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Modi hits back in haste

Dec. 21: Win or lose, Narendra Modi has wielded the knife with gusto 48 hours before the Gujarat poll result, getting the BJP to act against dissident leader Keshubhai Patel.

The BJP has showcaused Keshubhai and another veteran Kashiram Rana for indiscipline and suspended two MPs for “hurting” the party’s interests in the Assembly polls.

The MPs — Vallabhai Kathiria and Somabhai Patel — are loyal supporters of Keshubhai and had openly campaigned for the Congress.

The central leadership acted after a recommendation from the state unit that is controlled by Modi. Rana said in Ahmedabad that Modi had “pressured the party high command” to take action.

Such “nights of long knives” follow every poll but Modi’s timing is unusual because rarely has retribution been meted out so close to the day of counting.

As with every issue involving Modi, opinion is sharply polarised on the chief minister’s motive.

Modi’s supporters said he wanted the decision to be announced before the result so that he could start the next innings on a clean slate.

But those predicting an upset claimed that Modi was not sure of the outcome and had chosen to strike before the result made him vulnerable to a rebel onslaught. Modi would not have liked to leave any room that would help the dissidents challenge his authority if his performance at the hustings did not match the BJP leadership’s expectations.

The BJP had been abuzz with suggestions that Keshubhai and the other dissidents were working on a select group of potential winners to create problems if Modi could only scraped through.

“Keshubhai has sway over some half-a-dozen potential winners and he was in touch with them. Modi has acted in time to strike fear into potential defectors,” a BJP leader said.

Keshubhai, who made no secret of his dislike for Modi, has been asked to explain within a week why he made statements “which damaged the party’s poll effort”. The rebels had put out an advertisement, allegedly on behalf of Keshubhai, appealing for a change in Gujarat.

Keshubhai has spheres of influence in the party, a reason the leadership avoided making any comment against him in the run-up to the election.

The silence had created an impression that the central leaders were not backing Modi fully and would like to accommodate Keshubhai in the future. Modi apparently wanted to eliminate such misgivings from the minds of the prospective MLAs.

The disciplinary action has helped reaffirm Modi’s clout in the BJP now. Some party leaders wanted Modi to be accommodative towards Keshubhai as he was a founder-member and had toiled to build the organisation in Gujarat.

The dominant section of the Sangh parivar had also encouraged these leaders to pursue the line. But Modi appears to have succeeded in compelling the high command to crack the whip.

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