Ever since Narendra Modi won his fourth stint as the chief minister of Gujarat, it has been left to the subaltern in the BJP to raise the chant of him being promoted as the party's prime minister candidate for 2014. There was some noise from the intermediate level too.
However, the demand got the first definite push at the top rungs when senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha today openly proclaimed that Modi was the popular choice leader of the party. He also hinted that the BJP should not care if its biggest ally in the NDA - JD(U) - breaks apart over Modi.
Though Sinha is not part of the select decision-making group in the party - he is neither a member of the Parliamentary Board nor the Core Group - his utterances carry enough weight for everyone to take note. His is an important voice inside Parliament and outside, and he has a big say on the party's policy matters.
The fact that he had been finance and external affairs minister in Vajpayee government adds to his stature. More importantly, after his surprise decision to force a contest for the BJP president's post last week spelt doom for Nitin Gadkari, no one would take him lightly.
Sinha joining the 'Modi for PM' chorus - he is the first such leader from among the ranks of seniors to do so - has left many wondering whether he was doing that independently or he was voicing the feelings of an influential group within the party and the RSS. Sinha was conscious to add that what he was saying was not new or out of the box but he was of the same conclusion as the rank and file of the party.
“There is a huge demand from our workers that Modi should be projected as the prime ministerial candidate and I also feel that if Modi is projected as a PM candidate, then the NDA will be at advantage. I have no doubt that he is most popular and charismatic leader in the BJP.”
The JD(U)'s reaction has so far been sober. The party's ever so vocal spokesman Shivanand Tiwari was guarded in his response and he only reminded of Nitish Kumar’s earlier statement that the NDA's prime ministerial candidate should be declared after due consultation.
The JD(U)-BJP had returned to power in Bihar with a historic three-fourth majority two years ago. But the relationship between the two, particularly between Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Modi, has deteriorated ever since.
Sinha was openly aggressive about the JD(U) today. “What I have said reflects the point of view which is prevailing in the country and the BJP activists. JD(U) is absolutely free and we are in an alliance together. If the JD(U) takes a position they should do so after careful consideration. You cannot pick and choose people in the party as communal and secular,” Sinha said.
However, more than his statement there are other factors that could force the RSS and the BJP to take a call on Modi. Post Vajpayee-Advani era, the RSS has been talking of collective leadership and has been against naming anyone as the leader before going into the polls. Former party president Nitin Gadkari had articulated the RSS’s opinion on several occasions but the scenario could now change.
Modi has emerged as the de-facto leader of the BJP, irrespective of the fact that he is officially declared a prime ministerial candidate or not. The kind of enthusiastic reception that he was given by the workers at party headquarters 11 Ashoka Road last month was a clear indicator to that they saw him as their best bet for taking on the Congress in next elections.
The latest survey by AC Nielsen only added weight behind the Modi for PM chorus. His rating of 36 percent was higher than the combined rating of Rahul Gandhi (21), Sonia Gandhi (5) and Manmohan Singh (4). In a presidential style poll choice, Modi was favoured by 56 percent of respondents as compared to 41 percent for Rahul Gandhi as the PM. The survey posed additional challenge to the newly elected BJP president Rajnath Singh to take a clear view on the subject in near future.
Rajnath has already given enough hints that Modi will have a greater role to play in the party and in formulating strategy for 2014. For now, he is just maintaining that “Modi is a very popular leader….A decision to project a prime ministerial candidate can be taken only by the party’s Parliamentary Board.” There is no indication when that would happen, if at all. But one thing looks certain for now that Modi would once again be made part of the Parliamentary Board and the Central Election Committee.
The new-found bonhomie between Rajnath Singh and Narendra Modi is a much talked about subject in the BJP. Modi flying to Delhi on Sunday to have two-and-half hour long luncheon meeting with Singh is seen as clear indicator of the emerging equations. Modi had extended this kind of courtesy neither to the previous president nor to any other New Delhi-based senior leader. The fact they came out looking happy with each other and declared that they discussed 2014 elections in detail gave a great sense of relief to the party workers at large.
“It sent a tremendous message in the party that the two big leaders stood united in purpose. The fact that they sat together for that long a period mean that they should work in tandem with a plan for 2014. That was need of the hour,” a BJP general secretary told Firstpost requesting anonymity. There is sense that this was perhaps one such move in the long list of desirables that the party had been desperately looking for long.
It assumes more significance from the fact that Sinha's call came on a day when Rajnath was visiting RSS headquarters in Nagpur.