New Delhi: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi seems to have split the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) down the middle over his proposed role in the 2014 elections with his angry supporters coming out on the streets and protesting outside party stalwart LK Advani's house even as the main opposition's chief Rajnath Singh offered a compromise formula to bridge the divide by suggesting Modi's name as the Lok Sabha elections' poll campaign convenor.
But there was no word on Saturday from the BJP, which is holding its two-day National Executive meet in Goa, on who will spearhead the party in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Sources said there is no clarity if Modi will accept the convenor post as he is eyeing a bigger role and post after the 2014 polls, which according to his supporters will see the BJP-led NDA trounce the UPA headed by the Congress if the Gujarat Chief Minister is made the prime ministerial candidate.
Modi also wants to be the chairman of the Lok Sabha poll panel. Trying to put up a united face after several leaders belonging to the Advani camp decided to skip the party meet in Goa, the BJP also sought to downplay the growing rift between the party patriarch and Modi and said the protests were not a work of BJP cadres.
Advani skipped the crucial meet, perhaps the first time in BJP history, citing ill health as the reason. But his decision is widely being speculated as a move to clearly express his opposition to Modi as party's poll campaign chairman. Sources have said the BJP will now take a call on Modi's elevation on Sunday.
Party leaders like Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh, Uma Bharti, Shatrughan Sinha and Yogi Adityananth have also decided to give the meet a miss due to several reasons including ill health, giving the Congress an excuse to target Modi. The Congress branded their absence as the spread of 'NaMo'nia within the BJP, an oblique reference to Modi. Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said he wishes the sick BJP leaders a "speedy recovery".
The BJP, meanwhile, refrained from taking a decision on Modi on Saturday, with sources telling CNN-IBN that Advani loyalists within the party have told Rajnath to take a decision on the Gujarat Chief Minister only in Advani's presence. Modi, who emerged as a strong contender to be the party's prime ministerial candidate, is likely to be formally declared head of the party's campaign committee for the 2014 general elections on Sunday, something Advani and some other leaders have opposed.
Advani had suggested the formation of two campaign committees, one for the upcoming assembly elections in five states this year-end, led by Modi, and another for the 2014 general elections. When asked if any key decision on Modi was taken on the first day of the National Executive meeting, party spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman replied,"Narendra Modi is a member of BJP Parliamentary Board. If party wants to give Modi any other role, it will be announced to the media."
Amid speculations of Modi's rise within the BJP and in national politics, Rajnath reached out to Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar, who is a fierce Modi opponent. JD(U) sources, however, said that Nitish has conveyed that any announcement on campaign committee chief is organisational decision of the BJP. "Our point is limited to the prime ministerial candidate," they added.
JD(U) spokesman Rajiv Ranjan also described it as internal matter of the BJP but said his party has competent leaders to rally candidates in the 2014 elections and does not require any outside service. "JD(U) candidates does not require service of Modi...we have competent leaders for this," Ranjan said.
Opposition of Nitish Kumar to his Gujarat counterpart is an open secret. He and his party has time and again made it clear that they would not compromise on Modi as prime ministerial nominee.
The rift between old NDA partners - JD(U) and BJP - widened recently after massive loss in Maharajganj bypoll by over 1.37 lakh votes. A section of BJP leaders attributed this loss to JD(U) offensive against Modi while party General Secretary Rajiv Pratap Rudy suggesting that Modi is required by JD(U) as much as for BJP.
Meanwhile, the BJP continued to evade questions on Modi's role by criticising the Congress's rule. "UPA is handling Maoist issue in a confused and laid-back manner," Sitharaman said. She added that the UPA has communalised terrorism in the country, but this "appeasement politics is never going to benefit the country". Party president Rajnath attacked the ruling government over Naxalism and said Maoist attacks have aggravated due to the "misguided policies of the central government".
"Unless there is an integrated approach there will be no permanent solution to both the problems," he said. "If even after ruling for 56 years, out of the 66 years since Independence, the resource rich areas of the country are under the influence of Naxalism, the policies of the Congress are directly responsible for it," Rajnath added.
"The biggest problem is that the Congress and the Left parties have made huge mistakes by protecting people who believe in an extremist ideology and violent activities," he said.