It was an exceptionally hot summer day in the month of June, in Delhi. Mr. L. K Advani, the senior most and octogenarian leader of BJP, was uneasy and angry in the cool comfort of his airconditioned living room. Reason for his unease was ascendancy of Mr. Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, in party hierarchy. Like a prey mesmerized by a python, BJP cadres were apparently hypnotized by success of Mr. Modi as Gujarat chief minister, and wanted party leadership to project Modiji as leader of BJP’s election campaign, which may eventually lead to elevation to the post of prime minister, in case party comes out victorious. This, despite Advaniji’s explicit reservation about Mr. Modi’s candidature and his not so overt praise of another BJP chief minister of Madya Pradesh, Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
“How ungrateful!” thought L K. Advaniji. His own party cadres and leaders forgot how he worked to build the party from 2 seats of 180 seats in parliament. They forgot his tireless work to create a Hindu identify and a vote bank for BJP. His clever effort at Babri masjid demolition and sacrifices he made for the party, cannot be brushed aside. How can anyone for get that Advaniji was one of the architects of creation of National Democratic Alliance (NDA), that he gave up his claim on the prime minister’s seat in 1998 for Atalji. Now that UPAii led by Man Mohan Singh is at its weakest, should BJP and Narendra Modi not step aside and make room for L. K. Advani as prime minister!. Brushing aside any thought that party lost two elections under his leadership in 2004 and 2009, Advaniji felt his brightest chance at the top job in the country was slipping away from his grip.
The actual announcement from Goa, venue of BJP national executive meeting, Mr. Advani heard on TV. Mr. Rajnath Singh, the party president, flanked by important party functionaries announced that Mr. Modi has been chosen to be chairman of election campaign committee for 2014 general election. In impotent rage, Advaniji drafted a letter to party president about his decision to resign from all party posts. Like a child who has been denied his favorite toy, Advaniji intended to hurt and embarrass a party he worked to create.
Mr. Advani’s announcement was akin to setting cat among the pigeons. Although, Mr. Advani was eventually persuaded to take back his resignation, but the damage was already done. A principal ally for last seventeen years, JDU, was contemplating breakup of alliance at the centre and at the state level. This apart from all the snide remarks that came from rival parties and parties with different ideological inclination.
It is highly unlikely BJP leaders did not expect a strong reaction to the elevation of Mr. Narendra Modi. Opinion polls conducted by different groups also predictied that seat tally of BJP in 2014 election would unlikey to improve beyond 140, despite congress doing poorly. For BJP led NDA to cross the halfway mark in parliament, BJP would need help of supporting parties. It would be easy to get such support, if Mr Nitish Kumar or Ms Sushma Swaraj or Mr L K Advani led NDA to poll as prime minister.
Several factors guided BJP leadership in their decision to project Mr. Narendra Modi chairman of campaign committee. Firstly, it was probably felt that JDU can be persuaded to stay in the alliance of NDA, sighting the mutually beneficial role of alliance to the poll prospect of both parties. BJP was further emboldend by the fact that JDU lost the recent by election to its rival RJD, led by Shri Lalu Yadav. At the same time BJP lead by Narendra Modi won all the seats in Gujarat. Significance of this observation cannot be missed. It is important to note that state elections may have less bearing on national election, and BJP also lost state election in Karnataka. Nevertheless, win is a win and loss remains a loss, whatever may be the cause.
Second factor in decision making was the view that Mr. Modi, with his oratory, with his track record of development, his success as chief minister, can be a game changer with urban and young voters in the next election. Loss of alliance partners like JDU can be compensated if Modi can bring in close to 200 votes for BJP. In such a scenario, BJP leaders felt other parties will come towards NDA. Muslims, around 20 % of voters may not vote for Modi led NDA. Although in Gujarat, muslims have voted for Modi led BJP. Youth, which may be around 10 – 15% of new voters may vote for Modi. For Mr. Modi to bring additional votes for BJP, I think Hindus have to vote overwhelmingly in favor of BJP. It is important to note that Mr. Amit Shah, Modi’s chosen campaign manager for UP, has started reviving Ram Mandir as an election issue.
Finally, rank and file BJP cadres have pressurized leadership for anointment of Mr. Modi for a significant national level position. Many believe strong leadership of Mr. Modi may enthuse the party workers before next election.
For Mr. Modi to be successful, NDA must get close to majority on its own. I do not see a great prospect for India shining, if NDA would need support of other parties for passage of major bills. Given that NDA had made most parliament sessions almost irrelevant in last couple of years, they should expect to be paid back in same currency by congress and her UPA allies, if NDA happens to come in power.
Question remains can Narendra Modi lead BJP to victory in next election with enough numbers? BJP does not have a great presence in south and east. If BJP can get alliance with AIADMK and TMC, it may get a foothold in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. TMC, however, is not interested to ally with BJP or congress. It is dreaming of creating an eastern front with BJD in Orissa and JDU in Bihar.
Is Modi the game changer? Has Modi done miracle? Can one man do miracle in a vast country like India? I do not know. When Modi speaks, it appears that he has a different idea for running the country. He wants people to reject dole and stand up on their feet. He believes, people should ask for development in their area. Government must empower people to get what they want by providing good governance. Modi is considered to be pro big business. This is probably in line with his philosophy of empowering people. If people get job they no longer need dole from state. Revenue generated from industrial output can be ploughted back to social welfare. Industrialists are happy with Modi. People from abroad and home flock to Modi’s vibrant Gujarat summit. However, a country that is as diverse and as India it may take time for Mr Modi’s ideas to take root. Also, I have seen parts of Gujarat undeveloped with road broken, dirty villages, no electricity. I have seen people defecating in the open in Ahmedabad. So more than 10 years of Modi rule Gujarat has not become a paradise.
Modi is a person who is not corrupt. Benefits of chief ministers office do not percolate down to his family and friends. This is in sharp contrast to corruption ridden UPAII. Modi is a man with strong dislike and likes. With Modi, will come Amit Shah a man being investigated for riots. People whom Modi does not like, he destroys them. Areas that do not vote for him do not get development funds. Can such a person lead diverse India? Modi also brings stigma of Gujarat riot. He may not be directly involved, but he did not reach out to people that suffered when he was the chief minister. For last ten years or so, Modi has been attacked relentlessly for Gujarat riot. However, he has come out victorious in three elections. This may be a testimony to his will power to withstand opposition. Of late, muslims in Gujarat have started supporting Modi led BJP. This may be far cry in rest of india, where hatred for Modi still persists and real.
All said and done, it appears Mr Modi’s turn has come to fight an election for BJP and deliver. He speaks the language of youth. Common people can relate to him. He has idea of a different type of India. Time will tell if Modi will be able to convince Indian of his vision and lead BJP to power.