJP’s first among equals was reaffirmed in the architecture unveiled by the party today for next year’s Lok Sabha battle.
The team that will work with Modi in the central election campaign committee, one that he heads, consists of seniors like Murli Manohar Joshi, peers such as Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and M. Venkaiah Naidu, and juniors Nitin Gadkari, Ananth Kumar, Thawarchand Gehlot and Ramlal.
The panel also includes three equals: Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Raman Singh and Manohar Parrikar, chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Goa.
General secretary Kumar, asked at a news conference whether Joshi, Sushma and Jaitley would report to Modi, said: “Modi has been given a responsibility by the party for the 2014 polls. A committee has been constituted under him. Under Modi’s leadership, the whole campaign committee will be moving forward.”
Kumar said Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani as well as party chief Rajnath Singh would be the committee’s marg darshaks (guides); Vajpayee and Advani by virtue of seniority and contribution, Rajnath because of protocol.
Joshi, a past president like Vajpayee and Advani albeit a few years younger than both, was not slotted in the same category.
In the 20 sub-committees constituted by Modi and Rajnath and, therefore, accountable to the duo, Joshi was asked to head the manifesto panel that also includes Modi’s critics Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha.
Other members are former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi and journalist Kanchan Gupta.
Advani wanted a separate committee on alliances, sources said, but that did not happen.
The BJP’s parliamentary board, its highest decision-making body, had met yesterday but it is learnt the announcement of Modi’s 2014 blueprint got delayed because Joshi and Sushma were “unwilling” to work “under” him.
Madhya Pradesh’s Chauhan — who had positioned himself as Modi’s direct competitor for a while — signalled he too was not thrilled at the prospect.
Modi and Rajnath, a source explained, were keen to set up an apparatus to allay the perception that Modi was “incapable” to carrying a team along and more so, one that would have potential challengers to his leadership.
“If it includes leaders like Joshiji, Sushmaji, Gadkariji and Jaitleyji and meets often enough for consultations, which it is bound to, nobody can accuse Modi of functioning unilaterally,” the source said.
However, the RSS — essaying a peacemaker’s role in a party riven with fault-lines — made it clear that nobody could have a rethink on Modi’s leadership unless they wished to sit in the Opposition for another term.
The RSS told Modi and other leaders that they should endeavour to include as many office-bearers as possible to minimise the threat of “discontent and possible rebellion”.
Sources said with the structures in place, the next “big bang” announcement of Modi as the prime ministerial candidate could come in early 2014, by which time the BJP hopes to have a “good” assessment of his “national popularity”.
That is not the only factor weighing in with the BJP and the RSS. Sources said they also have to reckon with allies’ opinion on Modi’s projection.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, in Delhi today to attend an event organised by business chamber Assocham, was asked if he endorsed Modi’s candidacy.
“We (the BJP-led NDA) have many credible faces, so please be patient,” he replied. Uddhav’s father Bal Thackeray had rooted for Sushma in his last days.
But at the news conference, Kumar indicated the BJP was not losing time in going ahead with Modi. Beginning August, Modi will address over 100 rallies across as many parliamentary constituencies as possible. Kumar and fellow general secretary Varun Gandhi will plan the shows.
Modi aide and general secretary Amit Shah is part of two committees, one on publicity and campaign, and another to win over new voters.
The second initiative has been planned keeping in mind the BJP’s experience in Gujarat where it reached out to young and first-time voters with an agenda promising change.
Among first-time ideas being executed this time are wooing specific groups such as farmers, tribals and weavers. Another is a committee designated to work on a “chargesheet” against the UPA and one for the Northeast.