Rajnath Singh’s re-emergence as BJP president after Nitin Gadkari’s exit does not settle the issue of who will be the party’s prime ministerial candidate for 2014, even though Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi remains the top choice of the cadres.
But unlike Gadkari, Rajnath is not a lightweight and is himself a serious contender for the top post.
Relations between Rajnath and Modi were less than friendly during the former’s first term as party chief between 2006 and 2009, a time that saw the Gujarat strongman dropped from the BJP parliamentary board. So, will Rajnath’s return help the party project Modi as its PM candidate?
That depends on when the RSS gives the BJP the cue.
Bowing to pressure from the cadres, who insist that it can be none other than Modi, the Sangh may have little choice in the matter.
But party insiders do not rule out a slip between the cup and the lip. Rajnath, like senior BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitely, is a serious contender. He is also among the BJP leaders who are counting on allies of the party to press for a "moderate" face as opposed to Modi, who still bears the taint of the 2002 communal riots of Gujarat.
Till Modi's emphatic victory in the recently-held Gujarat elections, where he returned to power for a third time, the RSS had pushed the line that the BJP not project any single leader as PM candidate and instead, take a decision after the Lok Sabha polls in 2014.
But Advani has been insisting that the BJP project a PM candidate as the Congress clearly seems to have one in Rahul Gandhi. Supporters of Advani had even insisted he be given a second chance, even if his projection in 2009 was a big failure.
But the Gujarat result has changed all this, with the mood in the Sangh changing and RSS bigwigs indicating they will not stand in the way of Modi's projection and leave the matter to the BJP.
Also, with Gandhi taking on the mantle of Congress vice-president last week, many RSS and BJP leaders feel Modi's projection is inevitable if the BJP is to give the Congress a "serious fight" in 2014.
Modi is counting heavily on the party cadres to carry him through. And in a break from the past, Rajnath has been seen at several of the CM's functions.
As the RSS' choice, Rajnath's role will be exactly that of Gadkari - to manage the party in an election year and carry out its instructions from time to time. But if the BJP does well under his leadership, he may end up giving Modi a real run for his money.