There’s no two ways about who the star of the show at the BJP’s ongoing national executive is. It is not its newly-anointed prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani but Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi whose stunning victory in the recent elections has quietened — if not silenced — even his most vocal detractors. True to form, it’s Mr Modi who is being cast as the party’s poster-boy for the upcoming Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh elections. The Gujarat CM has played his cards just right. He has managed to hustle Gujarat out of the communally singed identity of 2002, and put the development mantra in the centre of things. The foreign investment flowing into the state is being projected as owing to the magnetic pull of brand Modi. Even the famously temperamental J. Jayalalithaa did not shy away from lunching with the once pariah cm.
The showcasing of Mr Modi at the BJP meet is also to test the waters to see if the NDA’s allies will accept his leadership first as the second-in-command, and after the Advani era, as the party supremo. So far, the reactions have been positive. BJP president Rajnath Singh’s volte face on Mr Modi says it all. A year ago, he dropped Mr Modi from the BJP’s parliamentary board. Today he is singing his praises. Mr Advani, while greatly respected within the party, has his own limitations. He has never really been able to go beyond his tirades against ‘pseudo-secularists’. He is no orator like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and he has little appeal in the South, where some of the BJP’s allies come from.
By projecting his development plank, Mr Modi has been able to shake off, to some extent, the label of being a regional leader. His plus point within the party is also the fact that he has been able to beat the anti-incumbency trend and lead the party to victory in Gujarat even as the Congress unleashed its heavy artillery (which many believe to have boomeranged on the Congress). Now Mr Modi, who has so far been kept out of Rajnath Singh’s high-level team to oversee the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, is assured star billing on it. With the unofficial coronation of Mr Modi, the BJP could be back in the reckoning as a real Opposition party, rather than a party that is in opposition.