Lucknow: Will Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi be the Santa Claus for the Uttar Pradesh unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)?
The murmurs on the likelihood of the saffron party promoting the Gujarat satrap as its national face in the next Lok Sabha polls grew louder Tuesday.
As the party went into an overdrive to celebrate the 88th birthday of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, more than two dozen huge hoardings came up here with photographs of both Vajpayee and Modi.
While the hoardings carry the names of various local and state unit leaders, the appearance of Modi in them set off speculation that the party may be accepting that Modi was its best bet for Lok Sabha 2014.
The hoardings, outside the BJP office in front of the state assembly, refer to `Rashtra Dharm` (national duty), a departure from the `Raj Dharma` that Vajpayee told Modi to follow after the Gujarat riots of 2002.
The hoardings also refer to Somnath and Red Fort.
BJP MP from Lucknow Lalji Tandon has said he would be "more than happy" if Modi contests the Lok Sabha election from Lucknow, which was earlier held by Vajpayee.
"It would be a matter of great joy if the party decides to bring Modi contests from Lucknow," he said.
While most party leaders in the state unit do not agree with Tandon, who was Vajpayee`s election manager, they admit that Modi was "by far the tallest leader in the BJP".
State leaders also say that the while the decision on Modi playing a national role might be delayed, they were sure he cannot be denied what is his "natural right".
Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh, who is set to rejoin BJP Jan 21, also says that Modi -- who last week led the BJP back to power in Gujarat -- has a charisma that can`t be ignored.
"He is a very tall leader, has a clean image and had given an efficient administration to Gujarat," he says.
Close aides say Kalyan Singh had spoken to the national leadership about the possibilities of an "all out" joint campaign in Uttar Pradesh in the run up to the general elections 2014.
Miffed at the overt "minority appeasement" by the Samajwadi Party state government, many BJP leaders feel that a development-led pro-Hindu branding of Modi could reap rich dividends in Uttar Pradesh.
Vijay Bahadur Pathak, the state spokesman for the BJP, is more forthright.
He says Modi was a national leader even when he went to Gujarat more than a decade back.
"He has now proved his mettle by winning the state thrice for BJP. It is natural that party workers across the country are now pitching for hima."