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Modi keen to nip dual axis

- Discussions focus on chairmanship of NDA
Narendra Modi laughs at a meeting with BJP legislators in Gandhinagar on Tuesday. (AFP)

New Delhi, May 13: Narendra Modi has indicated that were he to become Prime Minister, he would also like to head the NDA parliamentary party as Atal Bihari Vajpayee did when he was in power.

According to party sources, Modi does not want L.K. Advani to be chairman of the coalition’s parliamentary party as such a move could create two power centres. In the UPA, Sonia Gandhi was the chairperson while Manmohan Singh headed the government.

Over the past two days, discussions in the BJP have centred not so much on Modi’s prospective cabinet choices as on formalising the NDA-BJP structures.

The issue assumed immediacy because if the BJP-NDA gets a majority and is in a position to form the next government, the first procedure entails the formal election of the leader of the parliamentary party.

At the level of the BJP, the election is a simple enough process since Modi is the anointed Prime Minister candidate and led the party in the elections. Therefore, the sources said, the parliamentary board of the BJP will meet on May 16 evening and elect Modi as the leader of the parliamentary party.

Thereafter, possibly on May 17, the newly elected MPs of the BJP are expected to put their stamp of approval on Modi’s leadership. This step over, the NDA kicks in.

However, the norms require that a meeting of the NDA parliamentary party has to be convened by the coalition’s convener. Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal (United) used to hold this post. The Dal (U) has since split with the BJP and Sharad, who quit as convener, has not been replaced by another member.

Advani is the acting chairman of the NDA parliamentary party and would perhaps be required to convene a meeting. He was given the title after Vajpayee withdrew from politics.

But a BJP source pointed out that Advani was chosen during the NDA’s last tenure. “The coalition has added new allies. Norms would require that a new chairman is named before the coalition begins functioning.”

A source close to Advani rejected the contention, saying: “As the acting chairman, he is obviously empowered to call the meeting.”

Sources said Modi would “like” to head the NDA parliamentary wing.

BJP president Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Nitin Gadkari are expected to fly to Gandhinagar tomorrow to thrash out the procedural issues with Modi and to get a fix on how the NDA apparatus should be put in place.

At an informal interaction with journalists here today, Modi’s right-hand man and BJP general secretary Amit Shah was asked what role had been envisaged for Advani. He said: “The parliamentary board will take a call.”

The sources said “ideally”, the BJP would like Advani himself to announce what position he wanted, if any, in the next couple of days. An Advani aide’s cryptic answer was: “Let’s see. Let’s wait for the results and see what the numbers are.”

In the new internal equations within the BJP, Jaitley, Gadkari and Rajnath have emerged as key members of Modi’s core political team. Gadkari, who got a clean chit from the income tax department in the Purti case involving alleged financial irregularities in companies of which he was a director, has managed an entry, courtesy RSS sarsanghchalak Mohanrao Bhagwat who is close to him.

Rajnath and Modi developed a fairly comfortable working relationship in the past while Jaitley is Modi’s most steadfast ally in the BJP. Sushma Swaraj, their peer, does not figure in this arrangement. Nor do Ananth Kumar and M. Venkaiah Naidu, despite their exertions to get close to Modi and Rajnath.


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