BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is the man of the moment. But many have forgotten that the man who threw his weight behind Mr Modi’s candidature was the party president, Rajnath Singh, even when the party heavyweights opposed the decision. Mr Singh is an underrated politician. It is perhaps he who has made the BJP a real force to reckon with in this election. The only other person who comes to mind as having decisively shaped the modern BJP is LK Advani, who with his rath yatra was able to polarise the electorate effectively in the early 1990s. He was also smart enough to realise that India would accept a moderate and unifying figure like Atal Bihari Vajpayee as prime minister and sacrificed his own ambitions for the greater good of the party. After the glory years of Mr Vajpayee, this is the first time that the BJP seems to have regained its fighting spirit.
Mr Singh has also done something that would have seemed unthinkable in the past. He has sidelined the old guard, as well as Mr Modi’s detractors. He allowed Mr Advani to appear like a petulant schoolboy wanting his choice of seat before letting the patriarch make his own decision. He pushed Murli Manohar Joshi aside from Varanasi to contest instead from another constituency. As for those who are less than happy with Mr Modi’s ascent, like Sushma Swaraj, Mr Singh has carefully excluded them from the top decision making, as in the case of not giving Jaswant Singh a ticket.
As for his own ambitions, Rajnath Singh is circumspect. If the BJP comes to power, his position will be unassailable. Many ridiculed him for putting all his eggs in the Modi basket. But this is exactly what has given the BJP’s campaign some fizz. All the opponents have trained their firepower on Mr Modi, a clear sign of how apprehensive they are about him. Mr Modi is a very angular figure and Mr Singh seems to have used this to the party’s advantage. And certainly, as of now, it is advantage Mr Singh, even though he is not likely to admit it.