BJP crowns Modi 2014 campaign chief

In an open snub to saffron patriarch Lal Krishna Advani, the BJP on Sunday anointed Gujarat CM Narendra Modi as head of the party’s campaign committee for the 2014 general election.
Major opposition from within fell by the wayside as the BJP put up an united front with strong Modi detractors like Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar sharing the dais with party president Rajnath Singh, who told the media at the end of the deliberations in Goa: “I have announced the name of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as chairman of the BJP election campaign committee, keeping in mind the challenges of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and to achieve victory in the polls.” Others who flanked the BJP chief included Arun Jaitley and M. Venkaiah Naidu. The decision to make Mr Modi the poll panel head was “unanimous”, Mr Singh declared.
Taking up the reins, Mr Modi sounded the bugle by announcing a “Congress Mukt Bharat Nirman”. He is expected to address close to 75 rallies across the country. Ending his first public rally after the Panaji elevation, Mr Modi exhorted the crowd to chant Vande Mataram, the war cry of the RSS. Staunch Modi supporter and master strategist Arun Jaitley, while saying “naming of the BJP prime ministerial candidate was a separate issue”, also said he “cannot fault people who are charged, enthused and view this as the same”.
However, giving some indication of the fissures that still continue within the party, Ms Swaraj skipped the rally that was organised to mark the end of the three-day meet. Addressing the gathering, Mr Jaitley, who played the backroom boy to bring Modi detractors on board, praised BJP chief Rajnath chief for taking a “game-changing” decision. While Ms Swaraj flew back to New Delhi soon after the BJP president’s announcement, Ananth Kumar attended the rally. Ms Swaraj later tweeted: “BJP President Shri Raj Nath Singh ji has appointed Shri Narendra Modi Chairman of BJP Election Campaign Committee. I wish him all the best in this mission.”
The move to ignore Mr Advani, so far regarded as the party’s “tallest leader” after Atal Behari Vajpayee, is being viewed as a takeover of the BJP by its Generation Next. Mr Singh, who took on Mr Advani by going ahead with the decision to anoint Mr Modi, is being backed by the RSS.
While Mr Advani and senior leader Jaswant Singh kept a stoic silence on Sunday’s move, another senior leader Yashwant Sinha tried to express displeasure by accusing the BJP leadership of falling “victim to the politics of personality”. But he also tried to do a balancing act by claiming he was the “first” to propose Mr Modi’s name to lead the party. Saffron sanyasin Uma Bharti, who had initially stayed away, also came around and “apologised” for skipping the meet and declared she was “with the party in all its decisions”. Others who stayed away from the Goa conclave included Varun Gandhi, his mother Maneka Gandhi, Shatrughan Sinha, Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha, besides of course Mr Advani.
That the “takeover” by Mr Modi had hit Mr Advani hard became evident when he posted a cryptic message on his blog “The Journey Continues”, in which he praised a sandalwood carving of Lord Krishna’s “Vishwaroop avatar” — which he claimed also had a carving of “Bhishma Pitamah on his bed of arrows, sermonising to the Pandavas”. Some felt that through the narrative, Mr Advani might have tried to describe his situation “lying on the bed of arrows shot by his aggressive political colleagues, whom he had once mentored”. Mr Modi, however, tweeted that after his appointment, he “called up Advaniji and sought his blessings”.
In Panaji, Goa, Sunday was clearly Mr Modi’s day. Immediately after the BJP chief declared Mr Modi as poll panel head, the entire hall reverberated with thunderous applause. There was a standing ovation for nearly five minutes. All top leaders, including Ms Swaraj and Mr Kumar, approached Mr Modi to congratulate him. At the rally chants of “Namo, Namo” and “Desh ka neta kaisa ho, Narendra Modi jaisa ho” indicated the mood among the BJP rank and file. Mr Advani almost became a forgotten chapter as none of the top leaders even mentioned him in their speeches, though they kept evoking the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Following his elevation, one of Mr Modi’s key tasks will be to keep the National Democratic Alliance together. The history of the 2002 communal carnage in Gujarat and his hardcore Hindutva image could upset a key ally, the Janata Dal (United). The JD(U) leadership has so far come up with a cautious response, saying “Modi is the BJP’s poll panel chief, not the NDA’s”. The good news for the BJP is that another key ally, the Akali Dal, not only supported the move but went on to say it had “no objection even if Modi leads the NDA in the polls”. The Shiv Sena toed the JD(U) line, pointing out that Mr Modi has nothing to do with leading the NDA and he was only heading the “BJP poll panel”.
A section of Congress leaders is hopeful that the BJP’s projection of Mr Modi will help the party (Congress) to consolidate its Muslim votebank, while the BJP feels the move could push up its voteshare by at least three per cent. For saffron spin doctors, Mr Modi “is the only BJP leader who can cut across caste lines and consolidate the Hindu votebank in favour of the party”.

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