New Delhi: Though the higher echelons of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are yet to endorse the candidacy of Narendra Modi to head its campaign in the next general election, some leaders are lining up behind the Gujarat chief minister in a move that may lead to a face-off.
Given the strident opposition to Modi among some groups and especially among possible allies, another BJP leader, say, party president Rajnath Singh, could emerge as a “consensus” candidate, political analysts said.
A day after senior BJP leader and former Union minister Yashwant Sinha backed Modi as the party’s prime ministerial candidate, another former minister Ram Jethmalani said on Tuesday that the Gujarat chief minister is the “best” choice for the post and “100% secular”.
“According to me, Narendra bhai is the most (popular) and the best Prime Minister for this country. Nothing has happened to change my mind...Modi, in my definition, of secularism is 100% secular,” Jethmalani told reporters in the national capital.
However, Rajnath Singh, who took over as BJP chief last week, has maintained that while no one can deny Modi’s popularity, a final decision will be taken by the party’s parliamentary board.
Narendra Modi, who spearheaded the BJP’s record third successive win in the just concluded Gujarat assembly election, has been tipped as the main opposition party’s prime ministerial candidate citing the state’s governance and investment-friendly atmosphere. However, key BJP allies, including the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), have signalled their displeasure over his candidacy for his alleged failure in containing the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat.
A debate over the leadership is justified as elections are just a year away, said G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, a psephologist who has been working closely with the BJP.
“For a national party like the BJP, a year is not enough to prepare for the election. Secondly, now that the Congress already announced that Rahul Gandhi would be the face of the (ruling) party, the BJP (has been) forced to declare its leader,” Rao said. “Thirdly, the candidates who are fighting the Lok Sabha elections are confident that Modi’s leadership would brighten their prospects.”
The Congress party appointed Rahul Gandhi as vice-president, giving a clear indication that he would lead the party in the next general election, which is due in 2014. The Congress and the BJP are locked in a direct contest in all key states including Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, which go to the polls before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The hype over Modi could also be an outcome of the intensifying infighting among the BJP’s top leaders.
“Earlier, they (the BJP) were invoking the Ramayana for the Ram temple but now the Mahabharata has started in the BJP. It is not a good sign for the BJP as a political party because their differences are coming to the fore, specially those surrounding personalities,” said Achyut Yagnik, a political analyst and author based in Ahmedabad.
To be sure, the Shiv Sena, another ally, has already come up with an alternative suggestion.
“We feel Sushma Swaraj (leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha) is the suitable candidate for the PM’s post,” Sanjay Raut, member of parliament (MP) and Sena spokesman, told reporters in Mumbai. The late Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had also pitched for Swaraj as the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA’s) prime ministerial candidate, he claimed.
Political observers also pointed out that apart from Swaraj and Modi, former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani and Rajnath Singh are also in the fray for the top post.
“They are divided in camps and around different personalities. Earlier, they were thinking about Advani, then there was an increasing discussion on (Arun) Jaitley and Sushma (Swaraj) for the prime ministerial candidature. But now the momentum is more about Modi and even Rajnath Singh,” said Yagnik, adding that the hype would go against the main opposition party.
Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst, agreed.
“Rajnath Singh has been consistently saying that the party will decide its prime ministerial candidate, which means the game is still open,” he said.
“The leaders like Rajnath Singh will dig in their heels, try and emerge as the consensus candidate.”
PTI contributed to this story.