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New Delhi: Despite internal differences, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s principal opposition, asked Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to steer its election campaign for the national polls due by May next year.

“I declare him (Modi) as the chairman of party’s election campaign committee," party president Rajnath Singh said on Sunday at a televised press conference. “We hope that BJP will emerge as alternative to Congress in the next (2014) elections."

Many top leaders of the Hindu nationalist party were absent at the two-day meeting of the national executive council in Panaji, Goa, including stalwart L.K. Advani, indicating that the BJP was divided on Modi, seen as divisive by many, leading its poll campaign.

Modi’s appointment to head the election committee is one step short of his ambition of becoming the prime-ministerial candidate of the party in the impending Lok Sabha election.

“The president just gave into the pressure of the cadre and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, the parent of the BJP)," said a party leader who attended the meeting. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

The fight is not between Advani and Modi, political analyst N. Bhaskara Rao said. “It is between Advani and the RSS. The latter has shown Advani his place," said Rao. “RSS has implicitly signalled to Advani to either patch up or retire."

Modi’s first task would be to build bridges with old coalition partners of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which lost to the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in the general election twice in a row in 2004 and 2009.

“He has been nurturing a relationship with Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa for some time. He can also bring back Biju Janata Dal after the general elections," Rao said. “Also, Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee may announce issue-based support to the BJP."

In dealing with allies, Modi is expected to be sorely tested by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) party, which runs the administration in the state in partnership with the BJP.

“What BJP decides is that party’s internal matter. Whom they make the party president or chairman of a particular committee in their party is what concerns them," JD (U) president Sharad Yadav said in Chennai. “He (Modi) has not become NDA’s campaign committee chairman."

Kumar had said in April that only a “person with secular credentials beyond doubts" should lead the NDA in the Lok Sabha election.

Modi is accused by activists of not doing enough to prevent religious riots in Gujarat in 2002 that killed at least 2,000 people, mainly Muslims. He denies any wrongdoing.

The BJP’s other NDA allies are the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). Punjab chief minister and SAD leader Parkash Singh Badal described the appointment as a “master stroke". It was a “knockout punch" against the UPA government, he said. “This has already sent shock waves in the UPA and completely demoralized it, as is borne out by nervous reactions of their leaders," Singh said in a statement.

Modi also received support from fellow chief ministers of his party.

“This will create a positive atmosphere and will definitely help in 2013 Chhattisgarh assembly elections and 2014 general elections," Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh said.

“A party has to play its best possible card in the elections and that is what the party president has done," said the BJP’s Arun Jaitley, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha.

The Congress was quick to point to the communal appeal of Modi. “He is popular only among people who like communal politics and communal personalities," party spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed said. “But this kind of politics goes against the ethos of India. Common people do not appreciate the communal politics of people like Modi."

Modi, however, sounded triumphant after his appointment.

“Not only party president has given me a responsibility, but he has given me a great respect," he told party workers in Panaji. “This is my belief that responsibility entrusted to us will be fulfilled with valour and glory."

He also launched a scathing attack against the UPA administration led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“One can not trust the government in Delhi. The government is not serious and take people for granted," Modi said. “People of the country are so upset that they would wipe them out in next general elections."

The Gujarat chief minister, who returned his party to power in the state in three successive elections, will have to first steer it in assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Rajasthan, due later this year.

Modi’s appointment to lead BJP’s poll campaign panel is a show of strength by the party, which cannot afford to lose in the general elections for the third straight time, another political commentator said.

“With one stone, they have killed many birds. Modi’s appointment is a clear indication that BJP has formalized a transition from the founding generation to second-generation leaders under the watchful eyes of party’s progenitor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)," said Mumbai-based political analyst Jai Mrug.

“After Rahul Gandhi’s appointment as Congress vice-president in January, the BJP was under tremendous pressure to declare its face for next general elections," Mrug said, adding that for BJP, Modi ends the leadership crisis and other leaders would sooner or later fall in line.

“The BJP is now signalling that with Modi, their electoral target would be middle class and majority Hindu. They would also try to polarize the floating voters," Mrug said. “Hindutva combined with development is back on the agenda."

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