Sep 16, 2013 10:05 AM IST | Source:

Why BJP picked Modi: Risk of not choosing him was greater

In the coming days, Advani is likely to give vent to his negativities, but the BJP has now crossed the Rubicon- and this does the party's leadership great credit.

R Jagannathan

The official anointment of Narendra Modi as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate by party President Rajnath Singh sets the stage for Elections 2014. In doing so, the BJP has overcome a determined bid by LK Advani to queer the pitch. It is a pity that the patriarch chose to play sourpuss rather than a cheerleader.

In the coming days, Advani is likely to give vent to his negativities, but the BJP has now crossed the Rubicon- and this does the party's leadership great credit.

Advani's antics need not hold us here, for it is clear that he was trying to delay the inevitable by pretending he was only opposed to the announcement till the state assembly elections. But his objection is simply not tenable. There are only two ways to interpret it: one, it is a roundabout way of saying that Modi is a liability in the forthcoming state elections. If this is really so, the party would be wrong in naming him as PM candidate even after the assembly election. The more likely possibility is that Advani used this argument to give Shivraj Singh Chouhan a chance to win in Madhya Pradesh and then use the latter’s victory to stop Modi. If this interpretation is right, it shows Advani as a diabolical politician rather than an elder statesman with the BJP’s best interests at heart.

While no one can write off Advani's ability to embarrass the party and Modi even now, the BJP however did the right thing to checkmate him. For the only way the BJP can win the next election is by giving Modi enough time to evolve the party's strategy state by state. This he could not have done without formally being declared the party's mascot with the power to frame the poll agenda and nuance its stand for every important state.

Modi has a stiff task ahead for the simple reason that the party he inherits wasted more than nine years in opposition without building its base. It had no policy beyond parliamentary disruption. It had no strategy beyond private agendas. And it had no leadership worth the name, Advani included. The so-called national leadership had no mass base.

This is why despite the complete economic mess the Congress has created, and the humongous corruption scandals emerging from the woodwork with metronomic regularity, the BJP still lags in terms of popular perceptions. It is Modi’s task to revive the party’s fortunes in nine months by energising the base and expanding it-something the rest of the leadership could not do in nine years.

There are other reasons why the party did the right thing in elevating Modi.

First, electing the right leader is a job half done. It gives the party an authoritative voice in the coming months. It also gives the BJP a modern leader who vibes well with an aspirational India.

Second, elections are won not only on speeches, which Modi is anyway capable of delivering to perfection, but state-level micro-strategies. It is often said that India’s national elections are really a bunch of regional elections. If this is true, an early announcement gives Modi and his team enough time to stitch alliances and work out strategies for each critical state.

Third, it is widely believed that this election will be won or lost in Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 seats. Only Modi has the stature to claw back UP from the SP and BSP. BJP lost in 2004 not only because two important allies-Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh and J Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu-lost, but because the BJP crashed in UP. The party first slipped in 1999 under Atal Behari Vajpayee, and crashed further in 2004 in UP. If Modi can get the party’s popular vote above 25 percent in this crucial state, he can make a large harvest of 30 seats in UP. Below that, he can’t. But even his enemies concede that only he can make a difference.

Fourth, by nominating Modi, the party is not actually doing him a favour. It has given him a very difficult job to do, and if he falters, the party will not forgive him. Since the stakes are high, it made no sense to expect Modi to work for the party without empowering him. It is fundamental to success that power and responsibility must go together. The party has empowered Modi because it wants to ride on his coat-tails to success.

Fifth, since the next election will be as much about anti-incumbency as governance, a leaderless BJP could not have made much of a difference. None of the opinion polls so far give the NDA, leave alone the BJP, any chance of crossing 200 seats. To take the NDA past the 200 mark, leadership is critical. In all polls, Modi’s personal rating has always been well above that of his party. By announcing his candidature early, the party has given Modi a chance a close the gap.

Sixth, and most important, Modi embodies both the essential Hindutva image that is vital to the BJP base, even while transcending it.

Seventh, the country's urban middle class is looking for a strong leader, after seeing the damage done by a "weak" Manmohan Singh. Modi looks more like a messiah here than anyone else.

In the ultimate analysis, the question is: has the BJP taken too big a risk by nominating Modi, allegedly a polarising figure who might not find too many post-poll allies? The truth is probably this: the party has decided that the risk of not nominating its most popular leader was greater.

From all accounts, BJP has given itself momentum by sidelining Advani. He may still do some damage. But the chances are the party is more right than Advani.

The writer is editor-in-chief, digital and publishing, Network18 Group

Follow us on
Available On