Was there a Narendra Modi-specific factor in senior BJP leader LK Advani’s recent unhappiness and uneasiness with the party’s functioning? Was Advani unhappy with Modi’s elevation as chairman of the BJP’s campaign committee for the 2014 Lok Sabha election earlier this month? A source close to Advani rejects the argument and says the BJP patriarch wanted Modi to be the chief of the campaign committee in the 2009 elections, but the then party president Rajnath Singh did not agree. Therefore, Advani’s unhappiness and dissatisfaction is not Modi-specific.
However, the Advani argument about Modi does not end there. He has his reservations about Modi’s new appointment. Apparently party president Rajnath Singh consulted Advani much before the Goa national executive meeting, and he had suggested that along with Modi, former party president Nitin Gadkari should head the election management committee. Of course, the suggestion was overruled by the party. And it ended up in the hoopla that was at display in Goa after the announcement about Modi.
The well-placed source in the Advani camp points out that it was this induced euphoria that unsettled the Janata Dal (U), and led to its exit from the NDA. The Advani argument goes: Had Modi and Gadkari been named, this would not have precipitated the JD (U) action.
From this follows the the third part of the Advani argument. It is not so much against Modi as a person but it is against the BJP strategy of projecting him as the man who will win the 2014 election for the party. Popularity is not the only instrument for winning an election, says the source reflecting clearly the thinking in the Advani camp. There is also the crucial aspect of acceptability.
Three examples are given of how acceptability more than popularity wins the day in the fractured multi-party polity. The first example cited is that of the choice of Morarji Desai as prime minister in 1977. Jagjivan Ram and Charan Singh were more popular but they were not acceptable. Desai was not popular but acceptable. That is why, he ended up being the prime minister.
In 1995, Advani was the most popular in the BJP, but he (Advani) realised that he did not enjoy the same kind of acceptability that Atal Bihari Vajpayee did. It is pointed out that even Vajpayee did not have full acceptability. As a consequence, the first BJP government lasted for just 13 days in May, 1996. Both Advani and the late Pramod Mahajan had to approach other parties and persuade them to accept Vajpayee. It took them two years to achieve something of a success.
The third example is that of Manmohan Singh, whose acceptability quotient won him the day, and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, though omnipotent in her party, could not choose the candidate she wanted and had to contend with the acceptability factor.
The conclusion of the Advani thesis: It is true that there was a prime ministerial candidate in 2004 (Vajpayee) and in 2009 (Advani). But the party should go without a prime ministerial face into the 2014 election.
If Modi is projected, then the Congress and others will turn the tables and make it into a secular-communal issue. Modi and the BJP will have to parry and counter the communalism barb before attacking the Congress for corruption, inflation and mis-governance. If Modi is not projected, then the BJP can mount a full-throttled onslaught on the Congress.