Modi vs the rest
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BJP has an undeclared PM candidate. The challenge from rivals and 'friends' begins now
The BJP's political resolution at the conclusion of its two-day national council meeting made a special mention of Narendra Modi's third victory in Gujarat while taking positions on wider themes, like the UPA's "coalition of the corrupt", dimming of India's image abroad, threat from terrorism, India-Pakistan tensions, Assam situation, Sethusamudram and women's security. In the end, however, and not without the party's complicity, Modi had completely wrested the spotlight. He became the conclave's focus and its main message, relegating all other issues, leaders and statements. Modi used his second major Delhi outing since he won Gujarat for a third time to underline his prime ministerial ambition, addressing himself to "sava sau crore" Indians, not just "6 crore" Gujaratis.
Going by his speech at the national council, the BJP's undeclared candidate for PM comes armed with a ready-made plan for 2014 — and a slogan. The plan is to couple an aggressive attack on the Congress's first family, dynastic culture, corruption and the NAC, with a hardsell of "successes" on the development front in BJP-ruled states and pre-eminently Gujarat; the slogan he gave was "(BJP) mission versus (Congress) commission". So does Modi's effortless commandeering of the national council bring a resolution to the BJP's inner turbulence on the leadership issue? And clarity to its positioning vis-a-vis rivals in the run-up to 2014? Not really — on both counts.
A Modi-led BJP will have to confront many more questions and challenges than Modi's certitudes seem to acknowledge or address. To begin with, his insistent depiction of the 2014 battle as a fight between the Congress and the BJP is self-serving and inaccurate. The BJP and the Congress must fight not just each other, but also other parties, many of them powerful regional players in their own right. To be in a position to form a government, they must also court these smaller parties, and seek alliances with them. A Modi-led BJP continues to be seen as un-coalitionable by many of these players and his continuing and conspicuous silence on the accountability for 2002 means that this is unlikely to change. Then, for all of Modi's own assertions on "development", he will still have to untangle the confused and contradictory signals sent out by the BJP's central leadership on economic reform. And as he does so, he must brace himself to take on the opposition within. Any effort to reset the terms of the electoral discussion to focus on governance or the politics of aspiration is likely to be met with stiff resistance from entrenched worldviews within his parivar. In a BJP micro-managed by the RSS, there will be resistance to any attempt to steer away from certified Hindutva issues — or to be seen to be doing so. Modi may have all but announced his prime ministerial candidature, therefore, but this may only be the beginning of the real challenges to his claim.
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