Mere congratulations, not even a standing ovation is good enough for BJP’s supernova Narendra Modi, according to new party president Rajnath Singh. The primary agenda for the party’s National Council meeting may have been to ratify Mr Singh’s appointment but the atmospherics suggested that it was to crown Mr Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. There is no doubt that pulling off an electoral victory three times in a row is nothing short of amazing, there is also no arguing against the fact that Mr Modi has done wonders for development and investment in Gujarat. But perhaps the party could have done without so much focus on one individual when it has to its credit at least three other chief ministers who have done exceedingly well — Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Raman Singh and Manohar Parrikar.
Given his stature, Mr Modi could also have done without the somewhat intemperate language he used against the Congress and also trying to set a cat among the pigeons by suggesting that Pra-nab Mukherjee would have been a better prime minister. But the real challenge to not just Mr Modi but any aspiring BJP prime ministerial candidate will be to get the party’s rank and file in shape. Years out of power have seen the party slide in many places, particularly the south. In what was once its gateway to the south, Karnataka, the party has been crippled by faction-fighting. The north-east is another area where the party has a long way to go to build up its base. Whether the party likes it or not, it still needs to rely very strongly on the RSS’s rank and file for grassroots support. The parent organisation has not been too happy with the larger-than-life persona of Mr Modi and what it perceives as his go-it-alone politics. Within the top echelons of the party’s leadership too, it is clear that Mr Modi remains a polarising figure. This was evident in former president LK Advani’s not-so-subtle references to the oratory skills of the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj in the same breath as those of former Prime Minister AB Vajpayee.
In the days to come, Mr Singh will announce his team and Mr Modi is expected to play a very important role in it. But the test for him will be to take others along with him, something he has not tried too hard to do so far. He still has time to try and shake off the taint of the anti-Muslim riots 10 years ago, something which again he has not really cared to do so far. Mr Singh and Mr Modi should now get away from personalities and delineate the BJP’s agenda whether it is economic or social. For better or worse, the Congress has already done this and this could give it a headstart if the BJP dilly dallies on this any further.