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Modi joins final battle for PM

The BJP made history in Goa on Sunday when the party moved from Vajpayee-Advani era to one where it will be led by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The BJP leadership appointed Modi the Chairman of the national campaign committee in a significant step towards complete compliance with pressure from its cadres to declare Gujarat CM as the BJP’s candidate for the prime ministership.
The decision came in the face of resistance of party patriarch L K Advani and marks Modi’s emergence as BJP’s pre-eminent leader at the expense of the former deputy prime minister and many others. Besides taking the party out of the long and still-lingering shadow of Vajpayee and Advani and enshrining cadre pressure as a major factor in Sangh Parivar’s decision-making, the big boost for Modi also heralds his rise as principal challenger to the Congress.

BJP leaders concede that Modi has won decisive victory within the party in the power game ahead of the 2014 election. The harder part for the party and his supporters would be getting on board NDA constituents. So far only Shiromani Akali Dal, the oldest electoral ally of the BJP, has expressed support for Modi and so has Shiv Sena . The JD(U) is already on record that it would rather walk out of the NDA than accept Modi as the prime ministerial candidate.

Advani, the man from behind the party is one left behind. There has been more than one occasion since the BJP fell out of power in 2004 when Advani could have used his elder statesman stature to help usher in a new, younger order in the party that has been his life’s work. When the RSS effected a partial transition in December 2009, making Nitin Gadkdari BJP President and deciding Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitely will be leaders of opposition in the Lok  Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, it hoped Advani would play a mentor’s role. Expectations that Advani would oversee a generational shift did not materialise. While the RSS itself was less than transparent in seeking to control the BJP through Gadkar’s appointment, Advani was in no mood to beat a retreat either.

Three and half years later it remains to be seen if he had got the script right. For Modi’s elevation as head of BJP’s campaign committee despite his bitter opposition is a harshly unambiguous signal.     
BJP’s stunning victory in six bye elections in Gujarat – two Lok Sabha and four assembly – has been an important event last week. Also, almost simultaneously Advani’s lavish praise for Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan over Gujarat CM Narendra Modi had put the party’s central leadership in a quandary. Evidently, BJP patriarch Advani’s latent desire to take one last shot at the prime ministership himself has failed miserably.  

The BJP has big stake in November elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Delhi  and the campaign in these states would be led by Modi.  Doubtless, Modi is the country’s most controversial and divisive politician. His admirers as well as his critics both transcend party lines. His growing number of fans include top industrialists and many others who have no particular party affiliation or political leanings but who are impressed with the so-called Gujarat model of development which he has projected as his creation.

Eleven years ago, the BJP National Executive which was held in Goa was overshadowed by divisions within the party on the propriety of  allowing Modi to be at the helm of affairs in Ahmedabad after the horrendous riots which convulsed Gujarat in February and March 2002. Advani who was the union home minister at that time stood solidly by Modi and prevented the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee not to give in to the demand for replacement of the Gujarat CM on the plea that it would send the wrong signals to the party rank and file.

Ironically, it was  Advani who was in the forefront of the campaign against making the Modi the face of the party. Modi has finally the last laugh and Advani failed. The BJP need not gloat over its victory in Gujarat bye poll for the bye elections are not a reliable indicator of the voters’ mood in the general election. For all the seeming magnificence of the Gujarat results, they are neither unexpected nor they foretell the outcome of a country-wide 2014 election. Bye-elections held in close proximity to a Lok Sabha or assembly election tend to follow the same pattern.

Secondly, two of six seats in Gujarat were captured by defectors from the Congress with their own considerable votes. The  Porbandar Lok Sabha seat was won by Vitthal Radadia who held it as a Congress MP until December 2012 when he opted to contest the Assembly election. Modi might not want to remember that just last year, Radadia was caught on camera pointing a gun at poll booth attendant.

The loss of Maharajganj is admittedly a setback to Nitish Kumar who had fielded a minister on the seat. However, the victor Prabunath Singh was with the JD-U until 2010 and had won it twice before on the JD-U ticket. Ebullient Lalu Prasad Yadav is elated at the victory of Prabhunath who contested on Lalu’s party ticket. The RJD supremo, routed in the last elections,  sees the Maharajganj victory as a comeback signal.

That the bye election’s do not lend themselves to easy generalisation is also evident from the victories registered by the Trinamool Congress, the Samajwadi party and the congress in three other contests held in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra respectively. IPA

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