The past few days have been tumultuous as well as historic for the Bharatiya Janata Party – the only challenge to India`s oldest political party, the Indian National Congress. And for two reasons.
One – a new leader has arrived on the national scene. Two – a national leader has ensured his slide into oblivion.
Narendra Modi, the saffron poster boy accused of complicity in the 2002 post Godhra riots in Gujarat, has been anointed as the chief of the BJP`s 2014 election campaign committee. This means it will be Modi and his supporters rather than the old guard who will take the final call on how to go about fighting the all important General Elections in 2014. The position is important because it is also considered as a stepping stone towards the anointment of PM candidate.
The 2014 polls are crucial because the BJP has the best chance to grab power again after being out of power for two successive terms. And the Congress has made every possible effort to hand over the reins to BJP on a platter, considering the numerous multi-billion rupee scams unearthed during the UPA regime. The only thing holding the BJP back from reclaiming power is its internal fight.
Modi`s appointment at this crucial juncture has put him in the league of national political biggies. He has already proved his mettle in Gujarat by winning three consecutive terms and the party cadre believes it is only him who can bring the BJP back to power at the Centre, notwithstanding various controversies surrounding him.
Modi himself wishes to be seen on the national scene. He has made his prime ministerial ambitions amply clear in the past, while also creating a pressure group within the party to promote his cause.
It is this strategy of his that has worked in his favour. The party even went against one of its tallest leaders, Lal Krishna Advani`s wishes, to appoint Modi as the party poll panel chief, with Rajnath Singh terming the decision as "justice".
Advani, in turn, revolted by resigning from all party posts but was eventually placated by the BJP leadership after being assured that it would be him who would have an important say in the naming of PM candidate.
Advani may have relented but he has hurt himself more than Modi by doing what he did. His resignation has only marginalized him within the party. Both the BJP leadership and party ideologue - the RSS have made it clear that the decision on Modi will not be reversed, which means Advani`s words no more carry the weight they once used to.
What this also means is that Advani cannot stop Narendra Modi`s rise anymore. So, on the one hand where it would be premature to say Modi will be the PM candidate of BJP in 2014 polls, it would also be foolish to say he won’t.
In the current circumstances, Modi is BJP`s best bet. He along with Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, is the most popular BJP leader who can win votes for the party. This has been proved in the two states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. But at the national level, it is Modi who leads the race because of his charisma and the ease with which he connects with the voters. His equation with the industry is also a big plus in his favour. Further, his innovative campaigns like the 3D avatar, have struck a chord with the tech-savvy youth. He is omnipresent on social media and tweets regularly.
While Modi has yet to prove his mettle at the national scene, he surely is heading towards securing the opportunity to showcase his worth.
And for Advani, it was his last `big` effort to remain relevant and the party has shown him his `current worth` – that he has lost relevance in today`s politics which is driven by leaders like Modi.
There is another angle to the politics played out in the BJP over the past few days. Modi`s rise has hurt not just Advani, but BJP`s alliances also.
Nitish Kumar`s JD(U) is clearly not happy, even though it has said that Modi`s elevation is BJP`s internal matter. The party which rules Bihar in alliance with the BJP is mulling its exit route from the NDA. If reports are to go by, Nitish already has a game plan – to form a third front at the national level with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik – currently in power in West Bengal and Odisha, respectively.
Shiv Sena, a key NDA ally, has also demanded that the BJP announce its PM candidate so that it can decide on its support. The BJP, on the other hand, is mulling to ditch the Shiv Sena in favour of Raj Thackeray`s MNS. The BJP chief in Maharashtra recently met Thackeray calling it a courtesy call, but described by others as an effort to stitch a new alliance.
While it remains to be seen how things will pan out in the future, one thing is for sure – by elevating Modi in the party ranks, BJP has played a big gamble in the high-stakes battle. It could even turn out to be a make-or-break decision for the saffron party looking for rebirth.