Now that the anointment of the thrice-victorious Gujarat chief minister is complete, with the BJP having declared that the controversial and highly polemical leader would lead the saffron party’s election committee, it remains to be seen how the figurehead manages his image so as to carve out a pan-Indian presence. Clearly, the schisms within the BJP, particularly the factionalism fanned by the Advani brigade, and those supporting the secular cause within the National Democratic Alliance, such as Janata Dal (United)’s Nitish Kumar, have been left behind for the party to coalesce behind the banner of Narendra Modi. Despite having been catapulted to the pinnacle of official prominence within the NDA, and destined to lead the election campaign from the front, much is desired before Modi can claim to have changed the game of Indian politics, and the manner in which it is done. Evidently, Narendra Modi, after the Goa conclave, has emerged as the tallest leader within the BJP, sidelining the old guard represented by Advani, Sushma Swaraj among others, while winning the mandate on behalf of the camp populated by the likes of the party president Rajnath Singh and leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley. The fact that the BJP’s ideological mentor, the RSS, actually pushed the party to end the theatre of bitter rivalry between the opposing camps and project unanimously the name of Modi, says a lot about the direction that the Gujarat CM’s poll campaign might be taking in the months to come.
However, it is important to remember that Narendra Modi must reinvent himself if he really wants to lead not just his party, but in fact, the whole of the nation. Since much of the tenure of the UPA government has been tainted by the unholy nexus between big money pumped in by the corporate class, and the political and bureaucratic classes, creating a stinking quagmire of scams, scandals, money laundering while depleting the revenues of the national exchequer, Modi’s leadership and his heading the poll campaign must offer substantially different set of agenda and political blueprint to cleanse India of the fetid corruption that now engulfs it. Modi must go beyond the rhetoric of efficient governance and development in order to understand the pulse of the nation, which is now hankering for change. Modi must also come to appreciate that much of India, unlike his home turf Gujarat, happens to be immersed in rank poverty, with a demographic variety that the Godhra-dismissing leader must learn to embrace, if he wants to hold the reins of not only the BJP but the country at large. Reconfiguring his own priorities would also help him grapple with the changing dynamics of coalition politics that is indispensable in today’s political scenario. That Modi’s support base amongst his party cadres remains unprecedentedly high is of course widely acknowledged, but in order to translate that fascination with the cult of Modi into actual victory in the polls is a road that is long and full of challenges for the man of the hour.