If there were any doubts earlier on the timing of Narendra Modi's entry into the national political arena, the Supreme Court verdict asking the trial court in Ahmedabad to make a determination on the guilt or innocence of the Gujarat Chief Minister in the Zakia case has certainly brightened the chances of an early entrance.
As long as the matter was under the active consideration of the Supreme Court, the sword of Damocles was hanging over Mr. Modi's head. If the trial court chooses not to proceed against the Chief Minister and he then wins the next Assembly election due in 2012, he is almost certain to be brought in as the next party president of the BJP at the end of the three-year tenure of present incumbent Nitin Gadkari.
This view was expressed by party leaders even as Kanchan Gupta, a former official in the Vajpayee PMO, tweeted after the verdict: “I can bet my (new) ‘gamcha' Delhi 4 in deep depression, inconsolable. I can bet my (used) Dunhill briar Delhi 4 will now prop up Advani.”
The message was plain: Delhi 4 — Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar — would be depressed and inconsolable as “their” chance of emerging as the number one leader in the party is now remote. Their best chance may now be to “prop up Advani” to prevent a Modi takeover of the party. After all, a younger Mr. Modi could end their own dreams of ever occupying the top position, while a much older Mr. Advani can at best dream of being Prime Minister for another five years.
On the face of it, of course, senior BJP leaders Mr. Jaitley — who just stopped short of saying the Supreme Court has given Mr. Modi a clean chit — and Ms. Swaraj — who tweeted that Mr. Modi had passed an agnipareeksha and “satyameva jayate … after years truth has won a victory” — heaped praise on Mr. Modi as one of the most prominent party leaders.
Apparently, there was a move afoot in the BJP to amend the party constitution to enable Mr. Gadkari to get a second term of three years in the job. “Now that will not happen. It is Mr. Modi who will be brought in as the next party president,” said one leader speaking on condition of anonymity.
While the Gadkari formula of a “collective leadership” may be used in the next general election — no one may be projected as the party's prime ministerial candidate — Mr. Modi will automatically be projected as the party's public face if he is at the helm of affairs.
A good reason for not projecting Mr. Modi directly is that it may scare away potential allies like the Telugu Desam Party.
However, if, in the next election, the BJP gets a good number of seats and there is the very real possibility of it forming the government, the view in the party is that actual and potential allies are likely to accept the arrangement.
In that scenario, will allies like the Janata Dal (United) prefer a Congress-led government? The answer is likely to be “No” and the BJP is banking on this.