Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi being garlanded by party workers during an election rally in Ahmedabad.
I had written earlier that what Narendra Modi lacks this year is a formidable enemy and an emotive issue that will enable the optimal use of his acerbic oratory. In the last fortnight, the search for both is rather evident in Narendra Modi's public uttering. He has attacked Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Robert Vadra and even Shashi Tharoor. With the Congress steering clear of a direct confrontation with him, Modi will have to refine and fine-tune his campaign. He may still be able to talk up the anti-Congress sentiment on the corruption plank, but primarily it all will remain a positive narration about his contributions to Gujarat: not the best case scenario from Modi's perspective.
The Congress strategy on the other hand--of avoiding a head on collision with Modi--may have an unintended result. This strategy is making the Congress tongue-tied and incapable of mounting any serious offensive against the state government. It will take at least another week before we get to know how the campaign themes take shape.
That said, I am shifting to another point that has become a major talking point this season: Modi's shift to Delhi as the leader of the BJP. It is no longer a question of whether, but when. Set adrift, more so after the allegations against party president Nitin Gadkari, the BJP can do with a good leader. And Modi promises to be that leader that the party desperately needs. However, there are three points that make Modi's move to Delhi a problematic dilemma for himself and the BJP.
First, his Hindutva credentials. His strong appeal to the Hindutva sentiment is possibly his most valuable selling point. The development agenda is welded in as a component to the Hindutva agenda. The Hindutva constituency across the country is impatient for Modi's arrival at the centre stage. While that core constituency will be consolidated if Modi takes the national stage, his arrival could scare potential allies of the BJP.
Secondly, Modi's incessant appeals to provincialism. The Gujarati pride is a key theme of Modi's politics. To a great extent he built up Gujarati-ness as a political construct. He has also been regularly attacking 'Delhi' which he says has been opposed to Gujarat. While his reference to Delhi has been to target the Congress, the Gujarat-vs-Delhi theme in his politics has been in excess. As and when he moves on to the national stage, shaking off this provincialism will be a challenge for him.
Third is his inability to say 'may be.' "He either says 'yes', or 'no.' There is no 'may be' in his vocabulary," a leader who has worked closely with Modi says. While this is a mark of decisiveness that he is so celebrated for, in Delhi's fractured coalition politics, it will play out differently. Here it will possibly be pronounced as his incapability to seek middle path.
In other words, the three strong points that make Modi thrive as the undisputed emperor of Gujarat, in turn making him the most credible claimant for BJP's national leadership, could cut both ways. In the context of Gujarat it all works extraordinary well. But will that apply at the national level in the same fashion?
(The writer is Chief of Bureau at Hindustan Times. The views expressed are personal.)