It was an open secret that Narendra Modi would leapfrog into the big league if and when the Bharatiya Janata Party revamped its decision-making structures. In the event, it was a double whammy for the Gujarat Chief Minister who found himself admitted to two of the BJP’s apex bodies — the parliamentary board and the central election committee. Mr. Modi had as good as walked into his new role with his third straight Assembly election victory in Gujarat. But clearly what lubricated the process was the growing clamour from the rank and file. Ironically, it fell to helmsman Rajnath Singh, who had evicted Mr. Modi from the parliamentary board six years earlier, to invite him to rejoin the club. Mr. Singh had swallowed his pride and accorded Mr. Modi a hero’s welcome at the party’s recent national council meeting. So is Mr. Modi the BJP’s Prime Ministerial nominee? There is no word on this yet and for obvious reasons. To start with there is internal discomfiture over allotting this coveted position to a person who by instinct and action has proved to be authoritarian and demanding. Mr. Modi runs Gujarat as a one-man show and the fear is that he would replicate the model in Delhi.
But more critically, any formal announcement with regard to Mr. Modi would mean closing the leadership issue to the disadvantage of the prime ministerial hopefuls within the BJP and by implication within the larger National Democratic Alliance. Lal Krishna Advani, who was the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2009, harbours dreams of an encore. As leaders of the two Houses of Parliament, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley have shown immense potential, not to speak of the many punishing years they have put in to reach where they have. State leaders such as Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Raman Singh are equally ambitious and each has performance to back his claim that he is second to none. With Mr. Modi in the lead, the BJP would also have to reckon with the possibility of desertions by valued NDA partners. Nitish Kumar has minced no words on the unacceptability of Mr. Modi. For the BJP the confusion evidently does not end here. If the party rejig was meant to send out the signal that the BJP is a better and cleaner alternative to the Congress, it has done the opposite. In particular, the induction of Amit Shah and Varun Gandhi as general secretaries is surprising. Mr. Shah faces charges of criminal conspiracy in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case while Mr. Gandhi, though acquitted for spewing anti-Muslim vitriol on the election trail in 2009, will find it hard to live down the rabble-rousing image he has created for himself. By promoting leaders like these, the BJP has scored a self-goal.