Amid speculation about Narendra Modi’s projection as BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, party president Rajnath Singh on Sunday remained non-committal on the issue but hailed the Gujarat Chief Minister as the “most popular leader in the nation”.

Mr. Singh also expressed confidence that no ally of NDA including JD(U), which has been expressing reservations against Mr. Modi, will go out of the alliance.

He maintained that the final authority to take the decision regarding the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate remains with the BJP Parliamentary Board, and added, “...only the board that will decide what parameters it adopts to decide about the PM candidate.”

Referring to Mr. Modi, a top JD(U) leader had on Saturday said at the party’s national executive meeting that “being popular is a different thing and becoming Prime Minister is another.”

Mr. Singh said he was confident that “whatever decision the Parliamentary Board of BJP takes will not result into creation of any crisis. I can say it with confidence.”

The BJP president, however, evaded questions on whether he was suggesting that Mr. Modi may not be projected as PM candidate.

“I accept this that if there is someone, who is the most popular leader in the nation, it is Narendra Modi...whether it is the BJP cadre or common people, Mr. Modi is a very popular leader among them. Nobody can deny this” Mr. Singh told Karan Thapar on Devil’s Advocate programme on CNN-IBN.

He was responding to queries like why Mr. Modi is not being projected as the BJP’s PM candidate when he is considered best by a section in the party to take on Congress’ Rahul Gandhi.

“I cannot say this that the fight will be between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi,” the BJP president said.

Mr. Singh raised doubts on the contention that Rahul Gandhi would be the Congress’ PM candidate. “Congress has not declared its PM candidate. How do you say Rahul Gandhi is the PM candidate of Congress?”

Expressing confidence that BJP’s relations with its allies would not be disturbed, he dubbed as “hypothetical” the contention that allies will object the PM candidate elected by BJP if it emerges as the single largest party.

“I am sure that the alliance which we have with other parties will not break at all,” Mr. Rajnath said.

Mr. Singh said his party will keep a close watch on the JD(U)’s resolutions as “amendments happen on the proposed resolution even at last moment...we should wait for the decisions of the JD(U)’s executive and council meeting.”

He was asked about JDU’s reported demand that the BJP should declare its Prime Ministerial candidate within a time-frame before the next year’s general elections.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who has been a vocal critic of Mr. Modi, had a dinner meeting with Mr. Singh on Saturday where they are said to have discussed the alliance’s future strategy.

The BJP president vehemently rejected the talks that Mr. Modi was projecting himself as party’s Prime Ministerial candidate, saying it was not the case and that the Gujarat CM was addressing various forums as he was being invited by them.

“It’s not that Modi is going there for personal projection. He is going there because he is being invited.

Other Chief Ministers are also doing it. What crime Modi has committed when he did this?

“I had talked to Modi many times since I became the BJP President. He did not say even once that he should be projected BJP’s PM candidate. Modi had not promoted himself nor he is doing it now,” Mr. Singh said.

He also dismissed the contention that Mr. Modi is not considered secular.

“BJP is a secular political party and Modi is the Chief Minister of this very secular party...Neither JD(U) President Sharad Yadav nor Nitish Kumar had said this to me,” he said.

Rejecting the allegation that Mr. Modi had shown biasness against a particular community during the post-Godhra riots and did not take steps to check the communal carnage, the BJP chief said he had also been a chief Minister and understands that no CM wants any anarchy to happen in his/her state.

“To say that Modi had engineered the riots or took the side of of one community cannot be expected from any Chief Minister. Nobody can ever do this. If it is said that the communal riots there happened with Mr. Modi’s consent, then does it mean the riots that took place under CPI(M), Congress and SP rules also happened with their consent?” he asked.

Asserting that BJP is the “most secular party of the country”, he said people should wait for the judgement on the post-Godhra riots and should not reach a conclusion before it comes. “It cannot even be imagined that Mr. Modi engineered or provoked the riots,” he said.

Mr. Singh also justified Mr. Modi not apologising for the Gujarat riots like Congress president Sonia Gandhi did over the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, saying Modi has “no reason to express regret” and that he has already said it many times that the communal riots in Gujarat were unfortunate.

“If Sonia Gandhi apologised over Gujarat riots, it is because of the statement of her husband late Rajiv Gandhi, after the assassination of his mother Indira Gandhi, that the earth shakes up when a big tree falls,” Mr. Singh said.

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