BJP Leader defends internal dissent on Modi as a healthy trend mirroring American primaries process

Dismissing widespread perceptions that internal dissent within the BJP on the emergence of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its potential prime ministerial candidate will prove destabilising for the party, the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, has described these “distinct voices” as a healthy trend, natural to the phenomenon of a structured political party, where the “race to the top can at best be described as the Indian version of the American primaries”.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Jaitley pointed out that in sharp contrast to the Congress, the BJP has many names to choose from for its PM candidate. “Today there are 10 people in the fray and a semi-final and final situation. There are many faces and many voices, and eventually, through a transparent, competitive and possibly even a more noisy process, one person will emerge as the first among equals”, he said.

Defending BJP leader L.K. Advani’s repeated opposition to Mr. Modi, Mr. Jaitley said the view that this would prove to be a destabilising factor for the party, “saddens me since it reflects a mindset that five wise men must sit in a room and produce a name. That’s not how leaders should be made. If someone has a contrarian view prior to the elevation of a leader, I don’t think the heavens fall if that view is expressed.”

“The BJP is a structured political party, unlike others, which are controlled by families with either political or caste appeal. Atalji and Advaniji were the BJP’s first generation, natural leaders. The next generation has not emerged on the back of caste appeal or a family link. In similar age groups, the BJP has a reasonable galaxy of 6 to 7 leaders at the Centre and 5 to 6 at state level — all contributing as party functionaries, Chief Ministers or in Parliament”, he explained.

However, Mr. Jaitley emphasised that once a leader has been nominated “everyone must fall in line and accept the decision”.

Disagreeing with the view that Mr. Modi’s appeal is, at best, limited to Gujarat, the middle class and urban youth which can’t convert into a national win for the BJP, Mr. Jaitley said Mr. Modi had gained huge popularity throughout the country, cutting across communities in the rural areas of UP, Bihar and other states. “Last time, we had lost the urban vote which we are hopeful of getting back. The next general election will be a leadership referendum in which the Congress suffers a clear handicap. The Congress is ducking the leadership battle at a time when its existing leadership has lost its appeal and the new leadership can’t seem to find its feet”.

When asked why the BJP was not equally guilty of ducking the leadership question by refusing to announce Mr. Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, Mr. Jaitley said, “Within the BJP cadres and the BJP-supporting constituencies, Mr. Modi’s acceptability is very high. I am certain the party will factor that in when we announce our leader”.

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