The absence of senior BJP leader L.K. Advani, ostensibly on health grounds, at the party’s office bearers meeting on the eve of a two-day National Executive that begins here on Saturday has exposed the deep schism in the upper echelons of the party on the pros and cons of making Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi the party’s face for the 2014 general election.

Party president Rajnath Singh was at pains to explain that it was he who advised Mr. Advani not to travel at the expense of his health. However, there were few takers for this explanation, as for several weeks now Mr. Advani, who has not given up his prime ministerial ambitions, has been working assiduously to downplay the development USP of Mr. Modi and thus his claim to fame.

It is for the first time since the formation of the party in 1980 that Mr. Advani is not participating in an office bearers meeting to finalise the National Executive agenda. Though Mr. Rajnath Singh has asserted that Mr. Advani would be present at the National Executive, doubts persisted. Interestingly, party MP Jogi Adityanath has contended that Mr. Advani is the right choice.

There is little doubt that the party’s rank and file is clamouring for projection of Mr. Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, as was evident at the party’s National Council meeting in New Delhi in March.

The resistance to his leadership is from an influential section of the party, which includes Mr. Advani and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, and has no ideological underpinnings.

Within days after taking over the reins of the party in January, Mr. Singh had issued a diktat to the rank and file not to speak on prime ministerial candidate. However, it made little difference.

Parrikar bats for Modi

Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, the host, could not resist the temptation to speak out his mind on what every one is wanting to know. “Modi can catapult the party to power. He will take us closer to government formation at the Centre,” he told reporters.

Several top leaders are likely to skip the National Executive. The list includes vice-president Uma Bharti, general secretary Varun Gandhi, deputy leader of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha Ravi Shankar Prasad, Jaswant Singh and Shatrughan Sinha.

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