Mumbai, May 26: Even before Narendra Modi had won his first election in Gujarat, BJP workers would greet him with: “Dekho, dekho, kaun aaya; Gujarat ka sher aaya (look, who’s come; Gujarat’s tiger has come).”
At Mumbai’s Kamgar Stadium last night, the cadres tweaked it to: “Dekho, dekho kaun aaya, Hindustan ka sher aaya.”
None of the other speakers, who included chief ministers, evoked this kind of enthusiasm. If the sulkers and sceptics in the BJP needed any proof that the party’s foot soldiers see the Gujarat chief minister as their supreme leader, this should have sufficed.
Party sources said Modi’s rise at the national level — a first for a BJP chief minister — had changed the internal equations.
“It marks the end of the Vajpayee-Advani era,” a source said, adding that L.K. Advani’s absence from the rally, attributed to a recent illness, had a political subtext. So, too, did Sushma Swaraj’s decision to stay away.
Sources said the Lok Sabha Opposition leader, who fancied herself as a leader in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee mould primarily because of her gift of the gab, had skipped the meeting to make a larger point. “She is not going to be able to reconcile herself to Modi’s presence as a national leader on a par with her,” a source said.
Sushma’s Rajya Sabha counterpart, Arun Jaitley, is the only member of Advani’s original team who is close to Modi (although insiders say their relations have not always been smooth) and is expected to find a position of significance in the evolving matrix.
Those like Murli Manohar Joshi, Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha — who were one rung below Advani and Vajpayee in the hierarchy —are lying low.
Sinha did not show up at the national executive. Joshi appeared once before the media to speak on the rupee’s slide against the dollar but a younger leader said the veteran’s economics “made no sense” to him in a globally integrated world order.
The one leader who has been quick to adapt is party chief Nitin Gadkari, who used to be upset at Modi’s slights in the past. Sources said that once his RSS mentors decided that Modi was the best bet to galvanise the cadres, Gadkari quickly swallowed his pride and accepted his leadership.
Insiders claimed that unlike the recent national executive that had left the party with a sense of drift, the Mumbai conclave had “finally” outlined the contours of a battle plan.
“Modi will be the pivot. The problem is, how can his leadership be reconciled with the other objectives set out by Gadkari, such as expanding the NDA and reaching out to the minorities?” a source wondered.
MP Ram Jethmalani has alleged in a letter to Nitin Gadkari that BJP leaders are “silent against the huge corruption” in UPA II government and are instead engaged in infighting.
Jethmalani, who is a Rajya Sabha MP, wrote: “Your strange somnolence on the occasion of the imminent election of the nation’s President is showing up our bankruptcy of talent that we cannot announce a name better than the current Finance Minister.”