New Delhi: Amid calls for a larger role for him, Narendra Modi on Saturday won singular praise from BJP president Rajnath Singh for being the "most popular" chief minister having registered "never before" three consecutive electoral wins for the party in Gujarat.
The BJP national council meeting began in New Delhi with Singh exhorting the delegates to give a standing ovation to Modi and garlanding him.
"We have never seen the BJP winning three elections under one leadership," Singh said as Modi stepped forward on the dais to accept plaudits from the delegates.
"It won't be proper to welcome Modi with mere words. He deserves a good round of applause, a standing ovation," Singh said.
The BJP chief also lauded chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh respectively for leading "successful" governments.
He also had words of praise for Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar, Bihar deputy chief minister Sushilkumar Modi and Leader of the BJP legislature party in Punjab, where the party is sharing power with the Akali Dal.
Singh also defended his predecessor Nitin Gadkari, saying the allegations against the former BJP president were completely false and baseless.
Singh accused the UPA government of failure of various counts including in ensuring security, maintaining diplomatic relations, particularly with neighbouring countries, tackling naxalism and handling of the economy and sought to project the BJP as an alternative.
"We haven't seen a strong leadership in the Congress-led UPA," the BJP President said.
He also said the party was looking up to LK Advani to guide it through the challenges being faced by the country.
"If there is somebody who can guide us, it is Advani. When the country is passing through a difficult phase we don't need to worry," Singh said, addressing party workers at the three-day party executive meet being held in New Delhi.
The three-day conclave of BJP has kicked off with the spotlight on Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, projected by some as the party's prime ministerial face, amid voices in the party that his popularity has grown significantly to make a mark on the national polity.
The Conclave, convened mainly to ratify the presidentship of Rajnath Singh who took over in January, will see the party deliberate on its roadmap in the run up to the next general elections besides discussing the political and economic issues confronting the country.
The BJP will chalk out a strategy to project itself as an alternative in the next general elections at the meeting of its National Council starting from Saturday.
In the national executive meeting on Friday, the rising stock of Modi was visible as party leaders, including Rajnath Singh, gave him a special welcome and noted that the European Union is recognising his achievements.
Modi was lauded by Singh for achieving the unprecedented feat of winning three consecutive assembly elections in Gujarat, with Singh saying no other BJP chief minister has such a record.
"The party president accorded a special welcome to Narendra Modi. He has created a new record among the BJP chief ministers by being the first to be re-elected for the third consecutive term with a very convincing majority. All the national executive members also welcomed him," BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad told a press conference on Saturday.
Singh appreciated Modi's performance again in his speech when he criticised UPA government's "failure" to revive the economy.
"There's a growing interest in Modi as the PM candidate. This is due to a groundswell building up among the people...I think Modi has made a huge mark on Indian polity," Jaitley told a news channel.
Another BJP leader CP Thakur said "Modi's projection as the party's face ahead of the next general elections will certainly help the party. But the party's parliamentary board has to take a decision on this." He hoped the party decides on this soon.
Jaitley said Modi's projection is not just because of a media buzz as it was only him who had the strength to face audiences over heads of media at a time when there was a media blitzkrieg against him.
"There are few Indian politicians who have the courage to do that...When the appropriate time comes, the best within the system takes over," Jaitley told Headlines Today, citing the example of Atal Behari Vajpayee who, despite being the tallest leader in the party, was announced to lead the party only on the eve of 1996 elections.
Modi will also be making a presentation on "good governance" before the party leaders on the last day of the National Council meeting and so would Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on "Antyodaya".
The party's strategy for the upcoming elections is with the motto of 'Sushasan sankalp, BJP vikalp' (BJP as the alternative pledges good governance).
Even as Rajnath Singh in his speech lauded Modi's performance when he criticised the UPA government's "failure" to revive the economy, the BJP was non-committal if the issue of who will be its prime ministerial candidate is settled in Modi's favour.
"We are very proud of the leadership of Narendra Modi. He was appreciated, complimented because of the historic third win, being the first BJP chief minister to do so. But who shall be the PM candidate of BJP, the party's Parliamentary Board will decide at the appropriate time," Prasad said.
The Conclave is being held at a time when the issue of alleged tapping of Arun Jaitley's mobile phone and the possibility of some party leaders being behind it has hit the headlines.
Prasad said "the president also said that performance of BJP-ruled states is being discussed around the world. He made a special mention of Gujarat. That even the European Union is recognising this and despite several campaigns against him, they are trying to build new relations with him."
In his inaugural address, Singh also referred to the circumstances under which he took over as BJP chief in January.
"Singh said he has accepted the post of President with a heavy heart," Prasad told reporters. He added that in BJP change of responsibility is a natural process.
The three-day conclave will see BJP leaders discuss the strategy for coming assembly elections in states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Karnataka as well as the 2014 general elections.
During the National Council meeting, the party leadership will discuss a host of issues including the internal security situation in the wake of Hyderabad blasts, scams including the VVIP chopper deal, economic slowdown and Indo-Pak ties.
During the two-day National Council meeting, BJP will adopt separate resolutions each on the political and economic scenario in the country.
Setting the mood for the Conclave in his speech today, Singh said "If 20th century was a century of Congress, let 21st century will be the century of BJP."
He praised BJP-ruled states and enumerated the economic "failures" of UPA government. Singh described the union budget as a "budget of desperation".
"Singh held UPA government's bad governance, recurrent corruption and gross mismanagement of the economy responsible and said the entire credibility of Indian governance is in a serious crisis at the global stage," Prasad said.
The BJP chief also maintained that the "very precarious" GDP of India, which is nearly 5%, is also "substantially" lower because of the over 10% growth rate of BJP-ruled states.