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NEWS|Politics 
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Photo: PTI

Narendra Modi’s potential candidature for prime minister won its biggest backer yet on Monday with former BJP finance minister and heavyweight Yashwant Sinha coming out in support of the Gujarat strongman. “Common people and party activists are strongly demanding that the BJP name Narendra Modi as its Prime Ministerial candidate. I too have reached the conclusion that if the BJP names him, the party will reap immense political gains,” Sinha told the media. “The party has to decide on this but such is the people’s opinion.” 

Asked by reporters about the stated opposition to the idea from the Janata Dal (United) which heads a coalition with the BJP in Bihar, Sinha said that while he wanted alliances to hold, the BJP retained the right to decide its PM candidate. He added that if some allies left, others might join.

The remarks came a day after Modi met newly crowned BJP president Rajnath Singh, a meeting seen by observers as loaded with significance and presaging a move to Delhi.  Modi won a third term as chief minister in Gujarat only in December, but speculation is already growing that it is merely a question of how soon and in what role he will make the transition to national politics.

The BJP, through Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, stuck to the line that the decision for the top post would be taken by the party at an appropriate time. Swaraj, incidentally, had surprised many by appearing to throw her weight behind Modi as PM candidate during the Gujarat campaign, underlining the pressure senior BJP leaders face to embrace the charismatic but controversial Modi. Her support at that time, however, was nowhere near as unequivocal as Sinha's on Monday.

Though Sinha is not part of the party's decision-making core or close to its ideological patrons, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, backing from a man of his stature adds weight to the clamour among party workers for Modi's elevation.

Party leaders also see Sinha’s statement as an attempt to distance himself from party patriarch L K Advani, who retains prime ministerial ambitions of his own but is growing increasingly isolated within the party. Many had read Sinha’s last-minute desire to contest the presidency election of the BJP as being prompted by Advani, and pitching for Modi could be designed to dispel any impression of closeness to the ageing leader and show Sinha as being in tune with the wishes of the party's rank and file.

Significantly, Sinha had till recently played down talk of Modi as PM and even pitched his own name for the post.

The JD(U) was quick to underline the potential pitfalls the BJP may face in elevating Modi, blamed by many for anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002.

JD(U) president Sharad Yadav told PTI: “Alliances are formed with difficulty and Yashwant Sinha’s statement is uncalled for”. Sanjay Raut, spokesman for another  BJP ally, the Shiv Sena, said the BJP should call an NDA meeting if the alliance’s PM candidate is to be decided.

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