With Congress finally deciding to unleash their biggest trump card Rahul Gandhi for the 2014 General Elections, the clamour for making Narendra Modi the BJP’s PM candidate has once again gathered some momentum. Senior BJP leaders and former union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Ram Jethmalani have openly asked the party to declare the Gujarat Chief Minister as the party’s choice for PM.
According to Sinha this is what almost every party worker of the BJP wants and that’s what the overwhelming mood in the country is. Jethmalani went one step further and gave the controversial leader a clean-chit, saying Modi is ‘100 percent secular’.
There is hardly any doubt that if judged purely on performance, it may be very difficult for Congress to retain power. Rampant corruption, unbearable price rise, lack of quality leadership - Congress’ report card is full of negatives. They need something emotional, something that may give people a ray of hope to win the 2014 polls. That’s where Rahul Gandhi fits the bill for the Congress party, especially for the loyalists of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
With putative greatness that Rahul Gandhi has, he can raise the sagging morale of his party workers all over the country. Whatever jokes we may crack about him on Twitter and Facebook, for most of the loyal Congressmen he is the ‘beckon of light’, the man who can ‘shape India’s future’. Also with the main Opposition the BJP in disarray; it won’t be surprising that Congress-led UPA under Rahul Gandhi can retain power for the third consecutive time.
So the main question is what should BJP do to counter this Rahul Gandhi phenomenon and win 2014 elections? Let’s be very clear that the BJP is no more a party with a difference. They don’t have many leaders who can claim to be honest and they are also no longer a bunch of people who can claim to be disciplined and dedicated. If people are unhappy with the Congress, BJP is no more an automatic alternative for the people of the nation.
The situation is so bleak for both the main national parties of India that some political analysts are again predicting a mid-1990 like situation where a leader of a regional party can become the Prime Minister with outside support of either Congress or the BJP.
After shielding him carefully for many years the grand old party has finally taken the risk of exposing Rahul Gandhi on the big stage of national politics. The fact is that the party had virtually no option left. With a pathetic record of governing the nation for the last 4/5 years, it’s their last chance of reviving themselves. If anyone can do it for them, it’s none other than the scion of the Gandhi family.
As differences shrink between national and regional political parties, there is no doubt that the upcoming Lok Sabha elections will be fought between the leaders rather than the parties much like what we see in the USA. And the BJP may give themselves the best chance of coming back to power after 10 years if they announce Modi as their prime ministerial candidate. Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and even ‘ever-green’ LK Advani - nobody has the charisma and leadership quality which Modi possesses today.
Modi is different from other leaders of the BJP or perhaps all the leaders of the country because of his dual appeal. Whether he is communal or ‘100 percent secular’ is altogether a different debate which is not a matter of discussion here, what is clear is that currently he is the only leader in India who can attract votes from a section of people who consider him the messiah of the Hindu cause, and from a ever growing urban middle-class, who see in him a leader who means only development. Modi has indeed created a complete new aura around himself and established himself as someone with these particular unique qualities of making his presence felt among the educated and uneducated people, among the communal Hindus as well as among the mall-visiting middle-class.
Ever since Congress lost its absolute control over national politics for the first time in mid-seventies and then in late nineties, it has been observed that elections are won neither on emotional issues nor on developmental issues alone. BJP is a perfect case in point. They have never won more than 200 seats during their heydays in 1996 elections when they fought the polls primarily over the issue of Ram Mandir. And when compulsion of coalition politics forced them to abandon their main Hindutava ideology under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who tried to retain power in 2004 only on developmental flank, BJP faced the ignominy of losing to the Congress.
It may sound unfortunate but the 2001 Gujarat riots established Modi as the biggest leader of the Hindutava brigade. Along with this, his image as the crusader for development in Gujarat has made him the favourite among the upwardly mobile voters. And that helped him gain confidence not only from the business community all over the world but also from a strong urban middle-class of the country.
Modi is an astute politician. He did not hesitate to demolish illegal temples in Gujarat in the name of development much to the annoyance of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) who openly went against him. But despite that VHP is supporting him again. Modi knew that the VHP had no option but to support him, for he is the only one amongst the current leaders in BJP who attracts strong Hindu support.
For a man whose ultimate ambition was to become the PM of the country, Modi knew that only the support from the VHP won’t be able to get him the coveted post. With this in mind, the Gujarat strongman started to build his image as a leader with a vision for progress. And after so many years’ of hard work in Gujarat, Modi has successfully projected himself as the most able CM in the country.
If he is pitted against Rahul Gandhi, who has almost no credential as an administrator so far, in the 2014 General Elections, Modi’s strong leadership in shaping Gujarat gives him a cutting edge over his political opponent. With this quality Modi, unlike Rahul Gandhi who has somehow, despite trying his best, failed to become a successful icon of the country, can also attract those floating voters across the country who actually decide the outcome of any election.
The problem with projecting Modi as BJP’s PM candidate is that the party may lose some of its allies like Bihar CM Nitish Kumar–led JDU, which has already declared its anti-Modi stance publicly. Some anti-Congress regional leaders like Orissa CM Naveen Patnaik of Biju Janata Dal and former Andhra CM Chandrababu Naidu of TDP might also not support the BJP with Narendra Modi at the helm. But despite that, it may be worth taking the risk for the BJP. Because if BJP can utilise Modi’s talent properly ahead of elections, who knows he might just spring a surprise win for the party.