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Will he, won't he go national?

On the face of it, since the Gujarat riots, the chief minister has not put a wrong foot forward... But he still remains the man whom many admire, but can't quite bring home for dinner. Chanakya writes.

india Updated: Sep 18, 2011 01:50 IST
Chanakya

Closure was what both Narendra Modi and the victims of the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat were looking for last week. And closure is what neither of them got.

With the Supreme Court deciding to push the case seeking a probe into Modi's role in the murder of Congressman Ehsan Jafri and 68 others in the Gulbarg Society post-Godhra riots on February 27, 2002, back to an Ahmedabad trial court, the legalese of the decision can - and will - be debated till the cows come home. But for the Gujarat chief minister, the noise about 'Will he, won't he; can he, can't he go national now?' that followed the court's move comes as music to his ears. Commentators, including the same American authorities who once denied him a visa, have already started pitching him as the counter-weight to the Congress' Rahul Gandhi as prime ministerial candidate for 2014.

Sushma Swaraj, excitable as ever, has already announced Narendra-bhai as having passed the 'agnipariksha' (a lamentable metaphor to use considering that Modi is under investigation in this case for his possible role in instigating or not stopping a mob that burnt a person alive). The BJP mothership has already given him one clean chit after another

following the Supreme Court's directive as if Modi's partymen would have thought of giving him anything else otherwise.

But here's my reading of things. For both the party and its poster boy, Modi's quarantine from national politics has been (indefinitely?) prolonged. Even as the BJP not projecting a leader is essentially making a virtue out of necessity.

No one denies that Narendra Modi is the most charismatic leader in the BJP. Especially with 83-year-old LK Advani putting on the anti-rust lotion before preparing to set off on another of his rath yatras, Modi's the most charismatic man in the clubhouse by a long shot. But can he shake off the noxious baggage of 2002 Gujarat? Especially when it's not for him or his partymen to decide whether he's being divested of that baggage?

On the face of it, since the Gujarat riots, the chief minister has not put a wrong foot forward. He has focused on development in the state; his investor-friendly policies have won him pats on the back from the titans of industry. But he still remains the man whom many admire but can't quite bring home for dinner.

The BJP continues to try to project him as the jewel in the NDA crown. But there are 'gems' within the alliance such as Nitish Kumar who shy away from even sharing a public platform with Modi. The subtle ostracisation is not missed on the man as he tries to turn ever new tricks to win approval. The latest is a 'Gandhian' message about hate never being conquered by hate along with a three-day fast that began yesterday on his 61st birthday.

But even more disconcerting for Modi is the attitude towards him within his own party. Some see him as a necessary evil, someone who could lead them to the promised land one day when the decks are totally clear. Others see him as a man who would wield absolute power ruthlessly to the detriment of many in the party.

Modi, like most politicians, is not one to admit to his faults. And like any good politician, he is quick to condemn others for alleging nasty things about him and thereby 'communalising the atmosphere'. But he is uncannily quiet on the actual subject of the 2002 riots. So with nature abhoring the lack of any explanation, one theory is as good as another.

Such as the one I prefer: Narendra Modi did not start the riots but once they were in full flood, the canny politician in him took over. Did he see the merit in letting things slide, as an investment in the next assembly election? Either way, he was complicit or he was incompetent. Not qualities that I'd like a future prime ministerial candidate to harbour.

In the long run, Modi may just be able to find happiness in his citadel of Gujarat. Which is something I certainly can't say for the party that he belongs to. Or should I say the party that's still waiting for Narendra-bhai to rescue it from purgatory..