BJP question over PM candidate

This is the ideal time for the BJP to put forward a prime ministerial candidate. The ghost of the 2G and Commonwealth Games scams refuse to let go of the UPA. Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign has hit the Congress so hard that it is letting a loose cannon like Digvijaya Singh to respond to the crusader's statements.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's position has never been this weak, and Rahul Gandhi, the Congress' supposed successor to Dr Singh as a PM candidate, has invoked little confidence in the party or the electorate, except perhaps with sycophants.

Yet, the BJP has no PM candidate to speak of. Well, they think they have a few, but there seems to be no consensus over who should be 'The One'.

Last month, the 84-year-old Lal Krishna Advani -- in a moment that exposed an utter bankruptcy of ideas -- announced yet another rath yatra in a last ditch attempt to stake a claim for the PM's post. Insiders say Narendra Modi, Gujarat chief minister and the Right's poster boy, did not take it sportingly. After all, his supporters have already anointed him the party's PM candidate even though there is no official word.

Of course, these developments have left the party's two Leaders of Opposition in Parliament -- Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley -- nowhere. Swaraj has no RSS backing and Jaitley is supposedly considered too urban and sophisticated to lead the party in the next elections. Also, between the two, Swaraj has no love lost for Modi, while Jaitley is a staunch supporter of the Gujarat CM.

On Sunday, a new twist was added to this already complex calculus within the BJP. The RSS-backed BJP president Nitin Gadkari, managed to raise a number of eyebrows in the national capital by organising a gala book (of his speeches) release function on Saturday. It was attended by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, RSS top official Suresh Soni, Advani and Jaitley, but Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu, deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Gopinath Munde skipped it.

Other prominent faces who attended were the chief ministers of BJP-ruled states: Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. When asked about the no show by some of the prominent personalities, a Gadkari supporter said that except for sending invites no individual was contacted.

Even for an occasion such as a book release, therefore, the intrigue was more than apparent.

The fact is, the Nagpur man enjoys RSS support, and his move to gauge the mood in the national capital cannot be taken in isolation.

Party insiders said Gadkari seems to have reintroduced himself to Delhi with the book release function, as his past barbs targeted at Congress had evoked sharp reactions from political circles in Delhi.

Gadkari, sensing that the tension was palpable, tried to project himself as a man of vision and development, instead of someone hankering for any position. "I never expected the BJP chief's position; I feel shy sitting on the chair once occupied by leaders like Atal Behari Vajpeyee and Advaniji," he said.

Released by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar, the book Vikas ke Path (Roads to Development), is a compilation of 24 speeches delivered by the BJP leader in the last few years.

At the same time, Modi's announcement to participate in a rally to support Advani's Rath Yatra cannot be ignored, though he had marginalised himself by skipping the party's national executive meet in New Delhi recently.

At the function, Advani seemed uncomfortable and he avoided speaking for long, whereas senior RSS man Soni praised Gadkari for his vision. The party is also abuzz with Gadkari's new-found ambition to contest the Nagpur Lok Sabha seat, something that no hardliner BJP man has won.

To make his position clear, Gadkari will soon share the dais with prominent BJP leaders at three functions in his region. On November 1, with Jaitley and HP chief minister Premkumar Dhumal at Mahtma Cooperative Sugar factory in Wardha; on November 7 with former BJP chief Rajnath Singh and Madhya Pradesh CM Shivrajsingh Chauhan at Poorti Sugar Industries run by Gadkari; and on November 15, with Sushma Swaraj and Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh at the Vainganga Co-operative sugar factory at Bhandara.

The battelines are drawn.

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