For a party out of power for nine years, the BJP’s anxiety to anoint Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections is understandable.
Modi’s entry into national politics became inevitable ever since he led the BJP to a landslide victory in the Gujarat assembly elections in 2007. The pains that the Congress took to counter Modi for close to a decade and the efforts within the BJP to pin him down to Gujarat have yielded no visible results. Then came the Supreme Court-monitored Special Investigation Team’s clean chit to Modi in the Gujarat riots and the BJP’s impressive victory in the 2012 Gujarat polls.
Though this cleared the decks for Modi’s ascension, what lent urgency to the Modi-as-PM campaign was the utter failure of the BJP central leadership under LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Nitin Gadkari to derive political capital out of the UPA’s failures. While the Modi-Rajnath Singh combine has sidelined these leaders, Advani’s transition from patriarch, and the man who led the BJP into the electoral limelight, to arch-dissident has caused a stir.
Advani had his fair chance in the 2009 general elections. The BJP Parliamentary Board announced him as its PM candidate in December 2007 and he had the backing of the entire party apparatus. But Advani failed to stir the electorate.
Modi’s momentum stems from the widely-held belief that he has swayed undecided voters and energised the party rank-and-file and traditional supporters. While Modi shares Advani’s predicament and compulsion in the post-Vajpayee era of becoming acceptable to allies and minorities, there is a significant difference.
Advani could not enunciate a clear economic or strategic vision and his overtures to Pakistan backfired. In contrast, Modi has clearly pitched himself on the side of Hindu nationalism, aggressive economic growth, and boldly derided Congress’ welfare schemes as fiscally irresponsible populism. Ideologically, the BJP under Modi is renewing the slogans of the Nineties including the Ram Mandir, Uniform Civil Code and Article 370; issues that the party quietly junked because of coalition compulsions.
Perhaps, Advani is positioning himself as a moderate and an acceptable alternative in the likelihood of a hung Parliament.
Within the party he will count on the support of strong regional leaders like Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh and Manohar Parikkar in this scenario. But Advani also runs the risk of alienating traditional supporters.
Though Modi has appeared nonchalant about the BJP’s internal tussles he will be concerned at the ease with which the Congress recovered and got several legislations passed during the monsoon session. The Congress has portrayed his development record as a PR-creation and targetted him over the Gujarat fake encounters and the 2002 anti-Muslim riots.
In return, Modi has challenged the Congress’ notions of secularism, and its poor record of governance and mishandling of the economy. But there are several dominant regional, secular and socialist parties who hold the keys to government formation. To attract them, he must incorporate an inclusive vision and a positive message.