A personal win for Modi, blow for NDA

BJP gamble Narendra Modi's ascent, meant to be a smooth generational shift, is turning out to be the perfect storm

A personal win for  Modi, blow for NDA

Narendra Modi’s ascent, meant to be a smooth generational shift, is turning out to be the perfect storm.

This Sunday, probably it won’t be a restful weekend either for the bickering BJP or the cornered JDU, for their political relationship seems to be caught in a 17-year itch.Breaking the alliance seems appropriate for the Bihar regional party waiting for an opportunity to get out of the NDA, which was offered by the BJP through its choice of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the  election campaign committee chairman at their executive committee meeting at Panaji on June 9.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s strategy to keep minority and ‘Maha-Dalit’ votes intact alone may not pay off in the long run as anti-incumbency has already started showing in the state, reflected by Maharajganj Lok Sabha by election, which JDU lost to RJD with a big margin. Political observers believe that JDU will have to pay a political price that would be costlier than the benefit accruing out of the pullout.  

But Goa (conclave), which Modi accepted has always been lucky for him (at an earlier summit in the state he had survived by a whisker to retain his CMship post-Godhra riots), did not cease the haze of bitterness among top leadership in the BJP. 

Instead of giving a clear roadmap for 2014 general elections, what followed was even worse. Sulking party patriarch L K Advani, who decided to abstain from the meeting on “health grounds” as the party wanted people to believe, literally dropped a letter bomb. The man credited with multiplying the fortunes of the BJP from 2 MPs in 1984 to 161 seats in 1996, did not want to continue with three posts, including that of election committee and parliamentary board, upset over what he claimed was most leaders’ pursuit of personal agenda against party interest.

Thirty-six hours later, the 86-year-old patriarch withdrew his resignation, merely on the assurance that his grievances would be addressed. Prolonged mollycoddling by party leaders such as president Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and M Venkaiah Naidu, and a call from alma mater RSS’ chief Mohan Bhagwat also ensured an honourable exit out of a situation into which he had pushed himself. Advani had timed his quitting to register his protest and let the party know that he cannot become a cheerleader for his one-time protégé.  

Politicians close to Advani see it as a healthy democratic practise exercised by the Hindutva ideologue to checkmate Modi, who believes only in manufactured consensus. Perhaps, it also serves another purpose that Modi’s transition into the party’s prime ministerial candidate slot would not be so smooth. For a similar reason, JDU too is snapping its ties with the BJP, which is not willing to give an assurance that they will not project the Gujarat CM, who with equal ease wears twin identities of Hindutva poster boy and corporate man. 

He also kept himself in the realm of politics unlike other senior leaders, including Jaswant Singh, who are at the mercy of the party.

Public perception and individual aspiration need not necessarily coincide always. A quick survey carried out by a leading newspaper demonstrated that only three per cent of the people believed that Advani had resigned due to the reasons he had listed in his letter –– the mess within the party.

 They believed that he did so because he had missed the bus again for the prime ministership. Interestingly, barely 18 per cent believed that Modi’s elevation forced him to display his anger. Also, 62 per cent of the people interviewed affirmed Advani’s wrongdoing and 73 per cent feel Modi is the most popular leader in the party while his mentor could poll 19 per cent votes.

Cricket vs politics

As in cricket, politicians in India too do not know how to retire gracefully. Most of the illustrious cricketers who do not rule out struggling legend Sachin Tendulkar, refuse to own up the inevitable and get overpowered by emotions, quipped a party leader, indicating that the time was right for aging “Loh purush” to chase sunset as pointed out recently by JDU leader Shivanand Tiwari.    

Publicly, he has never spoken about his wish. Before taking out his rath yatra against corruption a couple of years back, when asked about his prime ministerial ambitions, Advani had this to say: “I would only say that I first became a Swayamsevak (of the RSS), then a member of the Jan Sangh and then the BJP. I feel that what I have got from these organisations, from my fellow workers and what the country has given me is much more than the prime minister’s post”.

A  BJP leader said that Advaniji is also ending up getting used by the Generation Next, which is nudging him to create a space in the party’s new environment where they too can assert their identities with equal respect.

Besides the bitterness which played out prominently in Goa summit, it also re-established the RSS supremacy on the BJP functioning, sprouting of Sangh confidante and former president Nitin Gadkari and Rajnath Singh doggedly pursuing what he believes is the best bet in pushing Modi as party’s poll mascot.

While Sangh is believed to have stood behind BJP chief Rajnath Singh’s decision to catapult Modi to the centre stage given his popularity among the cadres and a section of the society, the call to soothe Advani was also perhaps to send a bitter message across that they cannot ignore the RSS.

In 2014, the evolving BJP will not be in a win-win situation on every count  even if it does win electorally. If the Modi magic works in the coming polls, the party gains. But, Advani loses the future plot. And if Modi magic fades, party loses. But, Advani will stay relevant.

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