Kolkata: Narendra Modi will be the BJP's prime ministerial candidate even if the ruling NDA falls short of a majority in the Lok Sabha elections as his leadership qualities are "unmatched", Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya has said.
He, however, asserted that the BJP will improve upon its performance in the 2014 polls and cross the 300-seat mark. The NDA, he claimed, will clinch over 400 seats.
Speaking on the Ram temple issue, Maurya said its construction in Ayodhya was only a matter of time and that the Centre will "remove all the hurdles" coming in the way. "In 2014, we had won 282 seats. But in 2019, the BJP alone will cross 300 seats. With our NDA partners we will cross the 400 mark under the leadership of Modi," Maurya told PTI in an interview during his recent West Bengal visit.
When asked will the BJP plump for Modi even if he failed to lead the NDA to a straight victory and a second successive stint in power, he replied in the affirmative, insisting "people trust only him".
"That the BJP won't get a majority is a figment of imagination. Those who are trying to pitch themselves as PM candidate like Mamata Banerjee can only dream that Modi won't be getting a majority. The fact is that Modiji will be elected as PM again with a massive majority," he said.
When asked does the BJP have any other candidate for the post, Maurya said, "People only trust Modiji. He is the founder of a new era. His leadership is unmatched."
Maurya's comments come at a time when speculation is rife that Union minister Nitin Gadkari, considered close to the RSS and who has acceptability across party lines, might replace Modi in the event of the NDA failing to cross the majority mark in order to enlist the support of small parties and regional players averse to backing the current prime minister.
Speaking about the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya, Maurya said bricks inscribed with Babur's name won't be allowed at the site of Ram Janmabhoomi.
Referring to the Centre seeking permission of the Supreme Court to return the excess land aquired around the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site to original owners, Maurya said he is hopeful that the verdict will be in favour of the government.
"We are hopeful that the verdict will be in our favour. But in case the verdict is not in our favour, then there are other legal options. But only a Ram temple will be built there," he said, asserting that its construction is a matter of faith and not politics for the BJP.
On whether the government will take steps for construction of Ram temple ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, he said building the shrine is the decision of the sadhus and devotees of the Lord and that the government will only "remove all the hurdles in the way".
Facing growing pressure to move swiftly on the Ram temple issue, the Modi government last month asked the Supreme Court to allow it to return the non-disputed surplus land acquired around the place where the disputed structure in Ayodhya stood before its demolition to a Hindu trust and other original owners, in a significant move ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
The move could see some form of construction of a Ram temple by Hindu groups, if the handover is allowed. The RSS and other Hindutva protagonists may pressure the Centre to facilitate such a step.
When asked whether the appointment of Priyanka Gandhi as Congress general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh would be factor in the Lok Sabha polls, Maurya said it won't have any impact and the opposition party will not be able to open its account in the state.
Maurya said ideologically incompatible Samajwadi Party and the BSP have formed an alliance in Uttar Pradesh out of "fear" of Modi.
"We will win all the 80 seats in UP. Those who have formed the alliance in UP are actually suffering from fear psychosis. Those who have formed the alliance have some allegations (corruption charges) against them and they are only calculating when they will have to go to jail and when will they come out. This alliance doesn't have a mass base. The masses are with Modiji," he said.
"If elections were to be held today, we would have won 74 seats. But three months down the line, l am sure, we will win all the 80 seats," he asserted.
The SP and BSP had announced a poll pact last month under which each would contest 38 seats leaving two for smaller parties and Rae Bareli and Amethi for UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi.
When asked why the BJP lost by-elections to Phulpur and Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seats in March last year if the SP-BSP alliance lacked mass base, Maurya said it was a "nightmare" that was over. "They won't be able to open their account this time," he said.
In a major political upset, Samajwadi Party candidates supported by the Bahujan Samaj Party had defeated BJP nominees in the two seats.
Gorakhpur is considered a pocket borough of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, while Maurya represented Phulpur. The two had quit their Lok Sabha seats in March 2017 to take up new assignments in Uttar Pradesh.