|Narendra Modi and Sushma Swaraj
New Delhi, Sept. 6: RSS chief Mohanrao Bhagwat has stepped in to build the elusive “consensus” over Narendra Modi’s projection as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate and make an early declaration after his second-in-command Suresh “Bhaiya” Joshi failed to coax the support of the party’s nay-sayers.
Earlier in the week, Bhagwat had met Modi’s two principal opponents, L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj, on what was described by sources close to them as a “views-seeking mission”.
Before that, the RSS chief had met Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to gauge the depth of his resistance to Modi’s foregrounding and the reasons for it.
Advani and Sushma are learnt to have told Bhagwat that an announcement should “ideally” be put off till after the November-December state elections lest the Modi “overkill” impair the BJP’s prospects in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi. In these states, the party is pitted against the Congress in a bipolar contest.
While Chouhan in a tweet denied he had put his foot down on Modi’s projection, Advani and Sushma reportedly argued on his behalf that Chouhan’s “leadership” should not be “diluted” by the presence of another chief minister in the campaign.
They reminded Bhagwat that in the Gujarat elections last year, Modi held a solo show, not sharing space with his BJP peers.
The same “logic” was invoked in the case of another chief minister, Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh. Chouhan and Singh are fighting to secure a third term.
The Advani-Sushma duo also made the point that their “feedback” was that Modi’s leadership would “at best” make a difference of 20 to 30 seats for the BJP, which was “anyway riding high” on an “anti-incumbency sentiment” against the UPA. However, the potential “losses” from his prospective projection could surpass the “gains”.
A news report has claimed that Chouhan has conveyed to Bhagwat that Modi’s projection and possible presence in the Madhya Pradesh campaign could damage the BJP’s chances in at least 40 seats where Muslim votes matter.
Responding to this, Chouhan tweeted: “In BJP, the party is supreme and it will decide and declare the PM candidate at right moment. Any speculation in this regards is avoidable.”
But Chouhan’s “clarification” fuelled speculation that a possible victory in his state would catapult him straightaway into the leadership race.
“Advani and Sushma will use this as a ruse to pitch for Chouhan as a potential contender for the PM’s post,” a source said, reflecting the extent of mistrust that has seeped into the BJP over the leadership issue.
Chouhan, who has refused to use Modi’s face in posters advertising his pre-poll yatra, has been persuaded to request the Gujarat chief minister to attend the closing ceremony in late September.
A copy of Modi’s September itinerary, posted on his website, says he will attend a party workers’ convention in Bhopal on September 25.
Modi will stop by at Ambikapur in Chhattisgarh on Saturday to address, along with BJP president Rajnath Singh, the finale of Raman Singh’s yatra.
The significance given to his presence by Singh and the Chhattisgarh BJP is manifest in details like the appearance of a Red Fort replica on the podium with a lectern for Modi.
Those close to Advani and Sushma today said that a high-level meeting between the RSS and representatives from the BJP and allies, slated in Delhi on September 8 and 9, was being put off because of the “absence of unanimity” over Modi’s candidacy.
However, Sangh sources denied this and added that the conclave was on course and was expected to settle the leadership question after eliciting the views of the delegates.
Another BJP chief minister, Goa’s Manohar Parrikar — who resurrected the 2002 Gujarat riots and insinuated that Modi had not handled the situation effectively — insisted he was “irresponsibly misquoted”.
A source close to Sushma still contended that Modi was “not required” in Madhya Pradesh but was free to tour the other election-bound states like Delhi and Rajasthan where local leaders had “no issues” with him.