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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 13, March 22, 2014

Election Scene : Advantage Modi, but...

Sunday 23 March 2014, by SC


As we go to press, news has come that several important personalities from other parties have been making a beeline for the BJP.

The Congress has been worst hit by such defections, a phenomenon not unusual before any general election. However, it would be foolhardy to overlook the problems the BJP itself is facing.

First, party veterans like Murli Manohar Joshi and Lalji Tandon had refused to vacate their seats in UP (Varanasi and Lucknow) for Narendra Modi and Rajnath Singh respectively; eventually both were made to relent—Joshi shifting to Kanpur and Tandon retiring from the electoral arena.

Secondly, disgruntled ticket-seekers and their supporters went on a rampage in UP burning effigies of not just Rajnath but Modi as well. And in Ghaziabad (UP), Chandigarh (Punjab) and Patna Sahib (Bihar) party candidates General V.K. Singh, Kiron Kher and Shatrughan Sinha had to face the wrath of party workers unhappy over the choice of nominees.

Finally, party partriarch L.K. Advani expressed his desire to contest from Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh) instead of Gandhinagar (Gujarat), a seat he has represented in Parliament since 1991, in a bid to demonstrate his independence of Modi (and also fearing that the party cadres there would not wholeheartedly work for his victory). The BJP stalwarts, however, argued with him that his switchover from Gandhinagar to Bhopal would transmit a “wrong” message of trust-deficit between him and Modi, something that would be exploited to the hilt by the BJP’s political opponents, and the Congress in particular. But when Advani did not give in it was conveyed to him that he would have to accept Gandhinagar for Bhopal was not an option; nonetheless, under RSS chief Bhagwat’s guidance, the party’s central leadership sugarcoated the bitter pill with Rajnath publicly telling the media that Advani would enjoy the privilege of selecting his own constituency from where to contest (which was actually not the case). The issue has been temporarily resolved and Advani has ‘chosen’ to fight from Gandhinagar. But this episode has revealed the prevailing gulf between the party dissidents and the Modi followers that could widen in the days ahead.

Meanwhile Rahul Gandhi’s latest attacks on Modi for the 2002 riots in Gujarat are not without merit and having quite an effect on sections of the public.

The opinion polls notwithstanding, it is premature to believe that Modi and the BJP are having a cakewalk. Far from it. The field is wide open today, somewhat akin to the situation before the 2004 (and also 2009) Lok Sabha elections. Even if there is an advantage for Modi, the BJP and NDA’s ride to power under Modi’s stewardship is not yet certain and last-minute glitches can frustrate the grand design. [The persisting public support for the Aam Aadmi Party can play a crucial role on this score at least in several areas.] And nobody knows that better than the RSS leadership crafting the BJP’s electoral strategy behind the scenes.

March 21 S.C.