Swearing-in ceremonies are normally mundane, low-key affairs. More so for a third-time swearing-in. But not when the person being sworn in is Narendra Modi.
A man who evokes strong reactions, the most important thing to note about his swearing-in in Ahmedabad today was the guest-list. Who came and who didn’t tells us a story about future political alignments, both within the BJP and its potential national allies.
As expected, Nitish Kumar of Bihar did not turn up. This shows that Modi’s bête noire will continue to oppose his projection on the national stage by the BJP.
Uddhav Thackeray of the Shiv Sena was originally labelled as a no-show, but this turned out to be wrong. More importantly, his cousin Raj Thackeray made it a point to turn up. Given that Raj Thackeray made a highly-publicised trip to Gujarat last year and spoke well of Modi’s developmental achievements, this could mean one of two things: in 2014, a Modi-led BJP may align with Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) even if Uddhav’s Shiv Sena is not willing to share seats with the MNS. Or it could mean a three-way tie-up. Either way, neither Thackeray is taking any chances with Modi. They want to be on his right side.
J Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu was there. This shows that at the very least, if the BJP is in a position to form a government, Modi can count on her outside support at least. The BJP is not a factor in Tamil Nadu politics, and so her presence tells a special story of her equation with Modi.
Prakash Singh Badal was there. So it means that the BJP-Akali alliance in Punjab is an all-weather one, no matter who leads the national party.
Naveen Patnaik of Odisha was not there, and this could mean he is keeping his options open. It may not mean any specific anti-Modi stand.
Also absent was Mamata Banerjee, though one does not know if she was invited. Given her huge Muslim constituency, it is unlikely she will make any early moves on a Modi alliance before the next elections.
An interesting presence was that of Ramdas Athavale of the Republican Party of India in Maharashtra - a Dalit face. Athavale has been part of the Sena-BJP alliance in Maharashtra, but his attendance is a pointer to Modi's thought processes.
Less unexpected was the attendance from the BJP top leadership. While LK Advani was always expected to attend, the more important attendees were the Madhya Pradesh CM, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who is widely touted as a potential contender for PM of the NDA in case Modi is not acceptable to allies. His attendance showed that Chouhan is not trying to position himself as anti-Modi and is playing his cards carefully – if at all. In any case, he still has a state assembly election ahead, and his focus must be there.
Other CMs and potential CMs in attendance were Manohar Parikkar of Goa, Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh and Vasundhara Raje of Rajasthan. Raje is considered a potential winner in Rajasthan at the next assembly elections, and her equations with Modi will be closely watched.
Jagdish Shettar of Karnataka was there, even though no one is betting that he will remain CM after the next elections, where BS Yeddyurappa is sure to dent the BJP’s chances. Modi had a good equation with Yeddyurappa, having addressed two special meetings of the state party when Yeddyurappa was CM. Modi could reach out to the former CM in case he wants greater numbers from Karnataka.
As for the rest of the BJP leadership, everyone from Sushma Swaraj to Nitin Gadkari to Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley were present. This suggests that at the top, Modi’s rise is now a well-accepted possibility, even though they may have their private reservations.
The only person who did not seem very happy was Gujarat Governor Kamla Beniwal, with whom the Modi government has had several run-ins. The body language between the CM and the Governor was stand-offish.
But the overwhelming conclusion is this: Modi’s decision to elevate a simple swearing-in ceremony into a power-show indicates that the Gujarat CM is getting ready for his Delhi trip. The attendance line-up also indicates the first-level alliance that is backing Modi.
Modi has really assembled his future NDA plans in microcosm.