While the Gujarat Chief Minister transformed a healthy State into an excellent one, his Madhya Pradesh counterpart successfully turned around a BIMARU State into a developed State, Mr. Advani said.

Veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani made clear his preference for Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan over Gujarat’s Narendra Modi in a speech at a party conclave here on Saturday. “Gujarat was a healthy State, when Modiji became CM. He improved the State. But here Shivrajji has achieved a complete turnaround, transforming a ‘Bimaru’ State into a healthy State that is counted internationally,” Mr. Advani said.

Earlier this year, Mr. Advani had pushed for Mr. Chouhan’s induction into the party’s parliamentary board. Mr. Modi made it, but Mr. Chouhan was kept out. It’s an open secret that Mr. Advani, MP from Gujarat’s capital Gandhinagar, is not too keen on letting Mr. Modi become the party’s PM candidate. Mr. Chouhan, along with senior leader Sushma Swaraj (both legislators from Madhya Pradesh), are seen as alternative candidates.

At the conclave, Mr. Advani even went to the extent of comparing Mr. Chouhan to the former Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee. “Atalji’s greatest quality was his politeness. Shivrajji also, even after all these years, is untouched by arrogance.” Mr. Vajpayee was brought up in Gwalior and had first dabbled in politics while studying at Victoria College, now Laxmi Bai College, here.

Speaking before Mr. Advani, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley also praised Mr. Chouhan for his leadership skills at a time “when the biggest national crisis is lack of leadership at the Centre.” Mr. Jaitley said the party’s target was the UPA — which he attacked on its handling of Maoists, national security, the economy and corruption.

Mr. Jaitley rebutted the Congress’ charge that the BJP government of Chhattisgarh had failed to prevent the May 25 naxal attack. “A section of the Congress supports Maoists and uses them during elections. History is witness that they [the Congress] have used their [Maoists’] help in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh... Maoism will not be defeated by statements from the Central government... If anyone was warning the country about Maoists, it was the BJP. It was only [Chhattisgarh CM] Raman Singh who took on Maoists.”

Mr. Jaitley told party workers that despite their differences with local leaders, their party was still the best bet for the common worker to grow.

“(Former CM) Sunderlal Patwa ji, (MP) Sumitra Mahajan, (CMs) Manohar Parrikar, Narendra Modi, Shivraj Chouhan, Sushil Modi (Bihar Deputy CM) — which families did they come from? They rose to power after 20 years of service. Shivraj ji still looks like an ordinary worker. The Congress wants to give the command of the country to a person only because he is from The Family. Is India a dynastic democracy? Every worker must take this debate to the people.”

Mr. Chouhan gave an hour-long speech, almost without a pause, on the government’s schemes. The focus was on development for all. The only whiff of Hindutva was when he spoke of plans for a Sita temple in Sri Lanka.

The conclave marks the launch of the BJP’s campaign for Assembly polls in November.

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