The Bharatiya Janata Party can neither live with Narendra Modi nor live without him. The Gujarat Chief Minister is such a deeply polarising figure that the mere suggestion of him running for Prime Minister in 2014 is enough to start a mini war in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. And for the same reason that he puts off the BJP’s allies, Mr. Modi has electrified sections of his party. Indeed, if the BJP’s till now comatose rank and file are suddenly showing signs of life, it is because they see the party returning to its old, robustly militant character under the divisive, muscular leadership of Mr. Modi. Ironically, the Gujarat CM also appears to have activated a clutch of yesteryear party leaders for whom he is a means to their own rehabilitation. That Mr. Modi would loom large over the BJP was a given in the backdrop of his expected third consecutive victory in the Gujarat Assembly election. Of course, the Chief Minister was deceptively modest on the stump, his unwavering focus on Gujarat and its “six crore Gujaratis.” But as soon as the election was won, Delhi zoomed into sight and the man who promised to “live and die” for Gujarat addressed his local audience in Hindi. The message set off an internecine internal battle which ended in the purge of BJP helmsman Nitin Gadkari — the erstwhile party president’s business practices were undoubtedly questionable but he appears to have paid the price more for having taken on Mr. Modi at one time.
It is far too much of a coincidence that the men who engineered Mr. Gadkari’s ouster are also in the forefront of demanding Mr. Modi’s immediate elevation to Prime Minister-in-waiting. The father-son pair of Ram and Mahesh Jethmalani, ably assisted by Yashwant Sinha, had long campaigned for Mr. Gadkari to be replaced by Mr. Modi as party chief. But the RSS would not hear of this; instead the BJP’s spiritual mentor had the Jethmalanis axed from the party even while backing Mr. Gadkari to the hilt. With Mr. Gadkari finally and irrevocably gone, Project Modi has expectedly gained swift momentum, with who else but the Jethmalanis and Mr. Sinha leading the charge. It is a point to note that not one member of the BJP’s top rung has endorsed Mr. Modi’s candidature, maintaining instead that the party has many capable leaders. The reason for this is two-fold. The larger parivar’s discomfiture with Mr. Modi’s authoritarian style. And secondly, the knowledge that he could be a roadblock in the expansion of the NDA. The Janata Dal (United) has already expressed itself against Mr. Modi, and surprisingly, even the Shiv Sena has not come around, preferring Sushma Swaraj to the Gujarat Chief Minister.