Finally, the Bharatiya Janata Party has done the inevitable. In a decision with far-reaching implications, the party on June 09 anointed the Gujarat Chief Minister as the poll panel chief for 2014 Lok Sabha and Assembly Elections. And in the process it did the unthinkable — marginalized BJP patriarch and the man who, along with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had laid the foundation stone of the party — LK Advani.
It is ironical that after the 2002 post-Godhra riots, the then BJP prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had wanted to sack Modi as the chief minister of Gujarat. The man was saved by none other than Advani. Well, as they say, life has come full circle for both the leaders and today the octogenarian leader finds Modi as his nemesis. An ‘ailing’ Advani finally did not make it to the BJP’s National Executive meet (incidentally for the first time in his life) and along with him Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh, Uma Bharti and Shatrughan Sinha also chose to stay away from Panaji.
However, Advani or no Advani, BJP president Rajnath Singh and his men probably did not have much choice left then to declare Modi as the chief of the party’s campaign committee. The restlessness in the party’s cadre had been growing and with 2014 polls round the corner, the need to have a face who would lead the campaign had become imperative. It had also become obvious for some time that neither LK Advani, nor Sushma Swaraj nor Arun Jaitley or Shivraj Singh Chauhan would be able to rally the cadre and garner the votes for the party as Modi would be able to do so, even though he is considered a highly polarizing factor. Thus, the BJP decided to bite the bullet and gamble on the man from Gujarat.
It would been like icing on the cake for Modi had Advani made it to Goa and given him his blessings in-person. This would have meant that Modi was accepted by all factions of the BJP. But it was probably not meant to be. How could it be in a party where infighting and factionalism has become a norm of late and where most of the top leaders are said to harbour the ambition of being the PM of the country?
However, the story has just begun for Modi and he definitely has a lot on his plate. He may have sounded confident in his first speech after he was appointed as the campaign committee chief but Modi knows that he has his task cut out for him. He is very well aware that not only the eyes of his party are on him but also of the whole nation. If Modi is not able to deliver in 2014 and if the BJP is unable to come to power then the party may be as good as over for the man.
For a start, Modi will have to placate the grand old man of the party and he will also have to take along with him the likes of Sushma Swaraj. There is no doubt about the fact that the decision taken in Goa will have its consequences. And not only within the BJP but also as far as the NDA is concerned.
The Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal have welcomed the move by the BJP and Modi may be able to goad Jayalalithaa to come on board but what about the JD(U)? Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been vociferously opposing any move to make Modi NDA’s PM face, though after the loss to RJD in Maharajganj’s Lok Sabha by-poll, his tone and tenor as far as ties with BJP is concerned has mellowed. (The rumour was also doing the round that Nitish was mouthing the words that Advani wanted him to).
Another pertinent question is whether Modi will be able to get more allies in NDA’s fold. What about a Mamata Banerjee and a Chandrababu Naidu? And will he be able to make an impact in a state like Uttar Pradesh which sends a major chunk of MP’s to the Lower House. Can he take on regional satraps like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati on their own turf?
Also, can he wrest Delhi and Rajasthan from the Congress in the upcoming Assembly polls and can he help Raman Singh and Shivraj Singh Chauhan to retain Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh? And can he instil enthusiasm in the party cadres in states like Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand where the BJP lost power to the Congress.
The likes of Rajnath Singh and Arun Jailtey have been repeatedly saying that the Gujarat CM is one of most popular leaders of the BJP and after Modi won the last Assembly polls in Gujarat, the party workers had been chanting for him to be named as the party’s PM candidate. The man is also popular on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. However, the million dollar question is — will all of the above translate into votes?
Modi has been, to a certain extent, able to leave the taint of 2002 riots in his state behind him and has painstakingly projected himself as the beacon of growth and development but failure in 2014 may reduce him to being a regional leader who could not make the transition from local to the national level. But on the other hand, victory in 2014 will mean that his prime ministerial ambitions will be fulfilled and he may complete his total grip over the party and who knows, if one can dare say, the country. (One can safely draw the conclusion that if the BJP did not want Modi to be their PM candidate, then they would not have named him their campaign committee chief.)
Meanwhile, now that the BJP has virtually declared Narendra Modi as the face for General Elections, it is time for the Congress to take stock of things. The UPA-led Congress government at the Centre has been accused of policy paralysis, non-governance and corruption for a long time now. After ten years in power, the UPA is faced with massive anti-incumbency. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been said to be one of the weakest to head the country ever. In such a scenario, it would be at its own peril that the Congress will ignore Modi or pass jibes at him or not have a strategy against the man.
In many of the recent opinion polls, Modi has been the readers’ most popular choice for PM with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi falling much behind. And those who say that Rahul is no match for Modi as far as performance index is concerned are really not misplaced. In such a scenario, the Congress would not want to make 2014 into a presidential sort of elections and pit Rahul against Modi. If Modi wins, Rahul’s image would take a further beating. So Congress has to come up with something concrete and fast.
Post Script: Is this the turning point in BJP’s contemporary history, wherein the baton has been passed on from Vajpayee-Advani to Modi? Probably yes. However, amidst all the excitement, lets spare a thought for the octogenarian leader — LK Advani — the man who single-handedly turned around the fortunes of the party by his Ram Janmabhoomi movement in 1989, which saw BJP come to power for the first time in 1998 after it had won just two seats in 1984. The same man has virtually been marginalised today by the new crop of leaders. Well, as they say, change is the only constant in life and the old order has to make way for the new.