|Modi speaks on the second day of the BJP national council on Sunday. (PTI)
New Delhi, March 4: The most significant feature of the two-day BJP national council was that for the first time, the voices of the rank and file seemed to have been heard, and heard attentively.
A groundswell from around the country appeared to be trying to force the decision makers’ hands, demanding Narendra Modi lead the BJP in the 2014 elections.
It was the cadre, not the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the leaders on the dais, who won for Modi his moment in the BJP’s annals. Their numbers were boosted considerably by groups of Modi “diwanes” (fans), who stood outside the venue and shouted slogans for him to be made the prime ministerial candidate each time a leader emerged.
The idea was to drive home the point that independently of the BJP and its parivar, Modi’s following was swelling.
Although no official decision has been taken, the Gujarat chief minister is now clearly the firm favourite to don the shadow Prime Minister’s mantle.
“If we trace the history of our leaders, first came Shyama Prasad Mookerjee and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. They were followed by L.K. Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. (After that) we were in danger of facing a vacuum,” a party general secretary who wouldn’t be quoted said.
“Modi has filled the gap. The difference is that this time, there is no other person vying for the honours. For the next 10 years or more, hopefully, we will not need to worry.”
In 1995, though, Vajpayee was “foisted” on a shocked BJP, waiting for Advani to be named the candidate for the Prime Minister, because of the Sangh’s exertions. Vajpayee later won over some workers.
Left to themselves, sources said, the current party brass would have put off the leadership decision to another day citing coalition compulsions, secular-communal polemics and the merits of collective leadership. The issue might have been debated over tea and samosas at the BJP headquarters in the presence of a Sangh “observer” before shifting to the Sangh’s sanctum to be settled in secrecy after a bout of intrigues.
The workers would have been handed out a fait accompli and directed to “work” in the elections. It would certainly not have been clinched in a wide-open sports stadium in the presence of over 5,000 stakeholders from across the country.
Modi’s frontline projection was not achieved in a day. The development bears the imprint of his individualistic style: connect directly with the workers over the heads of the parivar apparatchiks and commanders, milk their trust and goodwill, and convert the reservoirs of support into a chorus of demand.
In other words, present the leaders with a fait accompli.
For the past two years or so, those who followed Modi closely figured out he had made up his mind to win the Gujarat elections and move to Delhi. He worked to shed some of the baggage he had been carrying since 2002 and secure global acceptance and domestic legitimacy.
The results were mixed but to the parivar faithful, he was their man. Each time Nitish Kumar warned of a split with the BJP if Modi was projected for the top job, Modi supporters suggested the party go solo under a “charismatic and credible” leader and win a critical mass of seats to offset the loss of an ally.
The argument was that if the BJP won 180 seats or more on its own, it could pull in the wavering “secular” parties.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Ashok Singhal, apparently a Modi convert now, recently confronted Advani at a parivar meeting and asked if “communalism” could be held as a charge against Modi.
He underlined how Advani’s attempt in 2005 to refurbish his “secular” credentials by praising Mohammed Ali Jinnah had fetched no Muslim votes for the BJP.
Singhal was quoted as saying that in both normal and extraordinary circumstances, the “secular” votes would go to the Congress and the BJP must, therefore, tap into its core support.
Sources said that what had endeared Modi to the BJP ranks and beyond was that he was the only leader who minced no words while attacking the Nehru-Gandhis.
Many in the BJP feel that their parliamentary leaders’ campaign against the UPA’s scams has not been punchy enough. Some even suspect the leaders of having struck deals with the Congress.
“It was no good picking on a (Suresh) Kalmadi or a Raja or a Virbhadra Singh on corruption. Why were our leaders silent when a Gandhi family member’s name was out in the open?” a source asked.
They felt the BJP’s anti-Congress discourse remained “hollow” in its failure to put a “face” to the graft allegations. “Only Modi dared to do it because he is personally incorruptible,” a source claimed.
This was why Sushma Swaraj’s Sunday sermon, asking workers to avoid electoral sabotage, didn’t wash. “She helped a Karnataka leader to fix B.S. Yeddyurappa and we lost a great regional leader,” a source said.
In contrast, party president Rajnath Singh has become the season’s flavour —“all because he walked the extra mile to forget his past differences (with Modi) and place Modi firmly on the centre stage,” an insider said.
Yesterday, after the convention concluded, Modi went to Rajnath’s residence and is said to have thanked him for the gesture. “Rajnath is clever: he has grasped the significance of Modi’s speech,” a source said.
The reference was to the operative line — that regardless of who chooses to “join the march or not”, the country has made up its mind to throw the Congress out and is striding quickly.
“He (Modi) meant that the country had chosen him to lead this march,” the source said.