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Is Delhi Narendra Modi’s next stop?

As Modi prepares to be CM of Gujarat for the third time, power equations may change in BJP, but RSS will be watching, reports S Iyer.

india Updated: Dec 24, 2007 10:23 IST
Shekhar Iyer

Will Narendra Modi now jump into the national political scene? Is he the Bharatiya Janata Party’s only Great Hope, its real prime ministerial candidate? As Modi prepares to take oath for the third time as Gujarat chief minister, these questions are crowding the political air in New Delhi as well as in Ahmedabad.

Modi’s publicity arm, Vande Gujarat, on Sunday added fuel to fire by sending out the following politically-loaded SMS: “Today Gujarat, tomorrow Delhi. One people, one country and one leader — Narendra Modi.”

<b1>BJP insiders see power equations changing fast within the party following the victory in Gujarat, but not fast enough for Modi to reach the centrestage immediately. LK Advani, the BJP’s candidate for prime minister in the next Lok Sabha polls, will count on Modi more and more being a MP from Gujarat. Party general secretary Arun Jaitley too will see a lot of promise in him for a national role. But there are others, including the RSS, who will not have any role for him at the Centre at this juncture.

“Politics does not accept any form of stagnation. Politicians, personalities evolve over a period of time. What will happen ten years down the line or even five years down I don’t know,” said Jaitley, who enjoys a good rapport with Modi. On whether Modi could be given a role in the party at the national level, he said: “Certainly, he is one of our foremost leaders in the country. His stature has shot up. He has a great amount of charisma and he is there.” Politically balancing it out, the legal mind added: “But as of today, I am reasonably certain he is committed to the people of Gujarat. He has secured for the second time a very respectable mandate and is committed to serve the people of Gujarat.”

With the RSS having just given the approval to Advani’s projection as a PM candidate, that too 13 days before the Gujarat results, the message was clear to everyone in the BJP, including Modi. The next few months will see the party working hard to project a united face.

By leading the party to a spectacular win yet again, the 57-year-old Modi has achieved a record of sorts.

No other BJP chief minister had so far been able to beat the anti-incumbency factor for the second time in a row. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat did it as Rajasthan chief minister but he needed the help of independent MLAs.

It was not without a reason that BJP president Rajnath Singh was prompt in making it clear that nobody was “bigger than the party” and the Gujarat win was a “combination of governance, ideology and development.” His reluctance to give Modi full credit for the Gujarat victory drew angry reactions from supporters in Ahmedabad.

Pressed even further, he said: “There is no first or second category in our party and in the next Lok Sabha elections, the BJP will contest elections under the leadership of Advani, who is our prime ministerial candidate.”

True, Modi defied everyone for this win — senior BJP leaders who were hoping that his ego would be cut to size if the seat tally went down sharply, the dissidents including veteran Keshubhai Patel who nurtured hopes of a hung House for them to play a part, and the RSS parivar, particularly the recalcitrant VHP, which could not stand his personality cult.

Despite all this, Modi cannot make it big before the next Lok Sabha polls because what makes him in tick in Gujarat does not suit the BJP in other states, say BJP functionaries. The NDA allies are not ready for him. Nor are other BJP leaders who are still upset by his manner and methods.

Besides, with the BJP having just declared Advani as the Prime Minister candidate for the next general elections, Rajnath Singh remains the BJP president until February 2009. The RSS won’t let him be disturbed. Nor will other senior BJP leaders. That means Modi will have to bide his time.

“Before then, he will have to improve his acceptability among other BJP leaders and all sections of the society at large. The party still needs the NDA and its allies who don’t accept Hindutva,” said another BJP leader.

“Modi’s personality does not help them with their voters. The Godhra ghost cannot be wished away. Justice must be appear to be done sooner or later,” said another leader who was though mightly impressed by Modi’s achievement in Gujarat.

As another BJP functionary put it, “he has won accolades from voters in Gujarat for his development buzz but outside the state, Gujarat can at best stand out as the BJP’s model of development but the voters in other states will have to be wooed on larger issues and on the basis of profitable alliances.”