There was something unreal about the brief tussle in the Bharatiya Janata Party over the choice of Narendra Modi as its next prime ministerial candidate. As the most popular leader of the party, he was always the natural choice for the job. But the bureaucracies in political parties in India have a history of missing the obvious and paying the price for it. The Congress, the oldest of the parties, made the mistake when its oligarchs tried to stall the rise of Indira Gandhi. The party machinery got it wrong again when it failed to recognize Mamata Banerjee as the most popular face of the partyís unit in West Bengal. The result in each case was a split in the party. In choosing Mr Modi as the BJPís face for next yearís Lok Sabha polls, the party has not only avoided a similar mistake but has also abided by the wishes of its rank and file. The opposition by Lal Krishna Advani or some other leaders to Mr Modiís anointment is both irrelevant and undemocratic. In a democratic party, the will of its cadre and supporters must prevail over the vested interests of cliques or individuals. What the BJP has achieved in this respect should be a lesson for other parties too. Before it hopes to represent the people at large, a democratic party must uphold the wishes of its own constituency.
Whether the BJP can win the next elections under Mr Modi is another issue. It is possible that the polls will throw up a fractured verdict with neither the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance nor the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance winning a simple majority. It is also possible that Mr Modiís leadership will make it difficult for the BJP to gain new allies before or after the polls. There is no denying that he has prompted deep political and social divisions across the country since the Gujarat riots of 2002. All this does not detract, however, from the fact that he remains the BJPís best bet in the next parliamentary polls. Across India, good governance and economic development have increasingly become the most important factors for the peopleís electoral choices. This has been particularly so for the middle classes whose numbers ó and influences on policy-making ó are steadily rising. For most of these people, Mr Modi represents these new aspirations more than any other BJP leader. Those in the BJP who do not accept the importance of Mr Modi give a rather poor account of themselves.