After the turbulence over the selection of the party president, it was expected that the BJP would go in for a bit of introspection on how to position itself for the big show in 2014. But instead we see that it has stirred up another hornet’s nest with the attempts of some in its ranks to talk up Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as a potential prime ministerial candidate. Former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Ram Jethmalani have thrown their weight behind Mr Modi, something that has not gone down well with many, both within the party and among the NDA allies.
There is no doubt that Mr Modi is second to none in political acumen and ability, but he remains a highly controversial figure for many. The Shiv Sena has sought to queer the pitch for him by suggesting the name of the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj as a prime ministerial candidate, the JD(U) had earlier threatened to walk out if Mr Modi is the official PM candidate and even the Akali Dal seems nervous about endorsing the Gujarat chief minister. The problem that the BJP faces is both one of leadership and one of a lack of any viable agenda. It has been quick to react to all the government’s actions, and in many cases rightly so, but has failed to come up with any saleable or catchy idea of its own. The Congress has hijacked the economic liberalisation platform, it has occupied the high moral ground in social development, it is calling the shots on foreign policy, all areas where the BJP should have been proactive with its inputs.
As of now, the BJP is almost acting as though it can go it alone and decide on its prime ministerial candidate. It cannot because the numbers are not likely to add up. In which case, it needs to carry its allies along with it, not create a sense of alienation before the race for the next government has really begun. Once it has got its current allies on the same page, then perhaps, it can begin discussions of who will be the prime ministerial candidate. Naming someone now, in the hope that it will create a wave, as Mr Yashwant Sinha feels it will, is a politically dicey proposition. It could just boomerang. Instead of dwelling so much on personalities, the BJP must figure out whether it wants to project itself as a modern inclusive party or one which has no real platform other than being an anti-UPA force. By trying to present Mr Modi’s candidature as a fait accompli, the party is going against its own policy of being more democratic than other political formations. In this day and age, the importance of allies cannot be over-stressed and the BJP must really reinvent itself if it is to be seen as the natural leader of the NDA.