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Patel set to replace Advani at yatra helm

New Delhi, Aug. 22: Former Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel is likely to flag off the “Gaurav Yatra” on September 3, instead of deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.

Advani was to have inaugurated the yatra when it was first planned. But it was called off under pressure from the Opposition and now that the yatra has been revived, there is a rethink in the BJP over whether the deputy Prime Minister should associate himself with it. A final decision will be taken when the campaign committee for Gujarat meets in the next few days.

Caretaker chief minister Narendra Modi and Gujarat BJP president Rajendrasinh Rana will be present when the yatra starts its journey from Kheda.

The idea, sources said, was to present a picture of “complete oneness” in the state leadership following reports that the Patel-Modi “rivalry” would hurt the party’s prospects in the Assembly elections. Patel is widely seen as Modi’s main rival.

Advani brokered a truce a couple of days ago and asked Patel, who was miffed after being removed as chief minister and had indicated he would lie low during electioneering, to chair the campaign and election management committee.

Apart from stressing the need to bring the warring Gujarat factions together, BJP sources have also questioned the “political wisdom” of involving Advani in an exercise that has again triggered a controversy.

The Opposition is up in arms over the yatra’s revival and has demanded its cancellation. Although the BJP said the yatra was meant essentially to convey the Modi government’s achievements” down to the grassroots, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has written a protest letter to the Prime Minister, arguing that the yatra would reopen the communal divide.

For the record, BJP president M Venkaiah Naidu asked: “Does Congress alone have the right to campaign' What is wrong if a political party carries out a campaign and if the chief minister wants to go around meeting people'” But party sources said Advani could “ill-afford” to project a partisan image after his elevation as deputy Prime Minister.

Advani has taken it upon himself to make friends with all the BJP’s allies, including the Trinamul Congress which had attacked him on the rail bifurcation issue. The Trinamul and the Telugu Desam are among the few secular constituents remaining in the NDA.

While the Desam had accepted the proposal to redesignate Advani without a fuss, the Trinamul had reservations.

But earlier this week, Advani and his wife broke the ice with Mamata Banerjee.

Rather than involve Central ministers in the yatra, the BJP felt it was better to make it an all-Gujarat affair. If at all somebody had to go from Delhi, it would be better to send Arun Jaitley, who is a Rajya Sabha MP from the state and the general secretary in-charge of the elections.

The BJP refused to respond to Modi’s dig at chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh for being a Christian and having an “Italian connection”.

Addressing a rally in a tribal area yesterday, Modi reportedly joked about how Lyngdoh and Sonia were “meeting each other in a church”.

Off the record, a senior leader justified Modi’s remarks. “At least, he did not call people mad and jokers,” he said in a reference to Lyngdoh’s angry comments when interacting with bureaucrats during his visit to Ahmedabad and Vadodara.

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