New Delhi, May 27 Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi appears to have emerged as a front-runner in the faction-ridden Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as its prime ministerial candidate
Although the BJP doesn't say so, political pundits say this much is easy to infer after the just concluded national executive meet in Mumbai.
BJP president Nitin Gadkari, who is known to enjoy the backing of RSS, had to bow to Modi to ensure his attendance in Mumbai by forcing out his bete noire, Sanjay Joshi, from the national executive.
And from the speeches that followed, including Modi's own as well as his body language, it was apparent he has eclipsed the old guard.
Political analyst G.V.L. Narasimha Rao says the writing on the wall is clear.
"His selection (as PM candidate) appears certain. There is no doubt. The signal in Mumbai is very clear. I don't see any hurdle. He has mass appeal among the current leaders and is the most favoured candidate," Rao, also an advisor to the party, told IANS.
"Come December (Gujarat election), the BJP will have to announce his name. It's just a matter of time," he added.
Agreed N. Bhaskar Rao, founder and chairman of the Centre for Media Studies: "We can't deny the Modi phenomena. He has been perceived as one who takes tough decisions, stands by them and delivers what he promises. It is apparent he will be the future of BJP."
Time magazine's decision to feature Modi on its March 26 issue has been repeatedly touted by the BJP and Modi supporters as another indication of his growing appeal.
Modi aides say that Gujarat turned into a state with one of the highest GDP growth rates of over 10 percent.
His annual "Vibrant Gujarat" summits attract the biggest names in business resulting in MoUs.
His supporters say he has ensured a good business climate in Gujarat.
In comparison, there is no one of stature in the BJP. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is politically dead. The veteran L.K. Advani does not seem to command the aura that he did earlier.
Modi is reported to have asked for a post in the parliamentary board of the BJP and is said to be eyeing a key position in the national leadership.
But Modi's path to prime ministerial hopeful won't be easy. The biggest stumbling block is the 2002 Gujarat communal violence, an event that has forced the US to deny diplomatic visa.
Even the Time magazine caption noted: "Modi means business but can he lead India."
And while Modi is on excellent terms with his AIADMK leader and his Tamil Nadu counterpart J. Jayalalithaa, not every chief minister, including those who are BJP allies, are enamoured of him.
This is why, says Nisar Ul Haq of the political science department at the Jamia Millia Islamia here, that Modi does not have a chance to grow nationally.
He said within the party there was resentment against Modi -- in Gujarat and elsewhere -- and the ghost of 2002 will haunt him.
"I don't think there is any question of him becoming the prime ministerial candidate. He (Modi) doesn't have national appeal. The ghost of Godhra will never go away," Haq told IANS.
In any case, the Lok Sabha ballot is two years away. "Things can change drastically. Winds can blow in Congress favour," he added.
But Narasimha Rao feels the old guard in the party will fall in line.
The Congress is keeping away from the Modi story vis-a-vis 2014.
"It is an internal matter of BJP. But the people of the country will decide who is secular and who is not," Congress spokesman Rashid Alvi told IANS.