New Delhi: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has now officially become the man who will pilot the Bharatiya Janata Party's electoral fortunes in the next general election. But a big question being asked after Modi's elevation is whether Modi's anointment means a retirement call for BJP patriarch LK Advani. The BJP insists that Advani is still the party's guiding force. Allies, however, indicate that he is out of the PM race.
Speaking to IBN18 Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai, BJP leader Sidharth Nath Singh said, "Mr Advani is our father figure, he is the Bhishma Pitamah, he is our guide and he will continue to be so." When asked if this was an indication of Advani's retirement, SN Singh said, "It's not a question of retirement. We would never use that word for our fathers. We said, allow us to work, let us do the hard work, your blessings are always required and that is the situation in the BJP."
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Singh added, "He is a guiding force for us. What more role do you want?"
However, the allies do not feel the same. When asked if Advani is no longer a force to reckon with in the polls next year, Janata Dal United leader Devesh Chandra Thakur said, "Even though many people won't like and may differ on his utility now, it seems to be a reality that Advani won't be a Prime Ministerial candidate."
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Advani on Sunday made a reference to a wounded Bhishma Pitamah lying on a bed of arrows in a scene in the Mahabharata after the sulking BJP veteran citing ill-health stayed away from the party executive meet that elevated Narendra Modi. The 83-year-old party stalwart, however, made no mention of the Gujarat Chief Minister in his blog or in a video address to a religious event in Jaipur.
In his video address for the Jaipur event, Advani broke his silence on his ill-health that triggered speculation on his perceived opposition to Modi's appointment. He was due to have attended the event. Advani, who missed the Goa meet for the first time in his entire political career, said he was having "stomach upset" for the last three days and therefore could not participate in the deliberations.
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Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh on Sunday said his heart goes out to Advani. "My heart goes out to Advani-ji. He brought the BJP from two to 182 in the Lok Sabha. But then the ungrateful BJP is a party with differences," tweeted Digvijaya.
Modi has now taken centre stage in the national politics after the BJP chose the Gujarat Chief Minister to be its poll panel chief, thrusting him on to a bigger role for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The party took the plunge on day-two of its crucial National Executive meet in Goa on Sunday, ignoring reservations from senior leaders like LK Advani, who stayed away from the conclave.
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"I want to give you a significant information. ...I have announced (at the National Executive) that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi will be the Chairman of the BJP Election Campaign Committee, keeping in mind the challenge of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and to achieve victory in the polls," party President Rajnath Singh told the media at the conclusion of the deliberations.
But many believe it is under pressure from the Advani camp that the leadership issue has been left for a later stage. Allies like Akali Dal and Shiv Sena have been cautious and have made it clear that it was BJP's decision to name Modi, considered a polarising figure after post-Godhra riots in 2002, poll campaign chief, not the NDA's.
Shortly after his anointment, Modi declared at a public meeting that Goa has been lucky for him as in 2002 he had got the "licence" to run Gujarat. "I am confident that I will complete the task that has been entrusted to me by Rajnathji," he said to a thunderous applause from the party cadre.
In his 45-minute address, he referred to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee but did not once take the name of Advani, who is said to be having reservations over his elevation in the party. But he had earlier tweeted that he had talked to Advani and "got his blessings".
"We are all party workers; we will do whatever duty has been assigned to us," Modi said. He attacked the UPA government aggressively during his acceptance speech and said it has lost the trust of people of the country.
"It's our responsibility to save the country from such an insensitive government," said the 63-year-old. He also proclaimed it is time to rid the country of the UPA and shouted slogans of "Congress bhagao".
He accused Congress of taking people for granted and adopting a "non-serious" approach towards governance. Modi said Congress did not believe in democratic institutions and was in no mood to accept the federal structure of the Constitution.
However, Congress sounded dismissive of Modi's anointment as BJP's campaign committee chairman, and took potshots at the opposition party over the "apparent divide" within its top brass on the issue. "Modi's appeal is limited to Gujarat. We have seen the hollowness of his campaign in Karnataka elections. He is popular only among people, who like communal politics and communal personalities. But this kind of politics goes against the ethos of India. Common people do not appreciate the communal politics of people like Modi," party spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed told reporters.
The Congress has already made Modi an election issue. Congress General Secretary Digivijaya Singh said that his party will challenge Modi's credibility in the forthcoming polls. "We are going to challenge the credibility of Mr Narendra Modi. He says Gujarat is the biggest producer of bhindi (lady finger), he says Lijjat papad was started in Gujarat. We are going to hit out on his credibility," Digvijaya Singh said.
(With additional information from PTI and IANS)