Modi’s plans to take a shot at the top job could be scuttled by his detractors not just outside his party and NDA but from within as well. Nitish too has been touted as a potent Prime Ministerial candidate for long and he will not let Modi have his way that easily.
In November 2007, in an ascerbic interview conducted by Karan Thapar, Narendra Modi had walked out. Since then, Narendra Modi seems to have “reformed” in many ways. The confabulation with Thapar broke down when Thapar tried to cajole Modi to respond over an “image problem”. Thapar had said that Modi was seen as a “mass murderer” by a large section of the people.
Since then Modi has become really media friendly, though he refuses to buckle down under any flurry of questions regarding communal violence in Gujarat while he had maintained a stoic silence earlier. Very subtlely he shifts the focus by drawing a contrast between Gujarat riots and other communal conflagrations, notably the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that were presided over by the Congress regime of that time.
His Sadbhavana Mission and the associated fast in 2011 must also be seen in the same light – to refurbish his image. Very suggestively Modi sat against the backdrop of Mahatma Gandhi.
Modi was not eyeing acceptability within the Muslims by his Sadbhavana Mission; he knows that will not come for decades. He was trying to impress upon his party High Command that he was the man who commanded the political weight and foresight to take on them as well as the Congress-led UPA.
Come 2012 and Modi’s strategy seemed to have started bearing fruits. In the recently concluded conclave of the National Executive of the BJP in Mumbai, though Nitin Gadkari was chosen to lead the party for yet another term, Modi made his comeback to the Executive only after Gadkari’s nominee Sanjay Joshi stepped down.
Narendra Modi went on to invoke the memory of Atal Behari Vajpayee during his speech at the conclave. What is interesting is that he did not refer to any other leader of BJP (especially Advani) in the same vein; after all it was a party conclave where party leaders shower praise on each other. He might have wanted to suggest that after Vajpayee none of the top-guns have led the party in the right directions: there are no worthy claimants for the Prime Minister’s post in the party. A mention of Vajpayee is very convenient for Modi as the former has already retired from politics.
Ironically, while he was the Chief Minister and Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, the two did not share a very amiable relationship. After the 2002 riots, Vajpayee ensured that Modi was not brought to Delhi politics and he openely castigated Modi for his dubious role in the riots.
The ghost of Vajpayee’s reaction has come to haunt Modi. His hitherto successful run in 2012 has been scuttled as Nitish Kumar, Bihar’s chief minister and an important NDA ally, has invoked Vajpayee’s unhappiness with Modi to undermine the latter’s claim for being NDA’s prime ministerial candidate. Modi had failed to perform his “rajdharma”, is what
Vajpayee had said then. Nitish has mounted a full scale attack on Modi, saying that a communal face can never lead the NDA to victory, so much so, that JD (U) is threatening to walk out of the alliance.Modi has always been a very
divisive force, but this time he threatens to split NDA itself and not just the party. Modi is facing the music both inside his party and from the alliance partners. Keshubhai Patel, Gujarat BJP patriarch has threatened to hang his shoes unless his grievances against Modi are addressed. Even Sushil Kumar Modi, the BJP deputy chief minister of Bihar, has come out in defence of Nitish’s stand.
What is very interesting is that Keshubhai Patel’s Delhi march and Nitish Kumar’s comments came within a day of each other. Is there a deep seated conspiracy against Modi in which BJP members and its allies are colluding ?
Nitish’s compulsions are clear. If he has to retain the support of the Muslims in Bihar, a major factor that elevated him to power in the state twice, he will have to oppose Modi. Also, both these leaders hail from the OBC section of society and an ego tussle between the two cannot be ruled out. Moreover, after his successful second victory in Bihar, the talk of Nitish Kumar as a strong prime ministerial candidate has been rife: his own ambitions therefore, cannot be ruled out either. Nitish must be fancying his chances of becoming the prime minister in case both Congress and BJP do not get enough seats in 2014 and a Third Front supported by either of the two becomes a reality. In such a scenario Nitish is better poised to affect a breach with NDA.
Whatever be the outcome of the latest spat over Narendra Modi, the image problem that Karan Thapar had pointed out doesn’t appear to leave Modi, at least not in the near future. It will be interesting to see how Modi decides to tackle this latest attack on his credentials. He has numerous detractors, within and outside the BJP but the RSS has come out openly in his support and Modi must be wanting to bank on this heavily.Yet again RSS support for Modi has revived the parivar’s internal tensions between its core ideology of Hindutva and electoral compulsions. Never before has this tension seemed more stark than now, when the binary opposition between secularism and communalism has precipitated over the poster boy of Hindutva. It is yet to be decided who will move deftly like a fox and who will roar like a lion.