Ahmedabad: Narendra Modi's prime ministerial amibitions have got wings!
After all, he has been endorsed for the top job by someone who herself is considered a contender for the coveted post.
Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj’s statement that the Gujarat Chief Minister is a fit candidate for the Prime Minister’s post is being read as the first public endorsement of Modi for the top job by someone who was backed by BJP ally Shiv Sena for the post.
This is perhaps the first time that she has gone even halfways towards endorsing Modi’s name, which is significant in itself. On previous occasions, she – along with other BJP leaders in Delhi – took refuge in non-committal statements such as that there were many contenders within the BJP for the Prime Minister’s post.
But when you parse Swaraj’s statement in Vadodara on Saturday even just a bit, it doesn’t come across as quite the ringing endorsement of Modi that it is being projected as.
Her statement is not without significance, even if it isn’t quite a ringing endorsement of Modi.
The circumstances in which Swaraj gave expression to that sentiment provide the political context in which it ought to be read. For instance, her comment wasn’t an open-hearted endorsement of Modi that she made pro-actively with no prompting – for instance, in her public speech. It was a measured response to a question from newspersons on the sidelines of the Vadodara rally on what she thought of the chatter surrounding Modi’s candidacy as a Prime Minister, according to Firstpost.
When Swaraj, a national leader of the BJP who is also the Leader of the Opposition, is in Gujarat on a campaign tour, less than month ahead of the Assembly election in a state that Modi literally owns in a political sense (and tops opinions polls even at the national level on preferred choice for Prime Minister), is asked a direct question on his candidacy for the top job, there is absolutely no way that she could have said he isn’t a fit-enough candidate.
According to Firstpost, for even one so gifted an orator as Swaraj, there was only way to answer that question without triggering a controversy: and that is, to acknowledge Modi as having all the qualities required to become a Prime Minister. Which is what she did.
The fact that she didn’t build on that statement or say anything more Heffusive about Modi’s candidacy too speaks volumes. It points to an abiding inhibition among the central leadership of the BJP to enthusiastically embrace Modi as the party’s face for the next general elections, whenever they are held.
Some of this, of course, springs from the fact that Modi has in a sense become larger than the BJP, which is a deeply disqueting consideration for the party’s central leaders.
Modi has always downplayed his Delhi ambitions, insisting that Gujarat remains his focus and any planned move out of the state is only media speculation.
Though Swaraj has openly endorsed Modi for the coveted job, it would not be a cakewalk for him as he would face bigger sharks in Delhi.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has already sought an assurance from the BJP that his Gujarat counterpart would not be NDA's prime ministerial candidate for 2014.
The senior JD(U) leader has said that NDA's Prime Ministerial candidate should have secular credentials which was seen as his clear reservation over Modi's nomination for the post.
JD(U) with 29 MPs in Parliament is the second largest coalition partner of the NDA after the BJP.
But it is just as true that the core BJP leadership is also acutely aware that the party’s mothership, the RSS, too hasn’t yet made up its mind about endorsing Modi, and therefore doesn’t want to be seen to be jumping the gun.
As this commentary points out, the RSS “fears” the rise of Modi, and considers him not unlike a scorpion that has positioned itself on an idol of Shiv, which can neither be removed with one’s hand (for fear of being stung) nor beaten away with a shoe (for fear of desecrating the idol). In the blogger’s estimation, this tension between Modi and the RSS can be explained only in part by the Sangh’s “Brahmanical fetish”. It is “essentially rooted in (the) Sangh’s inability to come to terms with (the) meteoric rise of Modi and his remarkable transformatoin into a mass leader based on a brand of unique leadership model.” Some of the Sangh functionaries, he adds, see Modi as “an ambitious upstart who needs to be reined in.”
In that sense, Modi’s biggest opposition – if he does want to project himself as a candidate for the Prime Ministership – will emerge from within the RSS.
And it is this that has thus far compelled even senior BJP leaders to hedge their pronouncements vis-a-vis Modi, even though they are happy to feed off the popular support he has among a cross-section of the party’s core supporters.
In that context, therefore, Swaraj’s comment, even if it comes across as less than an open-hearted, ringing endorsement of Modi, is not entirely without significance. It shows that the centre of gravity of the BJP is gradually shifting in favour of Modi, even if the pace of shift is somewhat glacial.
Of course, all this is still premature talk for the BJP. As recent events have shown, the party has exhibited a manifest incapacity to leverage political currents to its advantage. And as the ongoing tug-of-war over its president Nitin Gadkari’s continuance in office shows, it has many internal battles to fight before it can project a unified face to the world. Half-hearted endorsements of Modi at this stage amount to no more than putting the cart before the horse in a situation where the BJP hasn’t been able to show how it can put itself in a winning position.