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Millennium Post

Growth plank or saffron agenda?

The BJP faces a peculiar situation. While Narendra Modi is relentlessly pushing his own candidature for the prime minister’s post, there is no consensus on him within the party, let alone in the NDA, as there was in the case of Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1996 and 2004 and L K Advani in 2009.

Although there is considerable support for Modi among the saffron rank and file and also among the communal-minded Hindus in urban areas, the party leadership is unwilling to offer him unstinted support. The ambitions of some of the leaders themselves are not the only reason. There is also uncertainty about whether the development plank alone, which is being peddled by Modi to divert attention from the 2002 riots, will be enough for the BJP to cross the electoral Rubicon.

True, Modi’s image among his core supporters of someone who taught the Muslims a lesson will continue to be a hidden sub-text where the BJP’s poll propaganda is concerned. But, the party will not like to bring this aspect of his personality to the forefront in case it unnerves even those Hindus who admire his ‘strong’ leadership.

But, camouflaging this ‘communal’ angle is something which will not please the RSS and even sections in the BJP. For them, and especially for the RSS, the fact that the party will go to the polls virtually on the ‘secular’ development issue is unacceptable since it will mean keeping the temple agenda on the back burner for an even longer period. Ideally, the BJP would like to present a development plus Hindutva manifesto. But, it knows that this will scare away not only the Janata Dal (United), which is unlikely to accept Modi anyway, but also frustrate all attempts to expand the NDA by roping in former allies like Naveen Patnaik and Mamata Banerjee.

There is a cloud of uncertainty, therefore, not only over the BJP’s most popular leader, as party president Rajnath Singh has testified, but also over the party platform. To complicate matters, Advani, the lauh purush of 2009, has his thrown his hat into the prime ministerial ring via an acolyte, Vijay Goel, the Delhi BJP chief, who has said that the party will come to power next year under Advani’s ‘guidance’.

Since the lauh purush also led the Somnath-to-Ayodhya rath yatra in 1990, which prepared the ground for the Babri masjid’s demolition, he took the opportunity provided by Goel’s praise to recall the Ramjanambhoomi movement and urge his party men not to be apologetic about the temple issue.

Considering that Rajnath Singh had underlined the need to build the temple soon after becoming the party president for the second time, the issue is bound to feature in the party’s campaign. Since it was always there in the background, nothing can be said to have changed.

Nevertheless, a renewed emphasis on the temple cannot but dilute the development plank. What is more, as the election rhetoric heats up, Modi himself will be asked to clarify his position, thereby further watering down his P2G2 – pro-people, good governance – agenda.

The support for Advani extended by Shatrughan Sinha and Vinay Katiyar in the wake of Goel’s advocacy means that the anti-Modi camp is gaining ground possibly because of the realisation that Modi’s nomination will lead to the NDA’s disintegration, thereby handing victory over to the UPA on a platter.

Theoretically, the NDA had a better chance of success because of the scams which tarnished the Congress’s reputation followed by the policy paralysis caused by the conflict of interest between the ‘neo-liberal’ Manmohan Singh and the ‘socialist’ Sonia Gandhi.

Although there have been signs lately that Sonia Gandhi is no longer as insistent on the government following the populist path as before and is allowing the prime minister to implement some of the reforms, the latter simply does not have the time to ensure that his latest initiatives substantially buoy up the economy. But, the BJP could not take full advantage of the scams affecting the Congress because of the scandals involving its own chief ministers –
B S Yeddyurappa in Karnataka and Ramesh Pokhriyal in Uttarakhand – both of whom had to be removed. Because of their tainted reputations, however, the BJP had no option but to step aside and allow Anna Hazare to exploit public anger on the subject.

And, now, the BJP is unable to make up its mind on the prime ministerial candidate despite the pressure which Modi is putting on the party. Its dilemma is that it cannot allow NDA to fall apart by choosing Modi; nor can it antagonise Modi since he can be a dangerous rebel.

After all, everyone remembers how he had sulked for months because of his tiff with fellow pracharak Sanjay Joshi, keeping away from the party’s national conclaves and refusing to campaign in the elections in UP, Uttarakhand and elsewhere. Truly, the BJP faces a Hobson’s choice on Modi. (IPA)
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