Gordhan Zadaphia said he is "touched" with PM Modi's gesture.
The newly appointed BJP incharge for 2019 general elections in Uttar Pradesh, Gordhan Zadaphia, has vowed to better the BJP's unprecedented feat of winning 71 seats in 2014, saying his goal is to win all the seats in the state, which sends 80 lawmakers to the Lok Sabha. "My goal is to win 80 out of 80 seats in the state, nothing less than it," Mr Zadaphia added.
Mr Zadaphia was a minister of state for home affairs in Gujarat when PM Modi was the chief minister of the state. After the BJP won polls with a massive mandate in 2002, he declined a cabinet post, leveling allegations on the chief minister of having high-handed ways. In 2007, he formed his own party. He even joined forces with another bitter Modi critic, former BJP veteran Keshubhai Patel.
But all that is in the past. The leader said he is "touched" with PM Modi's gesture.
"I am touched by responsibility given by the Prime Minister to me. I have worked with him for almost three decades. What happened earlier is past, I had merged my party again in BJP in 2014 realising personal egos should be kept aside for sake of nation," he said.
A powerful Patel leader, Mr Zadaphia is believed to be instrumental in propping up Hardik Patel, who has emerged as a key irritant for the ruling BJP in Gujarat.
He was also in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and considered very close to the once-powerful Pravin Togadia.
Mr Zadaphia parried questions on his acrimonious equation with the BJP in the past.
"Such ups and downs are part and parcel of political life. What is important is my commitment to the ideology. I was a swayamsevak (RSS volunteer), I am a swayamsevak and I will remain a swayamsevak," he said, adding that an individual's ego should not be bigger than the nation.
Along with Mr Zadaphia, two more leaders – Dushyant Gautam and Narottam Mishra – have been given the responsibility of the state. Bhupender Yadav and Anil Jain have been assigned Bihar and Chhattisgarh, according to a BJP statement. V Muraleedharan and Deodhar Rao are in charge of Andhra Pradesh. Mahendra Singh and OP Mathur have been given charge of Assam and Gujarat.
Uttar Pradesh sends more members to Lok Sabha than any other state. UP, along with other Hindi heartland states, is crucial for any political party hoping to get majority at the centre. In 2014 general elections, the BJP had won 282 seats, including 71 seats in UP and 62 out of 65 seats in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
In the run up to 2019 general elections, Uttar Pradesh has become the prime focus of all the major political parties.
The proposed Mahagathabandhan, an anti-BJP alliance of regional parties with the Congress, has not been formally announced yet. However, a rival proposed alliance that intends to leave the Congress out, is being mooted by Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao. Both want Mayawati's BSP and Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party — major political forces in UP– onboard. Mayawati and Mr Yadav have so far remained non-committal, but they have taken part in opposition's show of strength on some occasions.
On the other hand, the BJP that wishes to repeat its 2014 performance in Uttar Pradesh seems to be struggling with allies. Om Prakash Rajbhar, a BJP ally and the president of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, has an uneasy relationship with the BJP leadership. He has been making comments against the party and its decisions in the state and at the centre.
On Tuesday, another BJP ally, Apna Dal's Ashish Patel voiced discontent. "State BJP leadership isn't giving us the respect we deserve. They should learn from recent losses. The SP-BSP alliance is a challenge for us. Allies in Uttar Pradesh are upset. Leadership at the centre must do something, else NDA (National Democratic Alliance) would suffer in the state," he said.
At the national level, the BJP has lost N Chandrababu Naidu's TDP and Upendra Kushwaha's RLSP as allies this year. Senior BJP leader Ram Madhav on Wednesday gave a glimpse of the BJP's roadmap on alliances in the run-up to the next year's national elections. "It is true that certain smaller allies like Kushwaha have decided to leave us, but we are working on bringing new allies into our fold, especially in south India and the eastern India," he said.
With inputs from agencies