As Narendra Modi looms large, BJP looks beyond 'fifth straight win for party'

FP

As Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi sought to drive home the import of his "hat-trick" victory on Thursday in an address to supporters after the results were announced, the BJP leadership in Delhi skirted the issue of whether it was time for the powerful state satrap to play a national role. What it repeatedly underlined instead was that it was the "fifth consecutive victory" for the BJP in the state.

"We have won five consecutive elections in Gujarat, three of them under the leadership of Narendra Modi," Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley told reporters. "This is the 2012 election and this settles the issue of 2012. The issues related to 2014 will be discussed and decided when the situation warrants," he added in response to another query.

It appears that this was part of a careful media strategy worked out by the party to "not fall into the trap" of queries around Modi as PM on Thursday.

Video: Sunil Jain on Gujarat polls

I'm your man: Hat-trick Modi to India

However, Gujarat being the first hat-trick victory for any BJP leader, the central leadership will find it difficult to ward off Modi's claim for greater say in the party's national affairs leading up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

A leader indicated the relief in the Delhi leadership that Modi did not outperform himself this time. "Had it been 140 seats or more, there would have been immense pressure and short deadlines to declare Modi as first among equals," confided a central BJP leader.

Still, the Gujarat CM looks set to play a crucial role in the decision of who would be the next party chief ó Nitin Gadkari is virtually on a "deemed extension" since December 19. Gadkari, whose hopes of a second term remain alive, was full of praise for Modi on Thursday, describing Gujarat results as a vindication of his politics of development.

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