|BJP president Rajnath Singh and (right) Narendra Modi
at the party’s media workshop in New Delhi on Saturday. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, Aug. 17: The Bihar BJP today resolved that the central parliamentary board should officially declare Narendra Modi as the putative Prime Minister candidate to cap the confusion arising from conflicting statements in the party on the leadership conundrum.
The immediate provocation for the Patna move — insiders said it was “orchestrated” by the Delhi brass — was L.K. Advani’s put-down of Modi for his August 15 address, in which the Gujarat chief minister went hammer-and-tongs at the UPA, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.
Sources said Advani was “advised” by his political aide, Sudheendra Kulkarni. Kulkarni tweeted that Modi’s dare to the Prime Minister for a public debate on Independence Day was, “simply put IMMATURE”.
The BJP’s rank and file was on a high because it was convinced that in the battle to grandstand, Modi had a “walkover” against Manmohan who spoke to the nation from the Red Fort.
As the BJP was revelling in Modi’s diatribe, Advani remarked that it was not kosher to confront the Prime Minister on a solemn occasion like Independence Day. “Advani punctured our sentiments,” a Bihar MP said.
The Opposition and television instantly kicked off a debate on Modi’s acceptability quotient within the BJP while its spokespersons initially stumbled for a cogent reply. Later, they rose to Modi’s defence.
In a parallel move, a senior RSS office-bearer, Suresh Soni, warned that leaders who dared to criticise Modi could be suspended from the BJP for six years. Soni, a joint general secretary and a conduit between the Sangh and the BJP, addressed a meeting of the Uttar Pradesh party’s core group in Lucknow on Friday.
Sources said Soni — he was mainly responsible for Modi’s elevation as central campaign committee chief last June against the wishes of Advani and Sushma Swaraj — stressed the RSS was fully behind Modi and the BJP should not “go soft” on leaders and workers who criticised him publicly.
Sources said Soni’s message was aimed at “dissenters” like Advani, Yashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha. Although the Sinhas have backed off after firing a fusillade of barbs against Modi, Advani has displayed no sign of relenting. Picking up Soni’s cue, Rajya Sabha Opposition leader and Modi confidant, Arun Jaitley, counselled the BJP’s spokespersons and TV panelists not to feel coy about answering the Congress in kind when “insults” were hurled at Modi.
Jaitley, who spoke in a BJP media workshop today, observed that the party’s talking heads ought to have been “far more aggressive” when the Congress launched a multi-pronged offensive against Modi over his I-Day speech, dubbing him “power hungry”, “a khalnayak” (villain) and a “frog in the well”.
Jaitley, sources said, charged senior minister Ghulam Nabi Azad with making a casteist comment when he said that comparing the Prime Minister’s address with Modi’s was like equating “Raja Bhoj” (a royal) with “Gangu…” (a plebian).
Azad left the phrase incomplete because the original adage says “Kahan Raja Bhoj, kahan Gangu telli” (how can you compare a king with a commonplace oil-presser?). Modi is from the backward Telli caste, who are known as Ganchis in Gujarat.
The BJP was waiting for an opportune time to flag Modi’s caste antecedent but was caught in its usual dilemma of whether a casteist projection would conflict with his “popular” image as a “development and good governance votary”.
“We have found that moment. We are going to flog the theme that an elitist Congress wants to deny power to the son hailing from a most backward caste. That was the point Azad was making. The Congress royalty, exemplified by the Gandhis, versus a Telli. This line should go down well in the Hindi heartland,” a source said.
The three-in-one show of solidarity with Modi — that began yesterday with Soni’s message — got heft when this afternoon, the BJP leaders of Patna unanimously adopted a resolution demanding he be named the Prime Minister candidate.
Sushil Modi, who was Nitish Kumar’s deputy chief minister, moved the resolution that was seconded by his colleagues, Nand Kishore Yadav and Mangal Pandey. “The national mood is positively tilted in Modi’s favour, the BJP must build on the sentiment. Our leaders should stop confusing people because the Opposition and the media revel in this sort of thing,” Sushil Modi told The Telegraph.
He implored other state units to adopt similar avowals of support.
Kanak Vardhan Singh Deo, the Odisha BJP president, said: “There is all likelihood that we will follow Bihar soon.”
Lakshmi Kant Vajpayee, the Uttar Pradesh unit’s chief, said: “An environment for Modi’s projection has been created by the people of India. Our state executive is meeting in Vrindavan in September and we could pass a resolution in that meeting.”