BJP can either promote Modi or the NDA

When RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat arrives in the capital Tuesday to meet L.K. Advani and other BJP leaders, the party faction floating in the clouds after Goa will come down to earth. Of course, the key decision taken at the party’s conclave in Goa will remain unchanged. Narendra Modi will remain the campaign panel chief for 2014, but just as Arun Jaitley and Pramod Mahajan held that position in 2009 and 2004 respectively. In other words, Goa will not look like the beginning of a Modi coronation.

What the Bhagwat-Advani meet will bring into bold relief is also something that has been pretty clear to the panic stricken BJP leaders who trooped into the senior leader’s Prithviraj Road residence and established telephone lines between him and Bhagwat in Nagpur to pronounce a simple message: Advani, at 85, is far from having sung his swan song. We need him to stay in the game, seems to be the voiceless chant of leaders who, in their own deep heart’s core, were denied the limelight in Goa.

The leaders who knelt before him were not demonstrating their adoration for Advani. Rather, they saw in his eclipse a shrinking of their room for maneuver, an end to whatever dreams they may have nurtured. And there is no end to their dreams. That Advani himself had grasped this reality comes across in his letter of resignation from party forums. “Most leaders of ours are now concerned with their personal agendas.”

It is extraordinary how the electronic media for months sustained a chant in unison about a gladiatorial combat between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. Evening after evening, six faces screamed out of six windows on the TV screen their unprocessed wisdom on the Rahul-Modi contest when no such contest was on the cards.

Digvijay Singh was for Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Ministerial candidate, thus ending the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh bipolarity at the top. In determined opposition to this line was another Congress general secretary, Janardan Dwivedi. He thought the bipolar power structure was, for the Congress, a gift from the Gods. So, the Congress need not snicker at the unseemly factionalism in the BJP.

What no one quite expected is the scale of the eruption in Goa: a showdown between the party’s most experienced and its most popular face. In the process, skeletons in a very securely stacked cupboard of the RSS also came rattling down. The RSS supremo is having to intervene in order to restore balance in favour of Advani after his colleagues, Ram Lal and Suresh Soni, had tilted the scales for Modi.

The manner in which the media has supported Modi’s current elevation makes it amply clear that Corporate India supports the move. After all, the nose of the media ends where that of the Corporates begins. But why would Corporate India support a candidate who repels coalition partners in an age when no government can be formed in New Delhi by any party on its own in the foreseeable future?

Corporate India cannot have extended support to Modi simply because he has been extraordinarily hospitable to them in Gujarat. He must have other uses.

He is by all accounts, decisive, firm, strong willed, obstinate, but with many managerial skills too. These could be attributes of a successful manager of a party like the BJP not its Prime Ministerial candidate as some of his ardent supporters would like him to be.

A Prime Ministerial candidate in the coalition era must have one overriding attribute: suppleness and an infinite capacity to give other points of view a patient hearing. These were the qualities that moved Atal Behari Vajpayee up the ladder until he became Prime Minister.

In fact it is useful to recall that in 1999, when the NDA came to power under Vajpayee’s Prime Ministership, Advani was known as the Iron man. When Bill Clinton sent his trusted adviser Bill Richardson to evaluate the NDA leadership on the eve of the US President’s visit to New Delhi, Richardson described Advani as “the intellectual in the NDA”.

Modi may not have Advani’s “intellect” but he has some of the senior leader’s other qualities. Therefore, just as Advani made room which Vajpayee filled, so must Modi have a preferred Prime Ministerial candidate. Who, in other words, will be Modi’s Vajpayee?

A talent for coalitions being totally absent from his DNA, Modi as BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate is only thinkable in the event of the party going it alone, to break out of indecisiveness of the coalition mould, to risk losing, in order to come back on another occasion, taking advantage of the credit accumulated by making a sacrifice of power now.

But going alone would be in opposition to Advani’s stated line in recent months, that of NDA plus. A post Advani never resigned from is that of NDA president. NDA plus would entail the BJP toning down its saffron to cast its inclusive net wider. Who knows in the event of a fractured verdict in 2014, Advani’s may be the most acceptable image.

There is yet another possibility. If Modi repels both minorities and other coalition partners, for that reason, all the hype attending his elevation may scare voters away, from the BJP of course, but also from smaller parties because vote blocs would be looking for a big party with a secure future in the Delhi Durbar.

In that case the eventual beneficiary of the Modi projection may well be the UPA under Manmohan Singh for the third time. Unless, of course, the Congress exceeds the figure of 206 seats it won in 2009. In that most unlikely of events, the coronation turban will be tied around Rahul Gandhi’s head.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior political commentator. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on [email protected])

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