The former BJP president, Nitin Gadkari, has asserted that neither he nor Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley gave Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar any assurance that Narendra Modi would not be projected as the prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections.

Adverting to a media report, Mr. Gadkari confirmed that during his meeting with Mr. Kumar in July last the issue of PM candidate had figured but said he did not mention any name.

Mr. Gadkari’s ‘section of the media’ reference is to a front-page report in The Times of India titled, “Did Gadkari assure Nitish that Modi won’t be PM candidate?”

It is very rare for top-rung BJP leaders to issue a press statement on the basis of a speculative report in a section of the media and it assumes greater significance in the context of the war of words between the JD(U) and the BJP.

By suggesting that the BJP would also decide whether to project a PM candidate before the election, Mr. Gadkari has left no scope for the allies to insist that the nominee be announced ahead of the polls.

Some of the senior BJP leaders are intrigued at what prompted Mr. Gadkari to rake up the subject, especially after party president Rajnath Singh emphasised on Wednesday that his topmost priority is to keep the National Democratic Alliance in tact.

Mr. Singh’s statement, made in the course of his interaction with members of the Indian Women’s Press Corps, was seen as an effort to reach out to the JD(U) as well as the Shiv Sena, which insisted that the BJP, as the single largest NDA constituent, has the right to project a PM candidate, but it has to be done in consultation with the allies.

Mr. Gadkari’s statement said that at the meeting, some time in July 2012, at Mr. Jaitley’s residence, “the three leaders had reviewed the political situation in the country and discussed the NDA strategy for the next general elections due in 2014. Shri Nitish Kumar had raised the issue of the prospective NDA leader for the Lok Sabha polls.

“Both Shri Gadkari and Shri Jaitley had told Shri Kumar that the BJP had not taken a decision on projecting anyone as its prime ministerial candidate. The BJP leadership would discuss the issue at the appropriate time and certainly take all the NDA partners into confidence.”

Mr. Gadkari had said the issue whether the BJP would project someone before the elections or elect the NDA leader after the polls would also be taken up by the party leadership at the appropriate time and “a decision would be taken in consultation with the NDA allies.”

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