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BJP keeps up buzz on PM’s No. 2

New Delhi, July 14: The BJP today sounded ambiguous on whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi had designated a second-in-command to officiate in his absence.

As the corridors of Parliament swirled with speculation that home minister Rajnath Singh was “asked” by Modi to function as his No. 2 while he was away in Brazil for the BRICS summit, nobody from the government or the BJP confirmed the rumour.

I&B minister Prakash Javadekar, who briefed the media, said: “There is a Prime Minister, there is a home minister, there is a finance and defence minister.” But he kept quiet when asked if that set out the cabinet hierarchy.

On Saturday, a highly placed political source in the government, who was asked if Modi had appointed somebody to officiate in his absence, had said: “No, nothing of that sort has happened.” Modi left on Sunday morning.

When government sources were quizzed on whether the Union cabinet would hold its scheduled weekly Wednesday meeting and who would preside — Modi is scheduled to return on Thursday — they said there would be no meeting.

In Modi’s absence, parliamentary affairs minister M. Venkaiah Naidu will preside over the meeting of the BJP’s parliamentary party executive committee that is chaired by the Prime Minister. The panel, set up on Saturday, has two deputy leaders, Arun Jaitley (Rajya Sabha) and Rajnath (Lok Sabha), and Naidu as the government’s chief whip.

However, government sources clarified that the panel was set up as an internal party mechanism. Jaitley, they said, will be the leader of the Rajya Sabha and Modi, the leader of the Lok Sabha. The move signifies the departure of L.K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj, the former Opposition leader in the lower House, from the BJP’s parliamentary structures.