Ahmedabad: Flanked by senior by senior BJP leaders including Arun Jaitley, Narendra Modi today released his party's manifesto for the Gujarat polls.
Ten days before Gujarat votes, Mr Modi has given his factionalism-riven party, the BJP, rare common cause. Over the weekend party seniors praised him; some even endorsing him as a potential candidate for Prime Minister.
While Sushma Swaraj was direct when she said that the Gujarat Chief Minister was "both capable and suitable for holding the PM's post", party patriarch LK Advani's endorsement was more oblique. He said, "Someone once asked me if Modi has become bigger than the party. I replied that in a family sometimes the younger ones are more capable then then the seniors and in such a case, seniors do not feel bad, they feel happy that a youth from their family is so capable."
Mr Advani also called the Gujarat Chief Minister a "role model" of development while appealing to states to imitate him. "Modi is undertaking great development work in Gujarat. He is a role model for chief ministers of other states on how to rule, govern and take care of even the poorest," he said.
Mr Advani, Mr Modi's mentor till the two fell apart, has been described as a PM-in-waiting, and while many say that at 86, he will be too old to compete in the 2014 elections, his hat is said to be firmly in the ring. Sushma Swaraj, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and one of the seniormost leaders of the BJP, is also said to be a hopeful.
Others, like Maharashtra leader Gopinath Munde, too have backed Mr Modi. "Narendra Modi is capable of becoming PM and I am satisfied with Sushma Swaraj's opinion... He has potential of becoming PM," Mr Munde said on Sunday.
The question of a larger national role for Mr Modi after the Gujarat elections and whether the party will project him as a candidate for PM in the next General elections has reportedly had the party exercised for some time now. The faction loyal to him within the party has been demanding a declaration to that effect - most recently articulated by Rajya Sabha MP Ram Jethmalani, who also rebeled against the leadership of party president Nitin Gadkari. Mr Jethmalani has since been suspended.
The BJP has kept the issue of its candidate for PM in 2014 on the backburner so far. Not least because Mr Modi is not universally acceptable in the NDA coalition. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose party the Janata Dal United or JD(U) is a senior member of the NDA, has said that as the largest party in the ensemble, the BJP has the prerogative of picking the coalition's prime ministerial candidate. However, he has warned that he will exit the group if the BJP makes Mr Modi its nominee. He has stressed that the NDA's prime ministerial candidate must have secular credentials - a thinly-veiled remark against Mr Modi, whose ambitions to move to the national landscape from Gujarat are hampered by the communal riots in his state in 2002.
The immediate focus of the BJP and Mr Modi though is Gujarat which will vote in two phases on December 13 and 17. Results will be declared on December 20. Mr Modi is contesting from his Maninagar seat in Ahmedabad. The Congress has fielded newbie Shweta Bhatt, the wife of suspended police officer Sanjiv Bhatt, against the CM. Mr Modi has been winning from the seat since 2002.
Mr Modi will release the BJP's manifesto today with Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and close friend Arun Jaitley by his side. Other leaders will be present too. Among those that have been campaigning aggressively in Gujarat is Mr Gadkari, who faces accusations of corruption and financial impropriety in the conduct of his business, and has had a torrid few weeks gone by. Mr Gadkari and Mr Modi have been daggers drawn for some time now over various issues, among them the BJP president's attempt to reinstate Mr Modi's long-time rival Sanjay Joshi in the party last year.