Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar on Saturday openly pushed for projecting Narendra Modi as the BJP’s “face” for the next general elections, becoming the first senior leader to do so in the divided party.

Mr. Parrikar, while showering praise on Mr. Modi for his “administrative capabilities” and “popularity”, said the Gujarat Chief Minister’s projection would give a tremendous boost to the electoral prospects of the party.

Mr. Modi’s projection should come at least six months ahead of the Lok Sabha polls expected around May next year to give “clarity” to the people of the country who “do not like ambiguity”, he told PTI in an interview here.

Mr. Parrikar’s open support for Mr. Modi came on the sidelines of BJP’s two-day National Executive meeting which is expected to discuss the party’s roadmap for elections to the Lok Sabha next year and Assemblies of five States prior to that later this year.

“On the basis of public opinion, definitely Modi should be the face of the party. I am not saying he should be declared as the Prime Ministerial candidate. But he has to be the face of the party. This is what I am getting feedback of people...I know what is wrong and what is right,” he said.

The Goa Chief Minister said he has got “clear signal” about “public opinion in favour” of Mr. Modi because he is in constant touch with the common people.

“I have some communication with the common people and I get clear signal about that (Modi’s projection),” Mr. Parrikar said.

He added that the decision in this regard has to be taken by the party’s top leadership and he will respect that even if his view is not accepted.

Mr. Parrikar had two years back described senior party leader L.K. Advani as “rancid pickle.”

Talking about the National Executive meeting, he said the party should at least announce a schedule about projecting or not projecting any face for the next elections.

“Technically, elections are 10 months away...you (party) should set a timetable... You should decide whether there should be a Prime Minister (candidate), or probable Prime Minister or give signals. You have to set up a schedule for that,” he said.

The Goa Chief Minister insisted that the projection should be made at least six months before the elections.

“So there are two months still left for that,” he said.

Seeking to justify his point, he said, “Considering the psyche of Indian people, a direct or indirect signal should be given...this is my personal opinion.”

He cited his own case, wherein he was not declared as the Chief Ministerial candidate but there were “enough signals” about his being the face of the party which enabled it to come to power.

While putting his weight behind Mr. Modi, Mr. Parrikar said Mr. Modi has already passed the “first test of popularity” and dubbed as “secondary” the dispute over his acceptability among allies.

“To form the government, you need to qualify first on popularity and then on numbers. Acceptability is a secondary factor. Acceptability factor comes in only when you get numbers (close to forming the government),” the Chief Minister underlined.

Asked whether Mr. Modi has passed that “first test”, he replied, “That is what I think.”

“Unless you touch 210 (seats in 543-member Lok Sabha) or so, you cannot form the government,” he said, expressing confidence that if Mr. Modi is projected, the BJP along with “allies who stick” could get more than 220 seats.

He felt Mr. Modi’s projection would help BJP to “poach” on at least two per cent votes and altogether swing three-four per cent of the votes in favour of BJP.

Mr. Parrikar said Mr. Modi has given a “good administration” to Gujarat over last 10 years and “this is accepted privately even by Congress leaders.”

He, however, indicated that an announcement on Mr. Modi may not take place at the on-going conclave as such a crucial decision is not taken at such a large gathering.

“A pre-manthan (churning) will take place in this meeting...380 people are assembled (at National Executive). Such a large gathering cannot take such a decision. It has to be taken by the small group which will take decision on the basis of feedback from this group,” he said.