In the run-up to the elections in Gujarat and subsequent to the outcome, a hotly-debated question was whether the battle for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls would be between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. How strong is that possibility? Should 2013 hold the answer?
The answer is yes and no.
The first reactions from the BJP after the Gujarat results were varied. Cadres could not help raising the slogan, “CM for 2012 and PM for 2014.” But senior party leaders were circumspect, barring one or two middle-level functionaries who did not mince words that Modi was the BJP candidate. A majority of senior BJP leaders acknowledged that Modi is a “potentially strong” candidate for the top slot, but the question of projecting a PM candidate will be decided at the “appropriate time”.
But ask any junior BJP functionary, his or her answer will be that Modi alone can re-energise the party. On his part, Modi won’t show any tearing hurry, preferring that several roadblocks to his ambition to occupy centre stage be cleared by the BJP rather than he himself plunging headlong in pursuit of the coveted slot. That’s not his style of operation, either. Also, BJP chief Nitin Gadkari is on record that the party won’t canvass for any PM candidate and prefers to choose its candidate after the Lok Sabha results, depending on the tally.
“Modi can be PM if the BJP has enough numbers on its own. But if the numbers are short, the BJP will have to consider the views of its allies, potential and the existing ones,” say party leaders.
On the other hand, Gandhi’s Congress party has declared that he will be the face of its election campaign. But it has stopped short of saying he will become Prime Minister if the party-led UPA is re-elected for a third term. Everyone in the Congress, however, says Gandhi has to be the party’s top candidate for the PM’s post. Gandhi’s own preference may be to lead the campaign but await the Lok Sabha results. If the Congress has good numbers to form his government, Gandhi may be inclined to accept the PM’s post.
In the case of another coalition arrangement, Gandhi may prefer to remain in charge of the Congress and let someone else head the government. Nevertheless, a potential Modi vs Gandhi clash in 2014 — in some form — seems inevitable as was witnessed in Gujarat.