Gwalior: It's not the first time that LK Advani has pitted Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan against his Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi, seen by many as a frontrunner to be the BJP's presumptive prime minister in the next general elections. Today, Mr Advani said Mr Chouhan's "humility" reminded him of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
In the BJP, that is extravagant praise. Mr Advani said, "Vajpayee always remained very humble and far away from arrogance. Similarly, I found Chouhan very humble, like Vajpayee." It is being seen as a direct jab at Mr Modi, who likes to detail how he scripted Gujarat's economic growth story in every speech he makes.
Mr Advani also said today that Gujarat was already economically prosperous when Mr Modi took over and that the BJP leader had only made it better. "I always tell Narendra Modi that Gujarat was already prosperous, 'You have multiplied the development there'... But Madhya Pradhesh and Chhattisgarh were not so prosperous... After multiplying the rate of development in Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj ji is still humble as a person." Mr Advani's contention is almost in line with the Congress', which holds that Mr Modi's success in Gujarat is built on the foundation that its governments had laid in the state.
The BJP's seniormost leader was speaking at a Madhya Pradesh state executive meet and his comments underscore a leadership tussle in the BJP.
There are large sections in the party that want Mr Modi to be declared the party's candidate for PM for the 2014 elections, now months away. But the BJP has not done that in the face of vehement opposition from crucial allies like the Janata Dal (United), which says that the taint of the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat under Mr Modi's watch makes him unacceptable.
Mr Modi has assiduously attempted to obliterate that taint with an image makeover that casts him as an efficient, development-oriented administrator. The 85-year-old Mr Advani, also seen as a claimant to the top post, has repeatedly projected Mr Chouhan's abilities as though to highlight that Mr Modi is not the only successful BJP chief minister.
When Mr Modi was inducted into the BJP's parliamentary board, an elite group of 12 top leaders who take the most important decisions in the party, Mr Advani had suggested that Mr Chouhan be inducted. Party president Rajnath Singh later explained that there was only one place and Mr Modi was picked.