Modi to lead BJP's 2014 election battle

Panaji, June 9 (IANS) Riding over dissent and differences within, Gujarat Chief Minister and Hindutva icon Narendra Modi was Sunday named to lead the BJP into the 2014 Lok Sabha battle, marking the end of the era of the party's ageing patriarchs.

The Bharatiya Janata Party announced here that the chief minister had been named chairman of the election management committee for the Lok Sabha polls, virtually ensuring that Modi, 62, will call the shots in the run up to the general elections.

The announcement was made by BJP president Rajnath Singh at the end of a two-day national executive meeting that saw heavy wrangling between a section backed by party patriarch L.K. Advani, who opposed Modi's ascent, and another group backing Modi's candidature.

"The coming Lok Sabha polls are a big challenge. We are going in to win. Keeping the campaign in mind, I have appointed Narendra Modi as the head of the campaign committee," Singh said outside the BJP conclave venue.

"The decision has been taken on the basis of consensus. We are sure the BJP will lead the next government," Singh added. The BJP president was flanked by Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Ananth Kumar.

Singh looked sombre while making the brief announcement -- so were the other leaders accompanying him, a possible result of the collective strain felt by the party leadership due to the intra-party wrangling.

Advani's unease with Modi -- he stayed away from the BJP meet citing stomach illness -- led to an unprecedented heckling at his Delhi house by Modi fans demanding that the senior leader relent and make way for the Gujarat chief minister as the face of the 2014 polls.

In his blog Sunday, a 'hurt' Advani evoked a string of historical and mythological anecdotes involving Hitler, Mussolini, a wounded and betrayed Bhishma Pitamaha and warrior Arjuna.

He also made references to dictatorial tendencies -- a trait critics see in Modi, who is also dogged by allegations of complicity in the 2002 Gujarat communal violence.

The differences between the two factions throughout the conclave forced various party leaders to play down Advani's absence and rule out any rifts within the party.

After his appointment, Modi tweeted: "Spoke to Advaniji... He gave me his blessings. Honoured and extremely grateful to receive his blessings. Senior leaders have reposed faith in me. We will leave no stone unturned for Congress Mukt Bharat Nirman. Thanks for support & blessings."

Modi has reason to be thrilled, if Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar is to be believed.

"You should have seen the applause. When it was announced, every one was clapping for five minutes," said Parrikar.

Modi was soon felicitated by top leaders including Sushma Swaraj, Ananth Kumar, Raman Singh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Murli Manohar Joshi, Arun Jaitely and Parrikar himself held hands on stage shouting "Bharat mata ki jai!"

Parrikar was the first BJP leader to set the ball rolling by announcing Modi as the party's prime ministerial candidate.

If there was thundering applause inside, outside the resort, firecrackers were burst and brass bands played the moment the BJP president made the formal announcement.

Party workers started shouting slogans like "Desh ka neta kaisa ho. Narendra Modi jaisa ho!"

Modi's elevation puts him in the same league as the party's other mega leaders like Atal Behari Vajpayee and Advani, whose stamp was all over the BJP campaigns in the 2004 and 2009 polls which the party lost.

The quantum political leap makes Modi's political pedigree several notches higher since he was first asked by the party to take over as the Gujarat chief minister in 2001.

Former party president M. Venkaiah Naidu said the committee headed by Modi would be in charge of planning the 2014 campaign and other allied chores.

"The election management committee will be supplementary to the party and not separate," Naidu said. He added that Modi's panel may not decide on the selection of candidates for the Lok Sabha polls.

"Selection of candidates is a different issue," Naidu said.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, recently projected by Advani as a better chief minister than Modi, also praised his Gujarat counterpart.

Former party president Nitin Gadkari expressed "full faith" in Modi in his new avatar.

But the Congress shrugged off Modi's appointment. "We are ready for a fight. We are not afraid of Modi," Congress MP Rajeev Shukla said.

Earlier, Modi said that India urgently needed to see the end of Congress rule.

"People are angry with the Congress," Modi said, adding that two power centres in that party, led by Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had cost the country dearly.

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