Desperation in BJP over the saviour
The current euphoria in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is understandable. But it is the result of not just the recent Supreme Court ruling in the Gulbarg Society massacre case, which has been transferred to the trial court.
Strongest contender? During the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had
projected Modi as its star campaigner for western India
The elation is largely due to the successive reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, (CAG) putting the UPA government in the dock over numerous scams. Anna Hazare's anti-graft agitation pumped up the BJP further; it resulted in nationwide anger against, among others, the Prime Minister and his team at the Centre. The euphoria simply refuses to die because the image of the ruling Congress-led UPA government is waning. And the SC judgment has only excited the saffron party further. Its leaders, bereft of any larger than life leader following the retirement of Atal Behari Vajpayee a few years ago, have found a new messiah in Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. He is now quite easily their sole prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 elections.
Modi's next role in the BJP camp may flummox party insiders in Delhi who have been waiting in the wings for years if not decades to find a bigger role in the party. They may find it difficult to digest. But here's the thing: Modi as the BJP leader in Gujarat and his projection as a leader of national stature are two completely different things. These two personas must not be confused with each other at this point when elections are three years away. It is true that under him Gujarat has done exceedingly well in every aspect of development. In fact, his neighbouring state Maharashtra, which has been the country's most industrially progressive state for a long time, has begun to worry because investors are flocking to Modi, and not to the chief ministers based in Mumbai.
This hoopla around Modi begs the question: has the BJP admitted that, bar him, there is no other leader worth his or her salt to be projected as a leader of national stature? Are we to believe that veteran leaders such as Arun Jaitley (Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha) and Sushma Swaraj (Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha) are no longer in the BJP's grand vision for 2014? The primary hitch for Modi, notwithstanding the SC ruling, is that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners may still have ideological issues with Modi's elevation to central leadership. Please recall that during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Shiv Sena's mouthpiece Saamna wrote that Modi would never fill the void left by the late Pramod Mahajan. Its timing was key: the statement was made when Modi was all set to embark on his whirlwind tour to campaign for BJP-Sena alliance candidates.
In the last assembly elections, NDA partner Janata Dal's (United) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had refused to let Modi come to his state to canvass for votes. During the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP projected Modi as its star campaigner for western India. However, the final result was that while the party won 15 of the 26 seats in Gujarat, it registered victory in only eight out of 48 seats in Maharashtra. Quite clearly, the question then arises: what is the reason for BJP's desperation to find a 'national leader' in Modi? That, too, when the party, not very long ago, had boasted of its 'young, firebrand leaders'.
Add to that, the BJP seems to have failed to take advantage of the ongoing crisis at the Centre. Instead of digging for muck to be thrown on the Congress and its UPA partners in the 2G and Commonwealth Games scams, it was seen to be hogging only the media limelight and its leaders looked like they would want to be seen on TV than do any investigative work. Despite the issues, at this juncture, the saffron party does need Modi, considering that former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani is not exactly at the peak of his career.
Besides, there is still the Babri Masjid stain on him. Other prominent state leaders such as Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh have not been allowed to venture out of their states. So where does that leave the other leaders such as Venkaiah Naidu, Ananth Kumar and Gopinath Munde. Clearly nowhere. It is left to Modi, therefore, to fill the vacuum.
Ravikiran Deshmukh is MiD DAY's political editor