It may not be L K Advani versus Narendra Modi for BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate yet.
But India Inc’s backing for the Gujarat Chief Minister — as demonstrated at the global investors summit that ended on January 13 – has left the party’s top rung in disquiet. Advani or Modi?
In the presence of world leaders, including the prime minister of Kenya and the foreign minister of Singapore, Modi managed a show of support from captains of industry that could have been the envy of any chief minister or even a Prime Minister.
“Narendrabhai has done good…a person like him should be the next leader of the country,” said ADAG Chairman Anil Ambani.
“Chief Minister Modi is known as a CEO, but he is …running a state and can also run the nation,” said Bharti boss Sunil Mittal.
Even Ratan Tata, who chooses his words carefully, joined in.
But the BJP leadership is uneasy.
Although Advani has never shown he has problems with Modi’s projection, at the BJP’s Makar Sankranti meet, he refused to take questions that centred on Modi.
Interestingly, Modi is being hailed soon after former Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat signalled his entry in the race.
Though Modi has himself never come forward as a contender, his peers in the BJP (see box) perceive him as a potential threat.
On record, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said Modi is successful only because of the “inspirational leadership” given by Advani, while his colleague Rajiv Pratap Rudy said any credit given to Modi is an honour for the BJP.
But BJP’s third-generation leaders vouch for him. “If you declare his name today, the BJP can easily add 30 per cent more seats,” said a party functionary.
Amid talk of Modi as PM material, the party has decided to promote Advani among the nation’s 100 million first-time voters. A crore stickers would be distributed in a month and his website popularised.
Advani was named BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister and the NDA, too backed his candidature during the Gujarat polls in December 2007 when leaders realised Modi would return to power.
But the announcement forced Modi to declare that he nursed no ambition and preferred to be in Gujarat.
Since then, the BJP has beckoned him to campaign in every assembly poll. But Modi knows he can’t replace Advani as PM candidate in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls. He can be a star campaigner at best.
The allies who form the NDA will run away because of Modi’s record in handling Gujarat’s worst communal riots.