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Modi inches closer as PM contender

India's Gujarat state Chief Minister Narendra Modi greets supporters following his arrival at the Dabolim airport at Vasco in Goa, June 7, 2013. — Photo by AFP
India's Gujarat state Chief Minister Narendra Modi greets supporters following his arrival at the Dabolim airport at Vasco in Goa, June 7, 2013. — Photo by AFP

NEW DELHI, June 9: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was on Sunday appointed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to lead what is expected to be a brazen rightwing campaign for the 2014 general elections brushing aside objections from a powerful coterie led by senior leader L.K. Advani.

The move is considered just short of making him the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in the race. The announcement came at the party’s Goa conclave despite opposition from coalition partners from the National Democratic Alliance, which was headed by former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Press Trust of India said.

“I want to give you a significant information. ...I have announced (at the National Executive) that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as 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 its two-day deliberations.

The announcement was made in a terse statement by Mr Singh who was flanked by Leaders of Opposition in Parliament Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, former president M. Venkaiah Naidu, general secretary Ananth Kumar among others. No questions were taken at the media interaction.

“Whatever has happened has happened on the basis of consensus,” Mr Singh said without elaborating. The decision to appoint 63-year-old Modi came against the backdrop of Mr Advani, who is said to be strongly opposed to the elevation of Mr Modi, keeping away from the meeting.

The PTI said several other leaders, including Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha, Uma Bharati and Shatrughan Sinha, who are also reportedly having reservations on Mr Modi’s elevation, kept away from the executive meeting.

After two days of deliberations and dilemma, the party appears to have taken the plunge by plumping for Mr Modi in a crucial role, ignoring reservations from leaders like Mr Advani, seen as the tallest leader after Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Mr Singh said all parties view elections as a challenge and BJP also viewed the coming Lok Sabha elections as a challenge and Mr Modi’s elevation was done keeping in mind the need to achieve victory.

“We are absolutely sure that the Congress-led UPA government has lost the confidence of the people and are confident that the BJP will be voted to power in the 2014 elections,” he said.

Mr Modi, considered a polarising figure in the country’s politics after the 2002 post-Godhra riots which his detractors alleged had happened with his sanction as chief minister, said in a tweet that Advani had given his “blessings” to him after Singh’s announcement.

“Spoke to Advaniji on the phone. He gave me his blessings. Honoured and extremely grateful to receive his blessings.”

“Senior leaders have reposed faith in me. We will leave no stone unturned for Congress-mukht bharat nirman (building India free of Congress). Thanks for support and blessings,” he said in another tweet message.

Sunday’s decision of BJP could be seen as a gamble to perk up the party’s prospects after its defeat in two consecutive Lok Sabha elections.

Throughout the whole of Saturday, there was media speculation that the party could defer an announcement on Mr Modi. One version was that Mr Advani wanted that Mr Modi should be made head of the campaign for the assembly elections, including in states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, later this year.Party sources said Mr Singh resolved the dilemma after it was felt the meeting should not conclude without a ‘result’ as it would lead to demoralisation of the cadre. Hence, the announcement was made, they said.

The announcement of Mr Modi’s elevation towards the end of Mr Singh’s valedictory address at the national executive session was received with cheers and standing ovation.

One of the delegates said there was clapping for five minutes as a signal of acceptance of the decision on Mr Modi.

Ms Swaraj declined to make any comments when reporters sought her reaction to Mr Singh’s announcement.