BJP chief Rajnath Singh hints at bigger role for Narendra Modi

BJP chief Rajnath Singh hints at bigger role for Narendra Modi

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New Delhi:  It's Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's turn now to get a "bigger role" in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

In the first clear indication that deliberations are likely to begin soon on Mr Modi's future in the party, the Mr Singh told NDTV in an exclusive interview, "Narendra Modi has turned Gujarat into a model state. The state's administration is the best. Modi is a popular leader across the country. I will soon begin discussions with central leaders on this. I will be speaking to Narendra Modi also - though I will not divulge what I will be discussing." (Who is Rajnath Singh? | Who is Narendra Modi?)

A decision on who will lead the BJP into the 2014 elections will be taken by the BJP parliamentary board, the top decision-making body of the party, Mr Singh hastened to add.

So what are the qualifications the BJP is looking for in that person? "We will look for a clean image, popularity and acceptability," Mr Singh said. His own role, he said, "will be restricted to organisational responsibilities", making clear that he will make no claim to that job.

Rajnath Singh had emerged as a consensus candidate this week for the post of BJP president hours after the income tax department raided offices of companies which had done business with the Purti group, set up by Nitin Gadkari, who was the party president and looked set to get an unprecedented second term.

Mr Singh refused to admit that the RSS and the BJP were pushed to rethink Mr Gadkari's candidacy because of the IT raids, less than 24 hours before the election for the post was to be held. And stoutly defended his predecessor.

"Gadkari decided to resign as the media was making a big issue out of the raids. He had to resign due to the false and malicious charges levelled against him," Mr Singh said.

Asked why he has never been the target of such "politically motivated" raids by the UPA government, Mr Singh said, "I have been a teacher and a farmer. Anyone who runs a business can face such a survey. Though none of the companies Gadkari was associated with faced an IT probe."

Nitin Gadkari, Mr Singh said, would continue contributing to the party. He, however, refused to comment on whether Mr Gadkari could make a comeback as party president in the future.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is the BJP's ideological mentor, is said to have picked Rajnath Singh for BJP president after its first choice, Nitin Gadkari, faced stiff opposition from Mr Advani and others. Expectedly, Rajnath Singh, like other BJP leaders, denied that the RSS orchestrated his move into the BJP's top office, a post he has held before.

But unlike others, he admitted that on many issues the BJP consults the RSS. He said the RSS and BJP hold regular sessions to analyse, evaluate and plan. Like on the response to Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde's recent charges against the Sangh.

Mr Singh's immediate task as he took over on Wednesday was to lead his party's protest against Mr Shinde for saying saying that the "BJP and the RSS were promoting Hindu terrorism".

The BJP president said, "Do the BJP and RSS run terror camps? I, LK Advani and others have a long association with the Sangh. Are we terrorists?" Mr Singh was at the centre of the party's protest at Delhi's Jantar Mantar yesterday. The BJP held protests in other cities too.

The BJP's anti-Shinde plan includes taking its protest to Parliament. "We will effectively raise this issue in Parliament when the Budget Session starts. We will ask the Home Minister to apologise and withdraw his remarks which have been endorsed by the head of terror outfits in Pakistan. If he doesn't, then the PM should sack Shinde," he said.

But Rajnath Singh refused to even consider that the BJP's aggressive posturing on the issue might derail work in Parliament during the crucial budget session. "Why will Parliament get disrupted if the government accepts our demand?" he asked.

He rejected Congress leader Digvijaya Singh's allegation that he had visited sadhvi Pragya Thakur, who was arrested in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, in prison. "I have never gone to meet Pragya in prison. Mr Singh must verify the facts," he said.

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