Modi in hot seat

Modi in hot seat

The announcement by BJP president Rajnath Singh that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi will be the party’s prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections should put an end to feverish speculation in this regard, though, the acrimonious debate whether he is ‘fit’ to be considered for the post will probably continue both within and outside the BJP.

Modi’s nomination earlier as the chief of the BJP’s election campaign was a clear indication that a majority view in the party as well as the RSS was that, after losing two consecutive general elections, the party had to revert to its ‘core values’ and project a hardliner like Modi to regain public support. Party patriarch L K Advani’s stiff opposition to Modi’s nomination merely delayed the inevitable, but the juggernaut had travelled far too long to be reversed.

The BJP is obviously taking a huge gamble by projecting Modi as its prime ministerial candidate as he carries the stigma of being a divisive figure who ‘presided’ over the 2002 Gujarat riots. In several cases that are being pursued or in other cases where convictions have been awarded so far, Modi’s direct involvement has not been established. But his detractors point out that he has not even expressed remorse at causing so much pain to a minority community and he cannot be made the prime minister of a country as diverse as India.

Despite winning three consecutive elections in Gujarat, Modi’s track record as chief minister is a mixed bag. But he has successfully projected himself as a good, no-nonsense administrator, who has a vision beyond his state. The Congress-led UPA government’s humongous corruption scandals, the listless performance of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the projection of a clueless Rahul Gandhi as future prime minister have given the BJP and Modi enough ammunition to go after the Congress and the UPA government.

Many opinion polls show that despite being a controversial figure, Modi has far greater acceptance among the public than Rahul Gandhi for the prime minister’s post. The BJP is aware that in this era of coalition politics, Modi is less likely to attract more allies, but it is hoping that polarisation of voters will actually give it more seats than it could otherwise hope for and make it a credible contender for power. It’s a gamble which could either work spectacularly or backfire completely.