Ahmedabad/New Delhi: The swearing-in of Narendra Modi as Gujarat’s chief minister for the fourth time on Wednesday highlighted potential rifts with some key party and alliance leaders, who chose to stay away from the ceremony.
Modi, the first Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief minister to win three terms in row, is seen as the top contender for the prime ministerial post if the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) manages a victory in the next Lok Sabha elections, due in 2014.
Attendance or non-attendance of key politicians at the swearing-in ceremony served as an indication of potential new allies for the BJP, India’s principal opposition party—or divisions in existing tie-ups.
Top leaders from Bihar, where the Janata Dal (United), or JDU, rules in a coalition with the BJP, did not attend the ceremony. This included Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar of the JDU, who has been critical of Modi, as well as the BJP’s Sushil Kumar Modi, deputy chief minister of the state. Naveen Patnaik of Orissa, whose Biju Janata Dal (BJD) was a part of the previous NDA government at the Centre, too was not present.
Yet Modi was not short of support. Seven other chief ministers including Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, whose All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) too was an NDA ally, and top leaders of the BJP were present at the ceremony. Jayalalithaa, who was seated next to the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj at the ceremony, indicated that Modi could count on her if he were to form a new alliance in 2014.
A senior BJP leader, declining to be identified, said the party made efforts to bring leaders of the BJD and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to the swearing-in ceremony, seen as a show of strength for Modi. The NCP is a key ally of the BJP’s rival Congress party that heads the United Progressive Alliance government.
“Both Patnaik’s and Kumar’s absence suggests that they do not support Modi as their PM candidate. Modi has a rapport with Jayalalithaa and is looking for her support,” said Ghanshyam Shah, an Ahmedabad-based political expert.
Also missing at the ceremony were top leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), including its chief Mohan Bhagwat. The RSS is the ideological parent of the BJP and Modi rose through its ranks to become Gujarat’s chief minister about a decade ago.
BJP party president Nitin Gadkari, who according to media reports has had differences with Modi, was present along with other top party leaders such as Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and L.K. Advani.
Chief ministers in attendance were Manohar Parrikar of Goa, Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh, Arjun Munda of Jharkhand, Jagadish Shettar of Karnataka and Parkash Singh Badal of Punjab. Except Badal, who belongs to the Shiromani Akali Dal, the other chief ministers are BJP leaders.
“People within the BJP are taking political positions and a lot of posturing is going on. Everyone is playing safe because they want to be with the winning team,” said Sandeep Shastri, political analyst and pro vice-chancellor at Jain University and director of the International Academy for Creative Teaching at Bangalore. “Everyone is adopting the wait-and-watch policy, anyone who matters in the BJP is making their presence felt,” he added.
Following Modi’s swearing-in, 16 other ministers were sworn in to form a new government. Of them, at least half a dozen ministers from the previous Modi administration, including Nitin Patel, Anandiben Patel, Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and Ramanlal Vora, were made cabinet ministers. Their portfolios were not disclosed.