New Delhi: Narendra Modi’s resounding win in the Gujarat state elections brings back into focus long overdue decisions that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) needs to make on various internal issues. The indecision has been preventing it from becoming a more viable alternative to the Congress party.
Political analysts said the result of the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections will have an immediate bearing on the future of party president Nitin Gadkari, who is facing charges of impropriety, and stiff opposition within the party over his re-election as party president.
For the last two months, the BJP has been firefighting to quell the rising clamour against Gadkari and had decided to suspend the issue until the results of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections were out.
“With the rise in the stature of Modi with today’s win, the issue of party president will again get momentum. It is likely to open a Pandora’s box within the party, which is already divided between two-three factions. In the past, Modi had openly defied Gadkari and now he would like his close aide Arun Jaitley to become party president,” political analyst Jai Mrug said.
The BJP’s claim to be a credible alternative to the ruling Congress party, which has faced several corruption scandals in its second term at the head of the United Progressive Alliance government, has taken a hit with Gadkari continuing to be the party president. Many party leaders such as former cabinet minister Yashwant Sinha, Ram Jethmalani and Shatrughan Sinha had openly revolted against Gadkari. Elections for party president, which were due in December, are now likely to be held next month.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, political analyst, said Modi’s win will certainly put pressure on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a progenitor of the BJP. Gadkari is said to be close to the RSS and has been appointed as party president at the latter’s instance.
“Since Modi has won in Gujarat without much support from the RSS, it would now be difficult for the Sangh to defend Gadkari and project him again as the party president. Also, it would be difficult for the RSS to ignore Modi’s rising popularity among the rank and file of the organization,” he said.
Modi’s relations with the RSS soured over his conflict with bete noire Sanjay Joshi, differences with former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, who floated his own party to fight the Gujarat elections, and Gadkari. Not only he is feared within his own party, Modi faces alienation from the BJP allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. His image might hamper his chances of becoming the prime minister.
Mehta, however, said that this may not be such an obstacle in the future. “With the Gujarat win, Modi has cemented his position in the party. Modi has emerged as a prime ministerial candidate who can get votes for the BJP,” he said.
Modi ally and leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, sought to draw a line between what happened in 2002 and his latest victory.
“Gujarat had a very unfortunate situation in social tensions in the riots in 2002. Now the agenda of politics of Gujarat has grown, Narendra Modi has grown,” Jaitley told NDTV. “He has tried his best to get out of that agenda and take Gujarat to a very positive agenda. And this election, if you see, is a result of that positive agenda.” Jaitely, however, refused to answer whether Modi will lead the party in the 2014 general elections.
Political analysts say that before moving to New Delhi as a prime ministerial candidate, Modi will work on a three-pronged strategy. He will try to improve his relations with the RSS, checkmate his opponents within the party and try to project himself as a national brand. Toward this end, he also appeared to make peace with Keshubhai Patel, visiting him after the counting had established him well in the lead. Patel’s party won only two seats.
Modi has become a formidable force, said political analyst Bhaskara Rao. “Now the industry bodies will lobby for Modi and it would be a challenge for the three (BJP) leaders, including the two leaders of the opposition (Sushma Swaraj and Jaitley) and the party president (Gadkari). It would be interesting to see what role is played by former party president Venkaiah Naidu, who at present is acting as mediator among these party leaders,” Rao said.
Mehta says Modi will be difficult to ignore. “Sushma (Swaraj) and others are not much of an opposition to Modi because they know that it is chief ministers like Modi or Shivraj Chauhan (in Madhya Pradesh) or former chief minister Vasundhara Raje (in Rajasthan) who can bring votes to the BJP,” Mehta said. “And among chief ministers, Modi has emerged as the strongest prime ministerial candidate. Leaders like Jaitley have to jump on the bandwagon.”
Political analysts say the real challenge for the party will be when states such as Delhi and Rajasthan go to the polls next year.