There is no mistaking the fact that the BJP will be committing political harakiri if it does not announce its prime ministerial candidate well ahead of the Lok Sabha elections scheduled in mid-2014 as Arun Jaitley, its leader in the Rajya Sabha, has aptly suggested. For the party that was voted out in 2004 in a shock defeat and was unable to recover lost ground in the 2009 elections, this is no ordinary election. It is an election in which all but two of its erstwhile allies have deserted it and it knows only too well that it needs to do much better than in 2009 to attract new friends and forge new links to come to power at the head of a coalition.
At one stage, after the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal(U) stormed out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the party had moved close to announcing Narendra Modi as its mascot for the 2014 elections but it drew back on advice from the likes of L K Advani and his tacit understanding with party president Rajnath Singh.
Whether a section within the party likes it or not, at this point going back on its seemingly intended decision to anoint Narendra Modi would be suicidal for the party.
Then what is the party top brass waiting for? The assembly elections in five states due later this year? What if the elections throw up a few surprises which are not to the liking of the BJP — if the Congress retains Rajasthan or it wrests power in Madhya Pradesh. There would then be a clamour from a section within the party to deny Modi the position of the prime ministerial nominee and the party would look hopelessly divided.
That may be in conformity with the designs of Modi’s detractors but the effect of denying the nomination to Modi would be disastrous for the BJP which can then say goodbye to any hopes of beating the Congress at the hustings. Its cadres, who are enthused by Modi’s likely candidature, would slip into a phase of demoralisation from which it would be well-nigh impossible to recover.
The principal opposition party’s tragedy is that its tallest leader, L K Advani, refuses to recognise that he is well past his prime and must gracefully make way for the new generation and party president Rajnath Singh nurtures the hope of emerging as a consensus prime ministerial candidate without being open about throwing his hat into the ring.
In his heart of hearts Rajnath Singh believes that the only chance for him is if he manipulates to delay the decision on the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP until close to the elections.
Whereas it is high time that Modi moves to New Delhi to take effective charge of the BJP’s Lok Sabha campaign in party interest, Advani and Rajnath would be only too happy keeping him out of the capital so that they can continue to represent the party in the highest forums and to remain in the media spotlight.
It is no secret that the BJP leader in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, has the blessings of Advani and there is little love lost between Modi and her right since Advani openly backed her for prime ministership. She, therefore, has a stake in delayed choice of prime ministerial nominee and sees herself as a possible consensus choice if Modi is jettisoned at the last minute.
Arun Jaitley, on the other hand, sees merit in aligning himself with Modi by default. He reckons that any further delay in Modi’s candidature and his delayed move to New Delhi would only curtail Modi’s chances, especially if the BJP does not fare well in the assembly elections later this year.
His statement calling for early declaration of Modi as prime ministerial candidate of the NDA fits in with this reasoning.
For Modi there is no time to waste. If he is serious about prime ministership he must hand over the reins in Gujarat to one of his trusted colleagues and move to New Delhi to take the BJP campaign forward. He must not only be in command but must also seem to be so.
He must be accessible to the party rank and file and to the media on a continuous basis, willing to set the agenda for change and strategising actively on the party’s floor co-ordination when Parliament is in session and touring across the country when Parliament is not in session. Through deft manoeuvring Modi must form his team though he may not announce it. He must ensure through pressure of all kinds that he is anointed as the NDA’s prime ministerial nominee, brushing aside those who
have a stake in ensuring that the decision is delayed further.
There will predictably be those who would resent his sudden active presence in New Delhi and would call him overbearing and bossy. But Modi would become a rallying point for all those who want the Congress out at all costs. It was the cadre that catapulted the Gujarat chief minister to the position of being the inevitable choice of the party for prime ministerial office and it is they who would be the best insurance that there is no sabotage and no backtracking on his candidature.
His presence in New Delhi would also afford a golden opportunity for Modi to crystallise his thinking on various issues through greater contact with leaders, cadre and experts in various walks of life including those with a deep understanding of foreign affairs and defence.
The world at large is wary of Modi because of his image of having acquiesced in the unfortunate pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. It is now for him to reach out to the minority while making it clear that though he condemns violence against the community, he is not cast in the Congress mould of appeasing any section of society to curry favour with it for the sake of votes.
Finally, Modi needs to reassert his economic model of growth which brought impressive results to the state.
This he has been doing with telling effect but he needs to carry that forward. A carefully-drafted document laying out the policy that the BJP would follow under him could well be a game-changer for a people who are fed up of Congress policies and attitudes.
(Kamlendra Kanwar is a veteran journalist and author. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)