Modi's PM ambition has many hurdles to cross

Gujarat’s longest serving chief minister Narendra Modi has never really articulated his national ambitions so far. Still, at the victory rally he addressed hours after the results were out on December 20, he gave vent to his aspiration. The over-an-hour speech was made in Hindi for the benefit of people across the country, though there was a demand from the local audience for him to speak in Gujarati. He told the vociferous crowd, which egged him on shouting “PM, PM”, that they should get used to him speaking in Hindi. He apologised “for any mistakes he may have made in the last 10 years as CM.”

Modi has never expressed regrets over the 2002 carnage in which over a thousand Muslims were massacred over four days in several parts of Gujarat, when he was the chief minister, but this is the closest he has come to reach out to a community which has not forgiven him. And it continues to be his Achilles’ heel.

 The dream of Narendra Modi becoming the second NDA PM after A B Vajpayee may have just started but there is a long way to go. On the way, he has to cross many a hurdle, especially given the current political scenario in the country. The very first road hump for Modi would begin from Nagpur, the headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which calls itself a cultural organisation but “loans” its ‘pracharaks’ to the BJP – Modi was one such – will have to take the very first call: Should Modi be projected as BJP’s PM candidate?

Almost ever since Modi became CM in 2001, relations between him and the different wings of the Sangh parivar have never been cordial. He has antagonised the top leadership of the RSS with his curt and autocratic style of functioning. Modi is opposed to BJP president Nitin Gadkari too despite the fact that the latter is the blue-eyed boy of the RSS. So much so that senior RSS leader M G Vaidya went public to claim that Modi was behind the anti-Gadkari campaign some months ago when charges were made against the BJP chief.

After the RSS, the second roadblock comes from the BJP itself where there are many prime ministerial claimants. Right from party veteran L K Advani and Arun Jaitley (the two leaders who have not endorsed Modi as a potential PM candidate unlike another senior leader Sushma Swaraj), Modi’s third consecutive victory in Gandhinagar is said to have unsettled many. Also, unlike Vajpayee and Advani, Modi is a ‘regional leader’ aspiring to be the party’s mascot in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. If Modi crosses these hurdles and the BJP anoints him as PM candidate, a bigger stumbling block awaits him in the form of the National Democratic Alliance.

Aggressive style

Unlike the 1998-2004 period when the NDA was a larger conglomerate of parties that ruled at the Centre, it has since been reduced to a motley group of 3-4 parties that include BJP, Janata Dal (United), Shiromani Akali Dal and Shiv Sena. The NDA has to endorse Modi’s candidature but JD(U)’s top leader and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar is clearly opposed to him, because of his anti-Muslim image and aggressive style of functioning. (Despite his alliance with the BJP, Nitish has a strong support base among the Muslims.)
As soon as Thursday’s results were out, the JD(U) leaders hinted that the clock has started ticking for a divorce between the BJP and JD(U) as they would never accept Modi as the PM candidate. Apart from this, the relation between Shiv Sena and Modi, BJP sources say, is not too warm and what stand the Sena takes would be keenly watched.

Besides, the BJP and NDA would have to keep an eye on the numbers game in the post-2014 scenario. In the face of two successive defeats despite pollsters giving it an edge in 2004 and 2009, the BJP is right now down in the dumps, its image not too high, failing to wrest advantage from the Congress.

The BJP’s tally in the Lok Sabha has been reduced to a mere 116 in the Lok Sabha with the majority mark being 272. This means that the party will have to do substantially better to push the figure at least to its 1999 level (when it secured 182, the highest so far). It also means that it needs to have a strong leader with mass appeal to get the votes and the seats.

Even if the BJP manages to come closer to 1999 figure, this will still be not enough. And it is here the BJP needs meaty partners who can push the tally to 272 and beyond. There being no guarantee of JD(U) support – Nitish’s close aides say he is even ready to sacrifice the coalition government in Bihar than go with BJP with Modi at the helm – the NDA will have a Herculean task to scout for new partners.

While Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalitha may join the bandwagon, NDA may see parties such as Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, Biju Janata Dal, Telugu Desam or YSR Congress of Jagan Mohan Reddy as potential suitors as all of them, save Jagan Mohan Reddy, the others have shared bed with BJP earlier. But they deserted the BJP later because of their dependence on Muslim votes and if Modi is made the leader, it is highly unlikely that any of these parties will even touch the BJP with a bargepole. YSR Congress has made it clear long ago that there will be no truck with the BJP.

 All these factors make it a difficult task for a Modi-led BJP to reach the goal of capturing power in Delhi, after 10 long years in hibernation. Does it all mean that“Dilli Door Asth”  (Delhi is far away) for Modi’s ambitions to come true?

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