By every account, the projection of Narendra Modi as the next Prime Minister has catapulted the Bharatiya Janata Party from nowhere to number one position in the coming general election. But try as it might, the BJP has not been able to paper over its own internal dissensions coinciding with the rising national profile of the Gujarat Chief Minister. Over the past year, Mr. Modi has incrementally asserted his authority within the BJP, bolstered by his popularity with the rank and file and the overt support he has got from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Gujarat Chief Minister’s reputation as a unilateralist precedes him, and his promotion to prime ministerial candidate has reinforced the impression that he would have his way even at the cost of injuring the self-respect of party elders, even those who have made stellar contributions to its growth. The BJP’s founder-leader, L.K. Advani, has been overruled time and again, and Sushma Swaraj, with an impressive record in Parliament, has not fared any better.
Mr. Modi was elevated to prime minister-in-waiting over the objections of Mr. Advani. The internal discomfiture has been especially evident during ticket allotment, with little deference shown to veterans. Ms. Swaraj has publicly objected to the party ticket going to tainted candidates, and Murli Manohar Joshi has barely concealed his annoyance at being summarily evicted from the Varanasi seat to make way for Mr. Modi. Admittedly, it is the prerogative of the prime ministerial nominee to contest from a place of his choice. It is also reasonable to expect that Mr. Modi’s candidature from the holy city would favourably impact the party’s prospects in the Hindi belt. But Mr. Joshi appears to have been offended not so much by his having to vacate the Varanasi seat as by the manner in which the mission was accomplished. Mr. Advani has been refused a transfer to Bhopal on the grounds that he has won five consecutive elections from Gandhinagar in Gujarat. But if that was indeed the case, there was no reason for the party’s Central Election Committee led by Mr. Modi to have deferred announcing his name until Mr. Advani, in frustration, asked for a change. It was evident that the former Deputy Prime Minister felt more secure about contesting from Bhopal which falls in the friendlier domain of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. In the event, it took an entire day of drama and much coaxing and cajoling by BJP president Rajnath Singh before Mr. Advani of his own accord agreed to stay back in Gandhinagar. As Mr. Modi forges ahead in the electoral race, he will do well to ensure that his own party is on board with him.