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The debate within the BJP over projecting Modi as PM keeps on …




This issue is probably one of the most important issues for the BJP. For the past 2 elections, it has lost to the Congress, including the one in 2004 where the party expected to come back to power, and the one in 2009, where the Congress came back to power with a higher number of seats. LK Advani was the projected Prime Minister in both cases, and yet the party lost. There was speculation that this finally meant the end of the line of projecting the veteran leader as the PM, given that he is now in his 80’s, and there are a number of younger leaders in the party. However, one is not sure whether Mr. Advani thinks the same, whether he things that he can still be the Prime Ministerial candidate of the party. I had thought that he had given up, but there were news reports that it seems he is still in the race.
However, for some time now, the BJP has been facing a leader within the party who is forcing his way to the frontline, and in such a way that it is getting difficult for people within the party to stop him. This of course is Narendra Modi. There were a number of people who were waiting for the results of the Gujrat elections, with some hoping that the elections will slow down the progress of Modi. However, this was not to be. Modi managed to almost reach his previous tally, and this showed that he was still getting the support of people. In this election, he was running on the plank of a development leader, as a leader who was above caste and community, and this seems to have worked. With his win, and the seeming appeal to a large section of people who are looking for a leader who can work on development, and who is not corrupt (or rather, one who is not obviously corrupt).

The rise of Modi is fairly evident, along with his burning desire to move up and make an aim for the top job. His reputation precedes him, both in terms of his focus on development, and the possible complicity in the Gujarat riots of 2002 (his leading the state at a time when hundreds of Muslims were killed will forever remain a blot on his reputation). These together present an opportunity and a challenge to Modi’s growth. I have spoken to a number of people, and many of them do not care for his position on the riots, but do care for his image as a strong leader. On the other hand, there are a large number of people to whom he somebody who can never be forgiven or trusted, the worst example of a right-wing leader. Many who support him do so in the belief that he will galvanize society, that since the Muslims will organize against him, this will push a counter Hindu polarization that will impact more states than the BJP currently is in play for, including Uttar Pradesh. This of course is a very risky proposition.
One of the biggest challenges is the position of the allies. Unless something drastically changes in the electoral map of the country, many of the allies (and potential allies) of the party will be needed for the BJP to come to power. However, at the same time, many of these allies cannot afford to be tagged as supporting a leader such as Modi, since they also depend to some extent on the Muslims for their vote-bank, with a classic example being Nitish Kumar (he is facing some challenges of his own right now, with some of his sheen fading away, and cannot afford to be targeted as an anti-Muslim party). This will be hard to counter unless Modi can almost create a wave for him in the country, or better still, get support across communities.
This push for Modi is threatening to spoil the ambitions of others in the BJP, such as Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, and others. None of these other leaders have the kind of pull or charisma that Modi has, and they do know it. But that cannot stop them from wishing for getting selected as a compromise candidate.




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