The agenda for Modi’s meeting with party president Rajnath Singh, former party president Nitin Gadkari and senior leader Arun Jaitley was believed to be discussing BJP’s strategy on overtures by potential allies, as well as intra-party issues. The talks, sources said, were in line with the party’s assessment that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would emerge as the political formation with the best chance of forming the next government at the Centre.
Before the meeting, Singh had told reporters in Gandhinagar there were lots of issues the leaders needed to discuss. This couldn’t have been done over telephone. “So, we said we shall meet and discuss all the issues. The discussion will be on our post-poll strategy after the results are announced on May 16,” Singh said, adding who would be Modi’s successor in Gandhinagar might also be discussed.
The three leaders flew down to Gandhinagar after indications from Chennai and Bhubaneswar that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) might be keen to support a Modi-led government. Patnaik, as well as AIADMK leaders, however, said their parties would wait until the results before taking a call.
A flurry of meetings took place on Tuesday and Wednesday among top party leaders in Delhi. These suggested BJP was keen to sew all loose ends within the party. Before leaving for Gandhinagar, Gadkari, who had earlier met party patriarch L K Advani on Tuesday, held meetings with Singh and Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi. Singh, too, met Swaraj before she left for Bhopal.
Gadkari, emerging as somebody trying to negotiate among various groups within the party, dismissed reports that he was trying to return as BJP chief. He said there would be no change in the leadership and Rajnath Singh would continue to steer the party. Gadkari had quit as BJP president in 2013 after allegations of irregularities in businesses he had floated. The income-tax department recently gave him a clean chit. The former BJP chief refused to be drawn into questions on whether Advani would be offered the post of Speaker of the Lok Sabha or made NDA chairman. He said Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were the founders of the party. "They are the motivation and inspiration for all of us. Ultimately, at an appropriate time, we will discuss the issue with them and it is up to the party to take a decision."
All leaders, however, advised the media not to make too much about their meetings. "Any speculation about my meetings with Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari is totally wrong," Swaraj said. She termed the meetings courtesy visits.
“We wanted to meet one another ahead of poll results. When they came to know that I was going to Bhopal and would not be here, they came to meet me. It was a routine courtesy meeting. It had nothing more," she said, adding she wasn't "angry" at any of the other senior party leaders.
There were indications that potential allies like BJD had approached BJP. "Keeping in view the opinion of the whole country and the state's interest, there should be no problem in providing conditional support to NDA to form government at the Centre," BJD chief whip Pravat Tripathy said.
But BJP supremo Naveen Patnaik denied there had been any talks on this issue. "No talks at all. We have not discussed anything. We have not thought of it yet. Let us wait till the results," he said. Party leader Jay Panda said the subject of supporting a Modi government would be discussed by the party and Patnaik would take the final decision. BJD had severed ties with NDA months before the 2009 Odisha Assembly and Lok Sabha polls. Most exit polls have forecast that BJD might win a substantial number of Odisha's 21 Lok Sabha seats and also return in the 147-member Assembly.
Reports from Tamilnadu also indicated that Jayalalithaa might be amenable to supporting a Modi government at the Centre. K Malaisamy, an AIADMK leader, described Modi as a "great friend of Jayalalithaa". He said the two might "differ politically" but "Madam would like close ties" with the Centre if Modi were to become the prime minister. According to reports, Jayalalithaa didn't contradict her party leader but said she would wait until the election results before responding.
In New Delhi, Nationalist Congress Party spokesman D P Tripathi denied the party could support NDA. He said NCP would sit in the Opposition if NDA formed the government. On Tuesday, party leader Praful Patel had said NCP wanted a stable government at the Centre.