Minorities will be apprehensive
Narendra Modi's anointment as head of the BJP campaign committee virtually sets the stage for the Gujarat Chief Minister's projection as the party's Prime Ministerial candidate for the Lok Sabha election in 2014. True, heading the poll campaign does not automatically qualify one for India's top job; the late Mr. Pramod Mahajan and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley too had headed the BJP campaigns in 2004 and 2009 respectively.
However, there can be no comparison between Modi as campaign chief and those who preceded him with Mahajan having tasted success only once and Jaitley not having contested any election at all. Undoubtedly, the writing is on the wall. Ever since Modi conclusively won his third term in Gujarat last year with a thumping majority, there had been a growing clamour within the BJP and the young middle-class urban Indians that he should be anointed India's next Prime Minister.
In fact, Modi carefully crafted and cultivated the image of a strongman, a smart (social) media manager; a no-nonsense doer who has taken Gujarat on the path of development. Perhaps, he was simply trying to capitalise on the disappointment and desperation of a nation floundering on all parameters ----economic, cultural, social and moral. A bit of all this has formed the perception of Modi as India's only saviour. Moreover, the fact that Modi's anointment did not find favour with a section of the party, especially veteran leader L.K. Advani who resigned from its main decision-making bodies only to withdraw it after Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat spoke to him, shows that Modi's elevation was not a routine one.
Not a few view Advani's 'tantrum' as of someone who still nurses an ambition of projecting himself as a Prime Ministerial candidate. This is not all. Party President Rajnath Singh not only contrasted Modi with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but also underscored that in a democracy only a "popular leader" could inspire confidence and become leader of the country. Interestingly, Modi too did not disguise his dream by pointing out that it was a BJP national conclave at Goa in 2002 which had enabled him to "serve Gujarat", adding, and "whenever I get blessings from Goa, I attain new heights".
Undeniably, Modi's choice reflects the popular yearning within the party's cadres who plug for his becoming the Prime Ministerial candidate. Although initially senior leaders from the Advani camp resisted Modi's elevation, ultimately the BJP's top brass had to bow to pressure from the party's rank and file drawn primarily from its spiritual mentor, RSS.
There is no gainsaying that leaders are best chosen after a process of internal debate and discussion which might create bad blood and allow the media a field day to report on internal dissent. But it is any day better than choices made on presumed advantages of a family pedigree for electoral success, something that the Congress and various dynasty-based regional parties would do well to emulate as future leaders would be from the grass-roots who could deliver results for the masses.
Indeed, the vehement opposition by most parties to the Central Information Commission's (CIC) recent order, asking them to bring their internal workings into public domain, indicates how out of sync our polity is with today's reality;
people want more transparency and accountability from their elected representatives. Clearly, it is not enough for Modi to be popular within the BJP or even with Gujarat's voting public; since 1999, the BJP's strength in the Lok Sabha has fallen consistently in every election.
The party is practically non-existent in Eastern India, has been decimated in Karnataka (the only Southern State where it held power) and competes with the Congress for the No. 3 positions in UP which accounts for 80 Lok Sabha seats. Further, be it winning new allies or supporters among the voting public, the BJP needs to present itself as committed to an agenda of development rather than build around its religious affinities. This might be a challenge for Modi who needs to overcome the stigma of the 2002 Gujarat riots and successfully project his development record if he has to carry any conviction at the national level.
As it stands, 2014 represents the same challenge. While one of its NDA allies, Badal's Akali Dal has welcomed Modi's anointment, the Shiv Sena which made no secret that it wanted Lok Sabha Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj as the alliance Prime Ministerial aspirant and not Modi has now fallen in line. On its part, major partner JD (U) had a meeting last night to decide its future course of action. But according to the BJP, "the alliance is intact" though JD (U) chief Sharad Yadav expressed his "shock" at Advani's resignation.
Certainly, the Modi-Advani spat has left many wondering if the Gujarat Chief Minister could send his one-time mentor into a sulk; imagine the shivers it will send down the collective spine of the minorities. Indeed, Gujarat's Muslims might have made their peace with Modi for economic reasons, but minorities in the rest of the country still look at him with suspicion. Questionably, this is the biggest challenge for Modi, to instill faith in them.
The moot point is: Will he be able to bring back former allies to the NDA fold? For instance, Naveen Patnaik's BJD which left the alliance in 2009 is in no mood to return. Even AIADMK's Jayalalithaa, who is Modi's friend, is unlikely to come on board as the BJP's pre-election ally. As she is not an NDA constituent, a pre-poll alliance with the BJP would mean parting with at least a few seats, which the Saffron Party might not win.
Sadly, the Congress and the BJP do not count for much without either the DMK or AIADMK in Tamil Nadu.