The primary objective of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s two-day National Council meeting held in Delhi was to confirm the appointment of Rajnath Singh as the new helmsman. But as expected, the event turned into a showcase for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who, in turn, received the blizzard of praise as if he already knew his destiny. It was to have been the incoming president’s special moment. And yet if Mr. Singh felt discomfited by having to defer to a Chief Minister, he betrayed nothing. Far from it, he smothered Mr. Modi with praise and insisted that he get a standing ovation for his hat-trick of Assembly election victories. The cheering delegates only too happily obliged, imparting a Congress-like feel to the enactment on stage. Indeed, no one watching the proceedings could have missed the disconnect between the BJP’s claimed abhorrence of the personality cult and the conscious brand-building of Mr. Modi. The Gujarat Chief Minister expectedly played to the gallery with one-liners aimed at the Congress and its First Family, such as that Sitaram Kesri was a “night watchman” for Sonia Gandhi and now Manmohan Singh was performing the same role for Rahul.
Mr. Modi’s running theme was that India needed positivity and self-confidence which only the BJP could provide. But, the celebration was not unmarred by hitches. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan made it clear that the Gujarat Chief Minister was not the only ‘vikas purush’ around by providing an account of his own superlative performance in a State left “impoverished” by years of Congress “misrule.” Under his stewardship, MP had posted an average GDP growth of 10.20 per cent and a growth in agriculture of 18.91 per cent: “No other State in the country has achieved this,” he said to the obvious embarrassment of Mr. Modi and the BJP president. The meet closed with veteran Lal Krishna Advani asking for a reality check, especially on corruption: “We forgot that the people judge the commitment of any political party to fight corruption not by its pronouncements but by its practice and, when the need arises, by its punitive actions.” Clearly, while attacking the Congress on corruption, the BJP had forgotten why Nitin Gadkari had to resign and why its Karnataka government is teetering on the brink. The all-out projection of Mr. Modi suggests the BJP is preparing for an eventuality where some of its partners might desert it. But while that will undoubtedly electrify the rank and file, the party would do well to remember that parliamentary elections are settled by the sum of smaller contests rather than by a single gladiatorial joust, no matter how strong its chosen hero may be.