So the BJP has a problem. Will the formidable image of L K Advani increase the influence of the NDA within the next parliament or will his leadership help the BJP but perhaps dissipate the NDA? While leadership may have been decided, despite some disquiet, there is that other issue of issues.
Which issues to raise with the Indian voter? Job loss, price rise, high interest rates, corruption? Or a grand new temple at the site of a decimated mosque at Ayodhya.
Hmm. Tough choice? Not really.
At the recent BJP national executive, the BJP decided largely to make the Ram temple the key issue to take to the voters. Clearly, the BJP thinks that an economic slowdown and inflation do not affect the non-city dweller as much as the holy promise of righting a historic wrong.
With a current strength of 151, the NDA, led by the BJP (113 MPs), does not want to take any chances. So what should it do?
Its very difficult to give sober advice to a party that still entertains a loony fringe. The same loony fringe that displays aggressive gender bias in night clubbing. Men can topple over after tippling, but ladies, please stay away from Singapore Slings.
So what should it do?
Stick to the youth, I would say. And stick with the youth. Sure, we respect our elders. But beyond a point all of us get a bit restless with people born around 1929 who want to rule us in 2009.
Despite the Ram Mandir/Babri Masjid baggage, one reason the NDA could’ve come to power in 2004 was its leadership configuration. The tough leader, Advani, had to play second fiddle to a statesman-like relationship manager Atal Behari Vajpayee.
So what lessons does this hold for the BJP now? How about Version 2 of the Atal-Advani combine? How about Arun Jaitley with Narendra Modi? While Jaitley will be the pleasant, efficient acceptable face of the BJP, Modi can be the quiet hardliner who pushes the agenda of the parivar.
While Arun Jaitley can be positioned as the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi can be his able deputy. This may not be as improbable as it sounds. Consider this. Among the next-gen leaders of the BJP, these two stand tall. Modi, for his efficient management of the state. Jaitley, for his fluency in subjects as diverse as electoral management, global trade and domestic economic issues.
The rest of the country may revile him for Godhra and its aftermath, he is still a hero for Gujarat and for the BJP cadres. And while Jaitley may not be able to claim a mass following, he has the capability and intellect to run a national government.
While Modi at the helm of the BJP may not pull in enough allies to achieve critical mass in the NDA, Jaitley as the leader would have a much wider appeal. Then what of Advani? Here I would suggest that he take the high road of rejecting power. He should remain the guiding force of the NDA and BJP. And let the younger leaders get into the nitty-gritty of running a government. He should listen to his inner voice. A Prime Minister born in Karachi may not go down well post-26/11.
This election would be about writing the next chapter of the India story. The best leaders will be those who will still be around a decade later to harvest the efforts of today.
If the Congress is smartly positioning Rahul Gandhi as the future of the country, the BJP will need to counter this with its own youth brigade. Think about it, BJP.
The Jaitley-Modi combine is more likely to work against Gandhi-Gandhi than the personality (baggage and all) of Advani alone.
(Pranjal Sharma is Executive Editor, UTVi)