First things first. Narendra Modi is a rock star when he makes his speeches. One can disagree with him on a whole range of issues, but there can be no two ways about his prowess as a public speaker. To our political communication so devoid of life and passion, he lends rare raw energy and intensity. Just when you felt political leaders were staid bureaucrats by another name, he comes across as a whiff of fresh air. Let’s enjoy it till the novelty factor lasts.
At Bhopal on Wednesday, he did what he is good at: wowing the crowds, but the import of this gathering goes far beyond that. It finally marked his arrival as the tallest leader of the BJP. The show of unity by the party leadership - the Bhopal rally was attended by party President Rajnath Singh, senior leaders LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan - closes the debate whether Modi is acceptable to all in the faction-ridden party. There could still be murmurs of dissent within, but for the lay party cadre the message is unambiguous: Modi is here and there’s no going back on him.
From now on, Modi shifts to a different political trajectory. So far, starting from the BJP conclave in Goa in June where he was announced as the party’s campaign committee chief amid stiff resistance from a section of the party, his entire struggle had been against the party’s leadership entrenched in Delhi and its support network in the states. He was seen as a controversial choice shoved down the throat of the party by the mother organisation, the RSS. LK Advani registered his protest against the move to elevate him by resigning from party posts. Obviously, he was drawing attention to the apprehension in sections in the party to the elevation of Modi. It was an RSS-brokered effort that brought him back.
There were resistance again when the RSS insisted on announcing Modi as the party’s prime ministerial candidate. Some leaders pointed to the polarising character of the Gujarat chief minister and argued the announcement would put off potential allies and others such as Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh sought a delay in the decision citing the upcoming assembly elections which might be impacted negatively by the Modi factor. However, the dissent was bulldozed swiftly. The RSS did not want to delay a decision and it did not matter whether the BJP was not ready for it.
Modi was the RSS’ answer to the leadership crisis in the BJP. The present crop of leaders showed little potential to deliver electorally and it helped little to further the cause of the ideology of the mother organisation. In a way both the party and the organisation were stagnating. This had to change. Modi helped with his direct appeal to the party cadre and his clever manipulation of the media, especially the social media. After being elevated as the prime ministerial candidate, his first task was to ensure a show of unity in the party and display to cadre his unchallenged position as the BJP’s leader. This he has achieved through his Bhopal rally.
Status and command established, his task now would be to take on the Congress directly, not as a regional upstart but as a bonafide national leader. The indication came clear when he addressed the crowd with no mention to his achievements in Gujarat. He has been gradually changing his rhetoric to suit the national taste of late - he is talking of inclusive economics, adopting a softer tone on foreign affairs and even encouraging the BJP to woo the Muslims. His speech in Bhopal was more of a national leader.
Of course, he has a lot more do. The most important is he has to fight the perception in a section of the population that he is a Hindutva hawk and that he does not represent India’s inclusive cultural ethos. This would call for some distancing from the mother organisation. Other before him have tried that and paid the price - Advani is a case in point. How he manages the critical equation with the Sangh Parivar would be interesting to watch now.
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Updated Date: Sep 25, 2013 21:32:13 IST