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Wednesday , January 30 , 2013
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Sena backs Sushma, BJP unruffled

Narendra Modi with Vasundhara Raje in Gandhinagar on Tuesday. To make the point that the meeting was politically significant, Modi posted a picture of himself with the former Rajasthan chief minister on Twitter. Vasundhara, not a Sangh favourite, is expected to be projected as the BJP’s candidate for chief minister in the November polls. Sources said she called on Modi to send the signal that she had the support of one of the party’s most powerful leaders. The photo-op was also a message to BJP’s Delhi leaders that power lies with the regional leaders. PTI picture

New Delhi, Jan. 29: A senior Shiv Sena leader today named Sushma Swaraj as his party’s choice for NDA Prime Minister but the BJP claimed it would be able to bring the ally around to endorsing Narendra Modi when the time came.

“Sushma Swaraj always had the blessings of Balasaheb,” Sena spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut said in Mumbai.

“As for Narendra Modi, Balasaheb always gave his blessings to him but when it comes to leading the country, Balasaheb was clear it should be Sushma.”

Raut made it clear that the NDA’s candidate for the top job must be discussed and decided by the alliance as a whole.

But a source close to Sena president Uddhav Thackeray said: “Until this matter is thrashed out internally and Uddhav pronounces the last word, the issue will stay open. We have nothing against Modi but a consensus will have to be arrived at.”

Chandrakant Khaire, Sena MP from Aurangabad and deputy leader of the party parliamentary wing, put this in another way: “Balsaheb’s order remains an order until Uddhav takes a call. Consensus is always possible within the NDA.”

BJP sources said Raut’s seeming dissent against Modi should not be taken too seriously.

“He was asked a question and he replied. Had Uddhav said it, we might have been alarmed,” a Maharashtra BJP source said.

He cited how, “at the best of times”, the Sena had felt “a little uncomfortable” with Modi because it saw him as its “closest competitor” for the Hindutva constituency.

The BJP views Maharashtra as a terrain where it can make gains in the 2014 election and where Modi can make an impact. Gopinath Munde, the BJP leader in charge of Maharashtra affairs, is trying to forge a grand alliance of the BJP, Sena and Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and consolidate the anti-Congress-NCP votes.

“For this reason, we decided not to react to Raut’s assertions and directed our Maharashtra leaders to be tactful,” a source said.

In the past, when Modi had campaigned for the BJP in Mumbai (in municipal, Assembly and Lok Sabha elections), the Sena had expressed resentment at his presence though not as openly as Nitish Kumar has done in Bihar.

Recently, when Modi allowed the Pakistan cricket team to play in Rajkot, Sena mouthpiece Saamna criticised him and said that had he sent the visitors packing, Gujarat would have earned “another feather of patriotism in its cap”.

Despite the Sena’s ambivalence and signals from the Janata Dal (United) that its alliance with the BJP might be on the line if Modi were put on centre-stage, Yashwant Sinha repeated his projection of Modi as Prime Minister for the second consecutive day.

In back-to-back TV interviews today, the former foreign and finance minister, who had yesterday pitched for Modi and thrown the alliance ball in Nitish’s court, stressed that it was “time” for the BJP to declare Modi as its candidate for Prime Minister.

Sinha claimed his pitch for Modi was his “personal opinion” and that he was not acting under RSS dictation.