It is for history to judge the importance of the two-day national executive of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Mumbai earlier this week, but the immediate impact of the event has been that the party has, apart from the regular clichés, nothing much to offer in terms of a viable political alternative to the Congress-led UPA government.
That is as far as the party goes. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, on the other hand, has used this platform to more or less establish himself as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Even if Modi is not accepted by NDA member Janata Dal (United), the BJP seems to have no alternative to Modi as a prime ministerial candidate for 2014.
It is no secret that senior BJP leader and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, has no love lost for Modi. LK Advani, the other senior leader in the BJP, still harbours prime ministerial ambitions, and sees Modi as a prime threat in achieving that goal. Despite this opposition from within for Modi, the party would have no choice but to decide on one person to lead the BJP campaign for 2014. The Congress has not overtly stated it, but its prime ministerial candidate will most likely be Rahul Gandhi.
Given the mood at the grassroots, and with hardly any mass leader at the top, Modi’s candidature seems to be a Hobson’s choice for the BJP. Though Modi — even if he is a polarising figure — is possibly the strongest counterforce to the Congress, it is ironical that the UPA could actually use his candidature to their advantage. For instance, the NDA could well say goodbye to the Muslim vote, something that Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar of the JD(U) has relied upon extensively in his state.
Modi may have his fanboys rooting for him to take over as the BJP’s “national” face. But it is at the voting booths in 2014 that he could face the ultimate litmus test, and perhaps it is there he may have the realisation that the rest of India is not Gujarat.