Narendra Modi for BJP Prime Minister? It’s beginning to look that way.
The party has decided that a campaign based only on L.K. Advani’s years of experience is not working. It’s not that he doesn’t have the experience; it’s that he has too many years.
The Modi-for-PM furore started almost accidentally when the media blew up an off-the-cuff remark made by Arun Shourie. But what has followed has been no accident.
The BJP had every opportunity to stem the speculation by saying something like “Advaniji is our leader. And as for the future, the party has many young leaders and when the time comes, we will choose between them.”
Instead, it has taken the decision to encourage the speculation. BJP leaders have been falling over themselves to sing Modi’s praises. Ravi Shankar Prasad was the first to do so. And even Arun Jaitley, often regarded as a potential Prime Minister himself, has come out in open support of the Lion of Gujarat.
What is going on?
Several things, actually. The first is that the BJP feels outflanked in this campaign. It had hoped for a Presidential-style battle where savvy Advani would vanquish a weak Manmohan Singh. But Manmohan Singh has proved to be far from weak. And Advani is not seeming so savvy any longer.
Then, the BJP has no second line on display. There’s just Advani at the head of the campaign. The Congress, on the other hand, has played to the media’s obsession with the Gandhis. These days, anything Rahul or Priyanka say makes headlines. And unfortunately for the BJP, both are coming across as mature and likeable. So, the BJP needs to answer the After Advani Who question quickly. To tell voters that we will settle the issue only after Advaniji is 87 is no longer enough.
Thirdly, there’s the Rajnath Singh factor. He is president of the BJP and should be regarded as the party’s most important leader after Advani. But Rajnath is unimpressive on the campaign trail. Moreover, the BJP’s media-savvy leaders all hate him.
So, when somebody like Jaitley who is no Rajnath fan, says Modi will succeed Advani, he is also emphasizing the complete irrelevance of Rajnath Singh.
Fourthly, the BJP has had enough of middle-of-the-road politics. It wants to return to a more aggressive avatar. That’s why the rank and file would not let the leadership disown Varun Gandhi. And that’s why Modi’s persona suits this avatar of the party.
And finally, there’s the future to think of. Too many journos are writing the BJP off. I think that is a mistake. Advani could well become Prime Minister. Should that happen, he’ll spend a couple of years at Race Course Road and will then make way for Modi. At that stage, the traditional objection against Modi — will he be acceptable to allies? — will be irrelevant because the coalition will already be in place and no ally will rock the boat.
So, a vote for the BJP is not really a vote for Advani. It is a vote to make Narendra Modi Prime Minister.
That, the BJP has decided, is its best hope for the future.