Will Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's rapid ascent up the BJP ranks, which could be formalised at the national executive meeting of the party in Goa, lead to a split in the party?
Senior BJP leader LK Advani's no-show on Friday, which was attributed to a stomach infection, has set off speculation that the Bhishma Pitamah of the party is less than pleased with the party's excessive eagerness to anoint Modi as the party candidate for the 2014 election. Some argue that Goa could witness a deepening of the crisis within the party, and perhaps even lead to a formal split.
Vinod Mehta, former editor of Outlook, for instance, noted on a CNN-IBN talk show on Friday that the Goa meet will accentuate the "bitter civil war" that is raging within the BJP. "The man of the moment," Mehta observed, " is not Narendra Modi, but LK Advani. If the BJP takes a decision and spurns Mr Advani completely, there could even be a split in the party."
In any case, Mehta argued, if Modi is made head of the BJP's campaign committee without Advani's consent, "I think that would lack a certain kind of legitimacy."
In his estimation, whatever the BJP does in Goa (or with Modi), "it has to buy some form of peace" with Advani. One of the formulations that Advani suggested may be workable, he reasons: that is, have two campaign committees - one for the State-level elections and one at the national level. "But if you completely ignore Mr Advani, you could even have a split in the party."
Not everyone, however, agrees with that assessment.
Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of The Hindu, said that it may amount to overstating matters to say that the BJP would face a split over Modi's escalation. But he nevertheless felt that "the simmering tension will remain, and won't go away so easily." In any case, infighting in the BJP is not a new phenomenon, he noted. By a curious coincidence, he observed, it was Advani who had batted the strongest for Modi in Goa in April 2002, when the latter was under pressure to resign over the Gujarat riots of 2002. And today, it is Advani who is perceived to be the biggest hurdle within the party to the ascent of Modi.
Senior journalist Siddharth Bhatia too reasoned that Advani could yet be persuaded by the RSS, the mothership, to attend Goa. "But the matter will not end there," he said. "Mr Advani will continue to make his claim, which is what it is." For 30 years, Bhatia pointed out, Avani has been "waiting as the putative Prime Minister, and now with the party on the threshold of a likely victory, he will not give up readily." In his estimation, Advani was too much of a party soldier to openly "rebel against the party line." But he will continue to speak out, he felt.
Journalist Kumar Ketkar too felt that a split is far from likely, since in the end it would be the RSS that would lay down the party line.
Firstpost editor R Jagannathan noted that the party senior leadership of the BJP was not completely united in endorsing Modi, but it was under immense pressure from an upsurge from the party workers and from State units to anoint Modi, which, he reasoned, would happen inevitably, even if not in Goa.
"There are two camps in the BJP," Jagannathan said. "One camp will want to weaken Modi. Its purpose will be served if the party ends up with 150-160 seats (in the next Lok Sabha elections), which would put it in a better place than before, but incapable of forming a government on its terms." In Jagannathan's reasoning, it serves Modi's detractors within the party to not win, say, 180 seats, which is possible if Modi were named the party candidate.