Sushma puts LK in PM race
New Delhi, May 22: Sushma Swaraj today said the BJP would take an “appropriate decision at an appropriate time” on its prime ministerial candidate for 2014 but added the call would be taken in consultation with allies and stressed that L.K. Advani was a contender.
“The BJP parliamentary board will take an appropriate decision at an appropriate time in consultation with NDA allies. Why are you in a hurry?” Sushma, the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, said in reply to a query on the leadership issue in the BJP.
Sushma and Rajya Sabha Opposition leader Arun Jaitley were addressing a joint news conference to attack the UPA’s “split leadership” on the anniversary of the government but unwittingly dragged the spotlight on the rift in the BJP on the leadership question.
Sushma said a coalition government required “special leadership qualities” and added that “Manmohan Singh is the Prime Minister but is neither a leader of the country nor the leader of his own party”.
She sought to put senior BJP leader L.K. Advani in the race for prime ministerial candidate.
“When did I say that Advani is ruled out? His name will also be considered when the party takes a call,” she replied when asked if Advani would be considered.
Sushma’s statement would not please Narendra Modi, believed to be the strongest contender for the top job in the party.
If NDA allies are given a say, as Sushma asserted they would be, Modi is likely to face a strong veto from key ally Janata Dal (United). The Dal (U) has asked for a prime ministerial candidate with “unquestionable” secular credentials.
By not ruling out Advani, Sushma appeared to be seeking to pit the veteran against Modi. If NDA allies are consulted and Advani is fielded as a candidate, he could have an edge over Modi.
Many BJP leaders who oppose Modi’s candidature argue that the blot of the 2002 riots on the Gujarat leader would drive away many regional parties who are otherwise opposed to the Congress.
Modi was in Delhi yesterday and held a 40-minute one-to-one meeting with Advani to try and mend fences with him. Advani is seen in party circles as the biggest hurdle to Modi’s aspiration for a national role.
Top sources said that at the parliamentary board meeting yesterday, Modi had offered to address a news conference and take on the Congress on the fourth anniversary of the UPA government but was denied permission. The board decided that the party’s leaders in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, Sushma and Jaitley, should do the job.
The two leaders sought to attack the UPA’s anniversary celebrations by focusing on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s alleged lack of “leadership qualities”.
Jaitley, known to be a Modi backer, kept quiet on the leadership question but Sushma confronted the subject.
A section in the party feels there is a groundswell of support for Modi, which makes him the party’s best bet. But another lobby feels that in the age of coalitions, the Gujarat leader would put off allies.
Sushma is known to be close to Advani and opposes projecting Modi as the party’s 2014 mascot. Sushma herself is a keen contender in the prime ministerial race but used Advani’s name to spoil Modi’s chances, party sources said.
During a recent interview to a TV channel, Sushma, asked about party president Rajnath Singh’s description of Modi as the “most popular leader”, had said: “It is his (Rajnath’s) personal opinion.”
Sushma said that in the age of coalitions, any national party would have to anchor a coalition government and, therefore, there was the need for a “special leadership”.