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High on M-factor but mum on wave

Modi in New Delhi on Sunday. (Reuters)

New Delhi, Dec. 8: Until late afternoon, none in the BJP was willing to “risk” a celebration although it was clear the party had Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in the bag.

The swing--meter on TV screens was vacillating unnervingly between the Congress and the BJP in Chhattisgarh and between the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, threatening to torpedo the party’s “four-nil” dream.

The telephone wires buzzed incessantly between the BJP headquarters in New Delhi and Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh’s office in Raipur. Delhi BJP leaders looked forlorn, wondering what it was about the Aam Admi Party that had cheated them out of a decisive win in the capital after 15 years.

Narendra Modi’s arrival in a high-security cavalcade coincided with news from Raipur that the BJP was poised to cross the halfway mark of 45 in Chhattisgarh. The buzz was that the party would reach 50, “plus-minus one or two”, while the Congress would be stuck in the high 30s.

Modi’s presence electrified the atmosphere, almost as though he had given the cue for the bursting of firecrackers, beating of drums and the frenzy of dancing and slogan-shouting.

Inside the office, the BJP brass were huddled at a parliamentary board meeting that went on longer than expected because the party was waiting for the final count from Chhattisgarh before its chief Rajnath Singh addressed the media.

“Modi’s popularity gave us an unprecedented advantage,” Rajnath declared suo motu.

Later, asked how much of the credit he would apportion to the prime ministerial candidate for the Assembly poll success, he was a little more discreet.

“Our chief ministerial candidates, the serving (Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh) and the projected (Vasundhara Raje), were at a big advantage because of their own popularity and governance (record). But we did a quick analysis and concluded that Modi’s campaign had maximised the advantages,” he said.

Another party leader summed up the Modi factor: “He gave Vasundhara a big push and was the icing on Shivraj’s cake and a face-saver in Chhattisgarh and Delhi.”

Vasundhara was the first to acknowledge Modi’s contribution when her victory appeared certain.

Rajasthan BJP sources said the former chief minister had initially been unwilling to marshal Modi’s services for fear of alienating the Muslims. But after he had addressed a couple of rallies in Rajasthan, she figured out that the Gujarat chief minister could be a vote multiplier.

The BJP’s old guard in Jaipur, which had struck a tenuous truce with Vasundhara, also met Modi and stressed that their “voices” should be heard when candidates were selected.

Modi met known Vasundhara critics like Gulab Chand Kataria and Ghanshyam Tiwari regularly, kept them in the loop on the backroom developments, and ensured that both were given tickets.

To assuage Vasundhara’s fears, Modi assured her there was absolutely no challenge to her leadership. But he stressed the need for her to cover her flanks, citing the damage the seniors had caused in 2008.

Vasundhara too knew that another spell out of power might forever marginalise her in the state. She endorsed Modi’s moves, sources said, remembering how he had helped her become state BJP chief against the wishes of her party critics.

Among the four states, Rajasthan most successfully conveyed the signal that the fate of its BJP chief ministerial candidate was inextricably twined with that of Modi.

The message was that a vote for Vasundhara in the Assembly polls was a vote for Modi in next year’s general election, and that having a BJP government in Jaipur and in Delhi was best for the state.

Also, a source said, Modi’s “vitriolic” discourse against Sonia and Rahul Gandhi whipped up sentiments in the four states against the UPA and partially mitigated the anti-incumbency visible against ministers and MLAs in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

“The Congress morphed into a villain and the BJP came across as the nice guy,” the source said.

“Modi’s campaign gave (us) the necessary bite,” acknowledged Rajya Sabha Opposition leader Arun Jaitley.

One factor behind Modi’s success was that many families in Rajasthan’s towns and villages have one or more member working in Gujarat. These include the Muslims working as mill hands in Surat.

The migrants are said to have come back with stories of how they never faced power cuts, water shortage or bumpy roads in Gujarat. Such feedback, said people this correspondent spoke to while travelling in Rajasthan, reinforced the “pro-development” image woven round Modi.

In Delhi, Modi is said to have stressed the need to project a chief ministerial candidate and cited Harshvardhan as his choice over Vijay Goel. The central leadership was split, with Goel receiving Rajnath’s backing. But Modi’s logic was clear.

“For the past three months, he has been saying that the Aam Aadmi Party is a challenge and that we need a clean face to stem its campaign against Goel. The moment Harshvardhan was anointed, the Aam Aadmi Party’s diatribes against the BJP came down,” a source said.

Modi’s peace-brokering skills were not needed in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh but Chouhan and Raman used him extensively in their campaigns.

Chouhan is said to have ignored the counsel of a central leader to “go easy” because the Muslims were supposedly polarising behind the Congress.

The BJP is already spinning Modi’s forays into the heartland as a “dress rehearsal” for the general election, claiming that the 72 Lok Sabha seats in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Chhattisgarh had already given it a bounty of “63 to 65” seats for next year.

Modi’s biggest feat was galvanising the BJP cadre that had lain inert for the past 10 years.

From implementing the old slogan of “20 youths for every booth” to revving up dormant local structures, Modi’s anointment was “a tonic to the organisation”, a source said.

It helped that the Sangh has cast aside its reservations about Modi and fine-tuned its operations with the BJP to function like a coherent “parivar”.