Not very long ago, a top BJP functionary told me that the media were barking up the wrong tree by insisting on looking at Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi only through the prism of his communal credentials. "We wish you would go hammer and tongs in similar fashion at how he has alienated almost all BJP workers and leaders in Gujarat. There is Modi in the Gujarat BJP and nobody else. That is not a desirable situation for us."
I can see from Modi's flying visit to Nagpur to the RSS headquarters on Sunday that that the not-so-majestic isolation is now bringing diminishing returns to the self-proclaimed lion of Gujarat. Ironically, just as the world opens a window to Modi - remember the visit by the British High Commissioner to Gujarat on Monday -- doors are being shut on him by his own partymen and allies who want to confine him to Gujarat and keep him from doing to the party in the rest of India what he has done to the BJP in his home state.
For all his bravado and bluster, it is obvious that Modi is feeling both humiliated and hemmed in by the pincer attack from both the opposition and rivals within his own party. For once, he seems overwhelmed and not very sure of his own situation. Otherwise, I do not see any reason why this "lion-heart" would want to indulge in a school yard fight with inconsequential partymen from Bihar, petulantly demanding that they be banned from campaigning in Gujarat the way he has been in Bihar. It is not a nice feeling to be ostracised but while Modi might well be used to that particular emotion by now, having to plead --- and not listened to --- might be quite another feeling altogether.
In a very measured reaction, the RSS did not give in to Modi but told him in no uncertain terms that this kind of a tit-for-tat sends out the wrong message to the people and is not good for the image of the party. And, far from promising to call off his bete noires like Sanjay Joshi and Pravin Togadia, he was asked to kiss and make up and take them all along with him.
It is clear now that Modi is not a favourite with the RSS these days which has larger ambitions of seeing the BJP come to power once again at the Centre. But, unlike Modi's supporters, the RSS is under no illusion that it could do that with Modi at the helm of affairs in the BJP. In fact, I am told by informed sources that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat wants a younger, moderate face, like that of BJP president Nitin Gadkari, to be projected as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate and Modi does not suit that bill for his autocratic ways and intolerant attitude.
The RSS's dilemma, though, is that after the death of Pramod Mahajan, the BJP is left with no greater fundraiser than Modi. So they cannot ignore the man altogether. That is why they had to ask Joshi to temporarily retreat from Gujarat a few months ago but the RSS's lukewarm response to Modi this time perhaps makes it clear to him that there are hydras around that could raise their heads any time at will.
Then, again, the RSS seems in a quandary about how far to go to destabilise Modi in Gujarat. In the absence of leaders of consequence, all of who have been marginalised by Modi in the past few years, the RSS does not want to lose a big state like this one in the process. So, not pulling out any stops for Modi, they would rather wait for the results to the state elections.
From what I gather, the RSS believes if Gujarat does badly for Modi, the man will be automatically written off for a greater role at the Centre. And if he does well, he will still be confined to Gujarat in the absence of another suitable leader to take over the reins, making Modi a victim of his own megalomania.
Hopefully, allies like Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar will take care of the rest, allowing the RSS's larger plans to go through successfully. Plans which, I am told, do not include Modi.
So while his supporters draw some cold comfort from the partial end of diplomatic apartheid vis-a-vis Modi, the Gujarat CM might take some time out to mull over why and how he has painted himself into such a corner where he stands alone and, clearly, very far from Delhi!