Modi is now clear No 1 in BJP - but challenges loom
The last-surge in Modi's seat count shows that he gambled right and won. He is now clearly the BJP's No 1 PM candidate, and he has his work cut out
As always, commenting on an election while results are just pouring in can be hazardous to one’s reputation.
Before noon, when it seemed that Narendra Modi would not cross his 2007 seat count, we had assumed that the results would not be as favourable to the BJP as what the exit pollsters had led us to believe. Now, it seems, they did get it more right than wrong, with Modi looking at a two-thirds majority.
So the joke is on us and P Chidambaram, who touted the Congress defeat as a victory. He said: "The sweeping victory predicted by the BJP has not taken place and the fact is it has been contained to a number below last time.” Wonder what he will have to say now that all major state Congress leaders have lost.
While we are happy to eat our words, it is time to make another quick assessment of what the new numbers really mean for Modi and the BJP.
In Gujarat, the BJP’s small reverses in Saurashtra and North Gujarat appear to have been the result of internal infighting and bad blood – as evidenced in the dissidence of Keshubhai Patel, and the unhappiness of the Sangh Parivar, which has been active in North Gujarat. This may have given some BJP candidates a hard time.
Modi’s first challenge will thus be to make sure that old wounds are healed so that the party can be united once again even if he has to move to Delhi.
However, it is now crystal clear that Modi’s claims to be treated as primus inter pares in the BJP cannot be ignored. He is now by far the only realistic claimant for leading the BJP in the next polls, even if the CMs of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh bring home their own third round victories in 2013.
We say this for three reasons: as the first BJP man to be re-elected three times as CM and each time with thumping majorities, Modi is clearly the BJP leader with the momentum and wind behind his sails. Secondly, there is no one in the national BJP who can command the troops like Modi. Only he can energise the rank-and-file. Thirdly, the central BJP is in a shambles, and the RSS, by placing Nitin Gadkari at the helm, helped compound the confusion. Even when the Congress is on the ropes, the BJP has not been able to make gains. This is reflected in the Himachal results, where Prem Kumar Dhumal could not hold on despite the Congress’ multiple stumbles at the centre. This is both a tribute to the mild anti-incumbency factor at work, and also the power of the BJP rival – Virbhadra Singh.
The field is clear for Modi because the only other real contender for the top leadership is Shivraj Singh Chauhan of Madhya Pradesh, but he will be busy with his state elections in 2013. Modi is the one who has to take key decisions for the party in the run-up to 2014.
Clearly, having just won, it is not possible for Modi to just hand over the chief ministership to a person of his choice and shift to the party headquarters in Delhi. His first priority will be to ensure that the next party president is someone who is in sync with him. This raises a question-mark over Nitin Gadkari’s future.
Once this is settled, Modi will have to be deeply involved in the revival of the party.
His first challenge will be in Karnataka, where the BJP looks likely to lose the next election, thanks to the BS Yeddyurappa revolt. If Modi can step in and heal the rift, the party may still not win, but it would at least be in a position to fight a good fight in the Lok Sabha polls of 2014.
The challenge after that is Uttar Pradesh. If the BJP wants Modi as its chief, and it wants to lead the next NDA coalition, the party has to win 180 seats at least. This is impossible if Uttar Pradesh yields a measly harvest of 10-12 seats. Luckily for Modi, his image as a hardline Hindutva leader – which he will try to live down elsewhere – may actually help him in UP, where the state party leadership is miffed that the central party voted to pass the Dalit quotas-in-promotions bill that can only help Mayawati.
The BJP’s key votes in Uttar Pradesh lie with the upper castes and the non-Yadav OBCs, and neither of them are too happy with the constitutional amendment that will allow SC/STs employees to obtain reservations in promotions. UP’s upper castes and OBCs are up in arms. Modi will have to find a way to funnel this unhappiness into votes for the BJP and not allow it to head towards the Samajwadi Party, which has placed itself in the vanguard of the anti-quota forces.
Modi may be the BJP’s only star, but he has his work cut out.
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