Playing for high stakes, the Bharatiya Janata Party took a gamble in the only State where casinos are legal, by naming Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the party’s face for the 2014 general election.
Though on paper Mr. Modi has been appointed Chairman of the National Election Campaign Committee, the categorical speeches made by BJP leaders at a workers’ meeting later on Sunday evening left nothing to imagination that the party leadership considers him the best bet to take on the UPA.
Minutes after president Rajnath Singh announced the decision here at the end of the two-day National Executive meeting, in the presence of Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and her counterpart in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, the Gujarat Chief Minister tweeted that he called up senior leader L.K. Advani and got his blessings for the new job.
The anointment was preceded by hours of agonising backdoor negotiations to bring on board sulking leaders, including Mr. Advani who skipped the meeting citing ill-health.
According to sources, the RSS played a key role in pushing for Mr. Modi despite resistance from influential senior leaders. Mr. Advani is the only visible face of those who opposed the elevation of the Gujarat Chief Minister but there were several others, including the former party president, Murli Manohar Joshi, who were unyielding till the end.
BJP leaders concede that Mr. Modi has won a decisive victory within the party in the power game ahead of the election. The harder part for the party and his supporters would be getting on board NDA constituents. So far only the Shiromani Akali Dal, the oldest ally of the BJP, has expressed support for Mr. Modi.
The manoeuvrings within the party apart, a meeting of the BJP workers of the Goa unit addressed by Mr. Singh and Mr. Modi displayed a great deal on the changed power equations within the BJP.
It was organised specially to showcase Mr. Modi not just to the party workers but to the rest of the country, knowing well it would be telecast live on all channels. Ms. Swaraj was among those who were billed to address the meeting but she could not attend it as she had a flight to catch.