Senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha’s support for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s candidature as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections came a day after Mr Modi’s prolonged meeting with the new BJP president, Rajnath Singh, in New Delhi on Sunday. Mr Sinha’s comment along with the meeting is being viewed by many as a sign of a calibrated rise of Mr Modi as Lok Sabha elections draw close. The ‘cordial’ meeting between the two was a sign that the top leadership is keen to demonstrate that all’s well within the BJP despite the recent incidents of infighting. The meeting was also an effort towards making a fresh beginning between the two senior leaders of the party: Mr Singh and Mr Modi did not share the best of relations during the former’s last stint as the BJP president.
What augurs well for the BJP is that the meeting comes close on the heels of internal tensions that preceded the denial of a second term to Nitin Gadkari, who is accused of business irregularities. The other message, of course, is Mr Modi’s gradual rise in the party. His third consecutive assembly election win in Gujarat in 2012 — coupled with a carefully constructed discourse of development — has set him apart from his peers within the party. Mr Modi may soon get a place in the BJP’s prestigious parliamentary board and a chance to lead the BJP’s central campaign committee. In fact, soon after he took over as the new party boss from Mr Gadkari, Mr Singh had declared that he would consult party leaders for a larger role for the Gujarat chief minister before the Lok Sabha elections. On the party’s prime ministerial candidate, however, the line remains unchanged: the party will take a decision at an appropriate time. Even though the ‘patch-up’ (at least publicly) between the two BJP senior leaders is good news for the party that is grappling with many other problems, the move can also herald certain problems.
Though there is no denying that Mr Modi is a mass leader in Gujarat and has a steady following even outside the state, he is also a polarising figure on account of the 2002 Gujarat riots. For one, the BJP’s ally, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who is eyeing rival Lalu Prasad’s Muslim constituency, has made his dislike for Mr Modi clear. New allies may also not want to be seen backing Mr Modi. In such a scenario, the party would probably want to go to polls without announcing Mr Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, and elevate him only if it gets a decent tally. As things stand now, the BJP’s challenge is three-fold: provide Mr Modi a calibrated rise without annoying its allies; make Mr Modi himself agree to a calibrated rather than dramatic rise; and ensure that should this happen, it doesn’t ruffle feathers within the BJP. For the new party president Rajnath Singh, this could turn out to be a trial by fire.