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New Delhi: The rift in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ostensibly over the proposed anointment of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as the campaign head for the 2014 Lok Sabha election, seems to have widened with a number of top leaders set to skip the first day of the main opposition party’s national executive meet.

The two-day meet of the BJP’s national executive and council members that begins on Saturday in Panaji, Goa, is likely to set the stage for the party's campaign strategy. It is widely expected that the four-time Gujarat chief minister will be given a bigger responsibility if not named the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.

“There is a lot of clamour and groundswell for Modi. And it is not easy for the party leadership to skip pressure from cadres and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), especially when elections are round the corner," said a BJP leader who will be attending the meet.

“We are expecting that some sort of signal or message would be delivered from party’s largest platform on Sunday," the leader said.

The RSS is the BJP’s ideological parent and has considerable influence on the party’s members.

Political analysts say BJP president Rajnath Singh, who seemed to back Modi, is faced with difficulties because of the resistance from other top leaders to the Gujarat chief minister.

“The real challenge for the party president is to develop a consensus around the nature of leadership on the 2014 polls," said Mumbai-based political analyst Jai Mrug. “The suggested absentia from the national executive speak(s) of unresolved differences in the party."

On Friday evening, BJP leaders Uma Bharti, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Varun Gandhi, the party’s new general secretary, weren’t present at a meeting of office-bearers. Bharti was said to be sick, while Prasad and Gandhi are out of the country, according to party leaders.

The absence of party stalwart L.K. Advani, who presently does not hold any charge, started speculation about his disapproval of Modi being projected to head the BJP’s election campaign committee.

Advani is expected to attend the national executive meet on Saturday, said senior BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu.

“Don’t try to read too much into his absence for today (Friday)," Naidu told reporters. “Advani would arrive in Goa tomorrow and will stay here for two days to attend the national executive meeting. Advani could not make it today because of health problems."

“Everything is normal. Whatever the party is supposed to decide, they will decide in the meeting," he said.

When pointed out that several leaders, including Bharti and Gandhi, are likely to skip the two-day national executive meet, Naidu said some leaders might not participate because of their preoccupations. “They must have informed party president about their absence," he said.

At the meeting on Friday, Goa’s BJP chief minister Manohar Parrikar announced his backing for Modi as the campaign head to help the party regain power at the Centre in 2014.

Modi was given a rousing welcome when he arrived in Goa on Friday, with Parrikar leading hundreds of BJP supporters at Panjim airport.

Other BJP leaders, including former Union ministers Jaswant Singh and Shatrughan Sinha, will also not attend the party conclave on Saturday, PTI reported on Friday. Sinha cited health reasons for not attending the conclave, according to PTI. The reason for Singh’s absence was not known.

“There is expectation among the cadre that BJP president Rajnath Singh will give out a clear message to the party at the Goa conclave" on Modi heading the election campaign, party spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said, although there is no formal item on the agenda regarding this.

Singh “has been working on it and (was) in consultations with the BJP top brass and members of parliamentary board prior to the conclave", Rudy said.

PTI contributed to this story.

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