The omnipresence of Narendra Modi is difficult to miss at the BJP's Goa conclave. The buzz about him is loud among those who are present in Goa and those who don't count themselves among his supporters are maintaining a prudent silence. The official agenda may be broad, but the unlisted agenda and the focus of all those attending is whether Modi will be picked to head the party's 2014 campaign committee.
Despite the fact that its a far cry from being declared the party's Prime Ministerial candidate, few are bothered. Meanwhile, the party leadership present in Goa is preparing to make the big announcement on Sunday, just before the national executive meet ends.
It remains to be seen if the appointment of Modi to the poll panel, which Rajnath Singh is authorised to do at any point, will generate the same degree of hype as if the Parliamentary Board had picked him to lead the party in the next election. While being picked by the Parliamentary Board would have been more graceful than being indirectly projected to lead the party in this manner, choosing Modi to lead the party in the next election would only deepen the fault lines between the BJP and its NDA allies.
Many leaders also believe Modi being picked to head the poll panel also means that he is not going to be picked as the party's prime ministerial candidate any time soon. Others are more hopeful that it means it only paves the way for him to be picked at a later date, and that whatever process may be followed, his elevation would only ensure he is to lead the party for years to come.
The elevation of Modi would also mark the end of the Vajpayee-Advani era. The stomach ailment of Modi’s one-time mentor and current chairman of BJP parliamentary board, LK Advani, is being dissected by observers. And while there is no doubt that he is unwell, it would still be the first time Advani would be staying away from the party's conclave in over 60 years of his political career, which includes being the understudy of Deen Dayal Upadhaya of the Jan Sangh in the 1950s and then as the co-founder of the BJP since 1980. His illness is making headlines for two reasons. Firstly, because despite his advanced age his fitness has been much better than many of his younger colleagues and he has never known to cancel scheduled appointments due to ill health. The second reason is that it coincided with the event during which Modi was to be indirectly projected as the new leader of the party.
His reservations over the manner in which the Gujarat Chief Minister was to be elevated is known and an announcement would signal the marginalisation of the party patriarch. Advani's idea of assigning former party president, Nitin Gadkari, the task of overseeing the party's performance in the upcoming assembly elections was shot down by Rajnath Singh, allegedly under pressure from a section of the RSS and BJP.
The rise of Modi would also mean that the much touted Parliamentary Board, whose power the party president has extolled multiple times has become irrelevant in decision making. It would also mean the office of party's president would play a subservient role to Modi’s decisions related to its poll campaign and preparedness.
What is unfolding at Goa national executive meet is as per the script, except of course, Advani’s ailment and consequent absence from the meet. Last fortnight Firstpost had noted that Modi's close supporters were working on an alternate plan in case the BJP leadership continued avoiding taking a call on the leadership issue before the next parliamentary polls.
The idea that they were working on had two stages: first, create such pressure from intermediate level leaders and sympathisers so that the party’s Parliamentary Board’s position becomes titular, and its members are forced to decide on the issue. It was in this context that a section of BJP leaders rued the fact that there is no provision like a US primary in Indian polity. The leaders are endorsing a Indian version of the US's political process that would result in a chorus which would propel Modi to the top of the party.
The second was to project Modi as the first ever prime minister from the numerically dominant OBC communities through a word of mouth campaign. Though Modi does not need to wear his caste credentials on his sleeve given his reputation as a strong administrator, his supporters have already started their campaign to gain mileage in the caste-ridden politics of the Hindi heartland, especially in Bihar and UP. The signs were visible after the recent Maharajganj by-poll results in Bihar, that came just two days ahead of BJP’s conclave, with local BJP leaders openly talking about Modi's OBC credentials.
Modi’s supporters firmly believe that him being the party's campaign committee chief, an indirect projection of him as the party's PM candidate suits him at this stage, since it allows him to carry on with his governance in Gujarat. The BJP conclave is a time of celebration for Modi's supporters and their number is rising fast within and outside the BJP.