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NaMo Gripes, Advani Tantrums : Can he make the big leap?

NaMo Gripes, Advani Tantrums : Can he make the big leap?
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Poonam I Kaushish From Bhakti Jagran and power down to a party with a difference to birth of a new order, the BJP has traversed the road. From the...

Poonam I Kaushish

From Bhakti Jagran and power down to a party with a difference to birth of a new order, the BJP has traversed the road. From the seat of God to embarking on an arduous thoroughfare for India's Raj gaddi of power, with Ram Bhakts chanting NaMo for political nirvana! Never mind founder Advani's mortal blow: resignation from all party posts. As Gujarat Chief Minister Narender Modi's christening as Chairman of the Campaign Committee for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections has ignited a fresh spark in the party cadres, and sent a clear message to his Gen Next colleagues that he is first among equals at last week-end's National Executive meet in Panjim.

But it has netted its first casualty. A slighted and hurt Advani who catapulted the BJP from two seats to lording it over Delhi has called it quits as he "found it difficult to reconcile with the current functioning and direction in which the party is going." But not before trying his damndest to stall Modi. First the party's Chairman set the cat among pigeons by grafting Vajpayee-like qualities on "humble" Chouhan, then mooted ex-party chief Gadkari's as chief campaign manager for the forthcoming Assembly polls.

When this failed, he absented himself citing "ill-health", the first time since the BJP's inception along with his loyalists, Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh, Uma Bharti, et al. Till the wee hours of Sunday phones were buzzing between the RSS chief, Advani and Rajnath Singh. In the end Nagpur had its way.

Technically speaking, Modi has not been anointed the party's Prime Ministerial face. But it leaves none in doubt that for the BJP Modi is the tallest leader and will lead the NDA. Already allies Shiv Sena and Badal's Akali Dal have welcomed the Gujarat chieftain as campaign head and the JD(U) neatly called it the "BJP's internal matter."

Importantly, the moot point is: Can Modi make the big leap forward and catapult the party to power? Will his past impact his future? Will he be able to unify young Indians who have lost patience with the UPA's dithering governance? Can he provide decisive and dynamic leadership that would drive growth?

Modi himself has left none in doubt as to who is the tallest leader of the party today. His acceptance speech lacked the stridency and shrillness that are his wont. Instead, he worked hard at presenting a soft image, spoke responsibly pledging to take all factions along and focused his attack on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.

Asserted a senior leader, "Sadly, we were distracted by petty games, barbs and power-plays by leaders in Delhi. For the moment, Modi has checkmated inner-party rivals, notwithstanding Lok Sabha Opposition Leader Sushma Swaraj's refusal to participate in the rally post his coronation. But there is no guarantee that the covert back-stabbing might not continue. Nonetheless, it is imperative the party keeps an eye on the poll-ball and people's pulse."

True, certain quarters within the BJP believe it can reap electoral harvest given the people's discontent with the scam-ridden Congress-led UPA. And no-nonsense and clean Modi has the wherewithall to energise the cadre, demoralised by the leadership's failure to cash in on Manmohan Singh Government's image deficit.

Undeniably, it's not going to be a cake-walk for three-time Gujarat Chief Minister whose dictatorial attitude, arrogance, inflexibility on issues and tough image, in-experience outside Gujarat and 2002 communal taint have left him friendless in quarters that count, thereby making it difficult for him to breach the national Capital.

As he spearheads the BJP's campaign, his ability as a vote-catcher will unfold in the results of the forthcoming Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi Assembly polls. Besides, he would have to surmount intrigues within the party and NDA allies, and become a magnet for potential allies before he can hope to become Prime Minister. Further, Modi-baiters question his brand appeal outside Gujarat which is still to be tested. For example his campaign during the Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka Assembly elections did not yield electoral dividend.

Also, given that Muslims votes which account for 15 per cent vote-share could tilt the electoral scales in nearly 200 seats, the polity is sharply divided along the secular-communal line wherein Nitish Kumar would not want to lose his secular minority plank. Added to this, many senior leaders see themselves as "consensual" candidates for the top slot. For Modi, it is a catch-22 situation. While he would like to maintain his Hindu strongman branding without actually harping on it, this image continues to stand in the way of his national aspirations.

Also, there are other regional satraps like AIADMK's Jayalalithaa who acknowledges Modi as a friend, but the party cannot count on her support. BJD's Naveen Patnaik is dicey while TDP's Chandrababu Naidu and Trinamool's Mamata might not want to support a Modi-led NDA for fear of alienating the minorities.

Yet the Congress is nervous despite its anti-Modi tirade, given that the BJP seems to have weaned away its urban middle class and youth. These two sections had embraced the Congress in 2009, enabling the UPA to return to power for a second consecutive term. Undoubtedly, testing times lie ahead for the BJP. Perhaps, the party needs to ask itself whether it can afford to make the big leap by being all things to all people. Importantly, what the Saffron brigade needs to undertake is some honest heart-searching, and answer unpleasant and, indeed, harsh questions if it wants to dominate the political mainstream - INFA

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