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Gujarat poll test for Modi’s Delhi plan
Murmurs begin on BJP road ahead

New Delhi, Oct. 3: By the end of this year or early next year, the BJP is expected to have a fair idea whether or not Narendra Modi will lead it in the next general election.

The results of the Gujarat Assembly polls will be declared on December 20, and it is widely believed that a third term in the state will earn for Modi the party’s national crown.

The announcement of the election schedule in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh today has already set off murmurs in the BJP on Modi’s chances.

While his detractors hoped his tally would decline from the present 122 (in the 182-member Assembly), his cheerleaders were counting on the reverse to happen. “Let him touch 135 or 140, and nobody can check his march to Delhi,” said an MP from Jharkhand.

The MP argued that even if Modi just managed to hold on to his earlier tally or fell a little short of it, the BJP would be “imprudent” to deny him a larger role at the Centre.

It is no secret that the party’s cadres see Modi as the only leader who can galvanise the BJP, which is bogged down by infighting, a “colourless” central leadership and the absence of an agenda other than running down the Congress.

At the recent national council meeting in Surajkund, Modi’s on and off appearances on the dais drew the maximum cheers despite the leadership’s bid to project Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan as a worthy competitor.

When the Gujarat chief minister addressed a concluding public meeting at Faridabad, the crowds couldn’t have enough of him.

The reason? BJP insiders admiringly said he was the only leader who openly took on the Gandhis, with the others “too tongue-tied” to be “critical” of the Congress’s first family.

However, cadre pressure need not necessarily influence critical decisions in the BJP.

Insiders recalled that in 1995, too, the rank and file took it for granted that L.K. Advani, riding on the back of the Ayodhya wave, would be the candidate for Prime Minister in the 1996 polls.

But the RSS and Advani decided that the BJP could not come to power on its own, and that it would have to helm a coalition that could potentially include “secular” parties with little appetite for Hindutva politics. Advani made way for the “more acceptable” Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

So when Advani recently underlined the need for the BJP to get more allies and repackage its “secular” image, the message was instantly interpreted as a vote against Modi. More so, because an existing ally, the Janata Dal (United), has already rejected Modi as a possible leader of the NDA.

The sources said there was “no way” Modi would attempt to “reconstruct” his own image before the Gujarat election. His half-hearted “Sadbhavna Mission”, intended to woo Muslims, had flopped. Even today, barring perhaps some big businessmen, the Congress remains the minority community’s party of choice.

Modi does not want to dilute his appeal as Hindu hriday ka samrat (Ruler of the Hindu heart) although his pre-poll discourse harps on development, the sources said.

A section of the BJP believes that if Modi returns to power in Gujarat because his politics blends sectarianism with a laissez faire outlook, he could be a misfit at the Centre for the same reason.

The Congress is unlikely to abandon its aam aadmi theme and any hint that Modi could click nationally would also polarise the minorities behind the Congress, BJP sources said.