"He is my friend," RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said about Narendra Modi yesterday. A little later he made an open endorsement of Modi for prime minister. It is not common for the ideological fountainhead - Sarsanghchalak - of the Sangh Parivar to call someone a friend, least of all someone in the BJP. It is thus natural that his words are dominating private discussions within the party.
The rather unusual public advocacy of Modi by Bhagwat at an unlikely forum, the VHP sponsored Dharmsansand at Mahakumbh, indicates to the beginning of a unique relationship between the two. It could also be a recognition that in the post Vajpayee-Advani era, Modi, through the process of natural evolution, is about to acquire the same kind of aura the two top leaders had in the party and the Parivar.
There are also some thoughts that by openly rooting for Modi, the RSS chief could be playing his own politics – settling scores with those whose consistent opposition forced him to deny a second term in office as BJP president to his protégé Nitin Gadkari.
With his accomplishments, Modi is now the de-facto number one in the party and all the RSS chief is doing is accepting that reality. "What is in everybody's heart and mind should be acknowledged by those who have to decide (the BJP) who should lead the nation…The media asks me who would lead the nation... who should be brought forward in elections.
But whatever I say, it is ultimately a decision to be taken by those who are authorised to do so. If they do not pay heed to the demand of the people, they will face the consequences," he said yesterday after three seers - Swami Kaushlendra, Swami Ramanujacharya and Swami Vasudevacharya - called for projecting Modi as PM.
There can’t be a clearer endorsement from the RSS than this for Modi. In a way he has given his directions to the BJP, leaving the party to decide the timing and ways to proceed about it. This also comes in contrast to the RSS’s earlier position that the BJP would fight next general elections under a collective leadership and take a call on the leadership issue after the poll results.
This position was highlighted as late as December last year by former BJP president Nitin Gadkari. But then politics is a dynamic business and Modi's hugely successful engagement with students at Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) in Delhi University has boosted his claim for the top slot.
Here Modi had sought to change the course of the political discourse by two things – making himself present in the midst of bright students while the Hindutava brigade was chanting other mantras at Mahakumbh and secondly, by presenting himself as a visionary politician on issues of governance and growth.
While there is no clarity on what course his official elevation to leadership position would follow, two things are almost certain – it can’t be done before Karnataka election where the BJP is sure to loose after rebel Yeddyurrpa forming a rival political party and second, Modi is not going to move physically to Delhi to lead the party to next parliamentary elections.
"Modi USP is his governance and development model in Gujarat, he can’t leave that and loose a solid plank for himself," said a BJP leader considered close to Modi. There are others who believe that his address to students at SRCC only validates this position that he will like to lead the party while being centered in Gujarat.
The elevation could be phased – before he is projected as the leader he can head a campaign committee kind of a team for the next elections. Ahead of that would come a membership in BJP’s Parliamentary Board, the highest decision making body. Come March 1-3 - schedule for the BJP National Executive and Council meeting in Delhi - the clamour for Modi for PM will erupt afresh.