New Delhi, Dec. 20: Narendra Modi signalled his national ambitions after the Gujarat victory, choosing chaste Hindi to address supporters in Ahmedabad and smiling through their calls to relocate to Delhi.
His party’s reading of the hints has been ambivalent, except for the assessment that Modi carries more minuses than pluses if the BJP has to regain power at the Centre.
What seems reasonably clear is that Modi isn’t likely to clamber onto the Delhi dais immediately.
“If you wish, I will definitely visit Delhi on December 27 for a day,” a smiling Modi told a supporter in Ahmedabad.
That’s when the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are likely to begin discussions on the next party president, a process that will culminate in a national council expected in March.
That session, which will bring together delegates from across the country, could provide the first definitive sign of a “larger” mandate for Modi. In the interregnum, BJP cadres are likely to begin a clamour for Modi to be brought in to “save the party”.
Modi’s party opponents argue that Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Raman Singh too could “realistically” stake claims for the central spot if they win their states a third time in 2013.
But to others, Modi is a first among equals — a status even the Sangh appeared to have legitimised last May when it ejected Sanjay Joshi from the BJP at the chief minister’s prodding.
The celebrations at the BJP headquarters here this afternoon reflected the pro-Modi mood. Amid the ritualistic crackers and sweets, men sporting parasols with the chief minister’s mugshots paraded a stuffed lion wearing a Modi mask.
This morning, former TV star and Rajya Sabha member Smriti Irani proclaimed that if she had a vote to elect the next Prime Minister, it would go to Modi. Ironically, in 2005, Irani had threatened to fast till death in Gujarat against Modi for the 2002 pogrom, allegedly put up to it by mentor Pramod Mahajan.
No endorsements for Modi have come from bigger party leaders, though. Indeed, when it was looking tough for him to cross the 100-seat mark, spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy conceded it was a “modest” win. By implication, the comment seemed to diminish Modi’s national aspirations.
Modi dismissed the TV projections and claimed a victory was a victory once the halfway mark (92) was reached.
“Had he secured 125-plus seats, he might have landed in Delhi in a week,” a BJP source said, adding that Modi could then have been asked to helm the campaign panel, like Rahul Gandhi is doing for the Congress.
“The message would have gone out that 2014 would be a Rahul vs Modi contest,” the source added.
“But because he has just about retained his 2007 tally, he will stay put in Gandhinagar for a while. He has to re-consolidate his hold over the Gujarat BJP and the government, repair his relations with the Sangh and its affiliates and build bridges with BJP functionaries at various levels.”
In his Ahmedabad victory speech, Modi unusually stressed the primacy of the party in the elections.
A veteran explained that someone as “politically seasoned” as Modi — tutored for years by the Sangh before migrating to the BJP — would know how the parivar functioned.
“However tempted Modi might be to place his personality above everything, he knows that the Sangh-BJP are organisation-driven. These elections will have reinforced this lesson because he lost quite a few seats because of sabotage by the Sangh and the VHP or because the local workers refused to cooperate.”
The counter argument, provided by a party official, ran thus: “The numbers became irrelevant once he crossed the halfway mark. He worked against innumerable odds from within the BJP and without — the Centre, the Congress, the CBI and what not — and yet he won.”
The party official echoed what former Karnataka BJP strongman, B.S. Yeddyurappa, said: “The Gujarat victory is because of brand Modi and not the BJP.”
“He is the only one the cadres look up to and listen to. He has to be built up well before 2014. Our leaders and the Sangh have to pencil a strategy for the build-up,” the official said.
But critics cited Modi’s lack of acceptability among current and prospective allies.
“Today, Ram Vilas Paswan rejected Modi, saying he didn’t give a single ticket to Muslims. If that’s the prevailing notion, how can we attract new partners?” a source said.
He feared that the first casualty of Modi’s entry would be the alliance with the Janata Dal (United). His sense was that only when the BJP was “reasonably confident” of picking up 180 seats or more on its own strength, it could “risk” projecting Modi.
That, he added, seemed a pipedream now because the BJP was far from nailing the key state of Uttar Pradesh.