Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It is a long trek from Gujarat to Delhi

Kalyani Shankar
Narendra Modi is surely a successful Chief Minister. But to become Prime Minister, he needs much more than a State report card
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has travelled many miles from the days of the 2002 violence. Today, he is being talked about as the prime ministerial candidate. Hindutva’s poster boy, Mr Modi’s supporters and those who don’t flay his style of functioning and arrogance, love him. Among his admirers are some big business tycoons who he has favoured, and who are openly lobbying for him. Even internationally, the Gujarat Chief Minister has come a long way since the US denied him visa. Today,  the prestigious Time magazine has carried him on its cover and  the UK is courting him for business. Mr Modi stands for ‘good governance and development’ — the two fashionable terms, which are used to describe him. He has cultivated even China. With such a transformed image, Mr Modi would like to come into national politics. And if he wins for the third time in the 2012 Assembly poll, he will emerge glorified. If he manages to get even one seat more, he will fight for the top job.
But things may not be going the way Mr Modi wants. Insiders say that, during his Nagpur visit he met RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and sought the Sangh Parivar’s support for projecting him as the prime ministerial candidate. After Morarji Desai, there has been no Prime Minister from Gujarat, and Mr Modi wants to ride on Gujarati pride to win. However, the RSS was cool to his overtures and he returned disappointed.
So the next best thing to do was to project his image, himself. Mr Modi has done this successfully by using the most advanced advertising techniques and spending huge sums of money on propaganda which focuses more on his prime ministerial chances. His supporters in media have not missed any opportunity to ask every BJP leader who visited Gujarat for poll campaign about Mr Modi’s chances at New Delhi. The BJP’s second rung leaders, themselves aspirants for the job, had no choice but to publicly support him. Statements by Leaders of the Opposition, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, that Mr Modi is eminently qualified for the post of Prime Minister, must be taken in that spirit.
But why is the BJP reluctant to name Mr Modi as the prime ministerial candidate? The party, busy with the task of winning the Gujarat election, is demoralised after former Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa’s exit and with the scams that have hit its party chief. The BJP is keen to gain political mileage by winning Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat or at least one State. Some in the party fear that ‘Modi for PM’ slogan may shift the focus. It will be a big gamble to allow spotlight on an individual especially when the BJP is hoping to win on UPA2’s poor performance and scams like the 2G spectrum. The BJP is already paying the price for projecting the wrong candidate in 2009. Hence, it may not do so now. Much needs to be done before zeroing in on Mr Modi.
Again, the BJP and the RSS have yet to decide on the controversy-hit BJP chief Nitin Gadkari’s future. His present term comes to a close at the end of the month and there is no final word on his second term. The second rung leaders too need to be brought around to accept Mr Modi as their leader. This has not been done so far.
However, the biggest impediment to Mr Modi’s political ascendancy comes from NDA allies. He is not an Advani or a Vajpayee whom the allies would accept wholeheartedly. Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray had supported the candidature of Ms Swaraj. The Janata Dal (U), NDA’s biggest ally, is opposed to Mr Modi. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has always been critical of him and has made it amply clear that he will not accept Mr Modi. Despite being a national party, the BJP is almost non-existent in the South except Karnataka. With the future seemingly set for a coalition era the BJP remains heavily dependent on its allies and their acceptance of Mr Modi’s candidature.
Last but not the least, Mr Modi’s dream can be fulfilled only if the BJP gets 250 seats on its own, which is doubtful in the present scenario. Building a consensus within the BJP and the NDA will be a huge problem otherwise.
For all practical purposes, it is the media and Mr Modi that are keeping the speculation alive. How long this can be sustained, remains to be seen. There is many a slip between the cup and lip, and Mr Modi must be aware of it.