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Modi wins battle, loses war

Has Narendra Modi won the Gujarat election or was he a loser at the battle of Hasting? This question was posed in political circles as the poll results came in. He has won, having romped home for the third time in row, even though two short of 117, the number he secured in the last Assembly poll. He lost because he could not secure a brute majority — 130 to 140 — as predicted by the exit polls and the media practitioners from Delhi who covered Gujarat election. He lost in the sense that his claim to be projected as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate in 2014 general elections has been diluted and his ambition to be pitch forked to the national scene dashed to the ground.

The BJP’s leadership is happy that Modi won but not with the brute majority, that he expected, and as exit polls projected. The Congress too is happy because it wrested back Himachal Pradesh from the BJP stranglehold without being decimated in Gujarat. The BJP leadership is happy that status quo continues on the question of Prime Ministerial candidate and in terms of power equation at the Centre.

Senior BJP leaders, who have conflicting ambitions on projecting prime ministerial candidate, were non-committal on the question. Arun Jaitley, who himself has Prime Ministerial ambitions, said ‘this (Modi’s candidature) may be an interesting topic from media’s point of view, but we will take a decision at the appropriate time.’ He tactfully refrained from even remotely suggesting that Modi’s claim may be considered as Prime Ministerial candidate.

Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj is another Prime Ministerial aspirant. The late Shiv Sena leader, Bal Thackeray had named Sushma as his choice long before his death.

The suspended BJP leader, Ram Jethmalani made no bones about backing Modi. So also women wing’s chief, Smriti Irani, and party spokesman, Balbir Punj. But the party wants to cross the bridge when it comes to it. The high-profile Modi has one serious shortcoming — his image as a Hindutva hardliner since Gujarat riots of 2002 — is not conducive to the NDA allies.

Some BJP leaders have been contending that Modi should be involved at the national level. He should be given the responsibility of leading the party’s election campaign committee for the election to eight assemblies slated in 2013 and in 2014 general elections.

He should tour the country and campaign for the BJP. Chances are that Modi could be re-inducted into the party’s parliamentary board along with other BJP chief ministers.

For now, BJP and RSS are divided — more so, after Modi’s victory — on the PM candidature. The RSS, which has improved ties with Gujarat chief minister, may not be averse to accepting him as a candidate for PM’s post, if other BJP leaders agree that it will be good for the party. But most of the BJP leaders are of the view that a decision on the PM candidate should be taken after the results are known.

Nitin Gadkari has gone on record stating ‘I can say with authority as the party President that we will not project anybody before the elections and announce the prime ministerial candidate at the right time. There is not much change in this position despite the results of Gujarat poll.’ Modi’s transition to the national stage won’t be easy. First, who will take charge in Gandhinagar will be a concern for the BJP. Secondly, the RSS-led Saffron family appears divided on giving Modi top rank in the BJP central leadership.

Viewed as an abrasive long ranger, he is not quite a team player whom RSS leaders would want, so as to maintain their grip on the party. Third, despite his popularity in Gujarat, Modi is a deeply polarising figure. His image as a Hindu hardliner, therefore, remains and it can but impact his national ambitions. His rivals in the faction-ridden BJP will split if he’s pitch forked as the BJP’s mascot in 2014. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Orissa chief minister Navin Patnaik and other allies of the BJP have threatened to pull out of the NDA if Modi is projected as the Prime Ministerial candidate.

Modi has run a development-oriented and industry-friendly administration and this was reflected in his campaign.

As a matter of act the plank of governance, development and stability made a package deal generating pro-incumbency. He has made the interesting claim that anti-incumbency has been replaced by pro-incumbency.

Anti-incumbency has for long been assumed to be a national force which will automatically swallow up existing governments, and high turnouts are taken as an indicator of anti-incumbency. But despite high turnouts in Gujarat’s assembly poll, there is substance in Modi’s claim that his government has tamed anti-incumbency. (IPA)
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