Mumbai: Addressing a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rally in Mumbai on Friday, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi hit out at the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the centre. Sharing the dias with BJP President Nitin Gadkari, Mr Modi, who seems to have emerged as the tallest leader in his party, said the UPA had no "neta or niti"(leader or policy).
Comparing the government to the "Darbar of Nirmal Baba", the Gujarat strongman was critical of the proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). He also said, "The Prime Minister should answer why the rupee is falling constantly. I see a conspiracy behind this."
Taking a dig at the coalition trouble in UPA-II, Mr Modi quipped, "Sometimes, the Prime Minister says there are some compulsions of the coalition. I want to ask you Prime Minister, your Foreign Minister reads the speech of the leader of another country at the UN. Is this also a compulsion of coalition?." Referring to government-Army Chief Gen V K Singh standoff, Mr Modi said "the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister are of Congress. Still, the government is pitted against the Army. What compulsion is this?"
Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley said, "...there is no leadership in the government. There is policy paralysis." Mr Jaitley added, "Every day, there is a new instance of corruption."
Claiming that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will return to power in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP President Nitin Gadkari said, "... the Government has been admitted in the ICU. The BJP is the only answer to every problem."
But just as Mr Gadkari seemed to have managed to bring together all discordant pieces - the Modi crisis over, BS Yeddyurappa arriving in Mumbai - his party's show of unity seemed to have come undone again. Friday's key rally in Mumbai was attended by all BJP Chief Ministers but the party's senior-most leader L K Advani was not present. Neither was top leader Sushma Swaraj.
The BJP played down their absence saying both had prior engagements. Ms Swaraj also tweeted, "I respect and honour all decisions of the Party. Please do not draw any other conclusions...I must reach Delhi tonight because I have to leave early morning for an important party function in UP tomorrow."
But NDTV has learnt Mr Advani did say no to attending the rally, apparently miffed over some rally hoarding on which he was nowhere to be seen, though even Maharashtra BJP leaders figured. But the bigger reason reportedly is his opposition to a second term as party President to Mr Gadkari. Mr Advani and Ms Swaraj are reportedly among several top BJP leaders who are opposed this second term for Mr Gadkari.
Mr Gadkari, with the staunch support of the RSS, was assured of a second term yesterday when the party amended its rules and passed a resolution to that effect. Mr Advani, though in Mumbai for the two-day meet, was not present when a party core group passed that resolution. The BJP said he was visiting an ailing relative.
Mr Advani has been a core part of the BJP's political strategy for the last 60 years and has never missed a meeting yet. There is disquiet thus at his decision to not attend the rally, amid talk that he is upset at the dissent in the party spilling out and upstaging the meet's agenda. "Mr Advani said that the slide of the Congress is not matched by the rise of the BJP," Sudheendra Kulkarni said.
Some partymen also point out that Mr Advani did not want to share stage with former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, who has openly criticised the senior leader. A sulking Mr Yeddyurappa had planned to skip the meeting but seemed to change his mind after Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi decided to attend. Mr Modi had planned a boycott because of the presence of an old rival Sanjay Joshi and agreed to attend the Mumbai meet only after Mr Joshi resigned from the party executive.
These dramatic events have dominated what was meant to have been a resurgent, united party's strategy meet. Yesterday the BJP president handed his partymen three mantras: Expand the National Democratic Alliance, increase the BJP's vote share by 10 per cent, and concentrate efforts on building a base among the poor, the minorities and Dalits.
It had planned a sedate Day 2 with strategy-making on the agenda. The BJP has on its plate strategising for the July elections that will decide who becomes the next President of India. Also, with general elections just two years away, it has to blueprint its plan of attack against the Congress-led government at the Centre. And most importantly, it has to prepare for Assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh later this year. The BJP rules both those states and must retain them in the run-up to the 2014 General Elections.