The Congress will not fall into the BJP’s trap by naming anyone as its prime ministerial candidate, reports Anita Katyal.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s anointment as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate was brushed aside by Congress leaders on Friday evening as the BJP’s internal issue.
The Congress nonchalance is, of course, meant only for public consumption.
Congress leaders had convinced themselves that the BJP’s internal squabbles would prevent it from naming Modi as its prime ministerial candidate.
These leaders were confident that BJP President Rajnath Singh would find it difficult to go ahead with the announcement if party veteran L K Advani was not on board.
The BJP’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, was in no mood to delay the announcement, though it would have preferred Advani to have gone along with the decision.
Senior Congress leaders privately admit they were surprised that the BJP went ahead with Modi’s anointment after Advani remained adamant that the announcement be made after the year-end assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Each time the issue of Modi’s elevation came up for discussion over the past year, Congress leaders would point out that the Gujarat leader would first have to overcome three hurdles before he could be declared a contender.
Naming Advani and his supporters, National Democratic Alliance allies and the RSS as the stumbling blocks, Congress leaders maintained that Modi had a long way to go before being declared The Candidate.
The argument advanced by Congress leaders and some BJP leaders was that while Modi’s image would not only drive away present and potential NDA allies, it would also create a wedge within the BJP’s ranks in view of their reservations about the Gujarat chief minister's imperial style of functioning.
RSS leaders too were unhappy with Modi’s dictatorial attitude and initially reluctant to endorse his candidature. All this is now in the past.
The BJP has no choice but to go ahead with Modi’s coronation. Not only does he enthuse the party's rank and file like no other party leader does, he is also the only BJP leader with mass appeal.
According to the BJP’s internal assessment, regional parties will flock to support the party should it push its Lok Sabha tally in 2014 to between 180 and 200 seats.
Besides energising its cadres, BJP leaders believe the decision to name Modi as its prime ministerial candidate will put pressure on the Congress to do the same.
The BJP’s objective is to convert the 2014 Lok Sabha election into a Modi versus Rahul contest.
While the Congress will need to revise its electoral strategy in the light of Friday’s developments, the party will not fall into the BJP’s trap by naming Rahul Gandhi or anybody else as its prime ministerial candidate.
Congress leaders have underlined that elections in a Parliamentary democracy are fought in each constituency on the basis of a political party’s ideology and programme. It is not about individuals, they maintain.
As demonstrated by Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s recent speeches in Delhi and Rajasthan, the party will keep the focus on its pro-poor measures like the Food Security Bill and the Land Acquisition Bill. It will make a concerted effort not to shift the attention to individuals.
Rahul Gandhi did not name the BJP or Modi in his speeches while pointing out that the Congress will not respond to the abusive and negative campaign launched by its political rivals.
Congress leaders hope the fault lines within the BJP will come into view as elections draw closer. They believe that BJP chief ministers like Shivraj Chouhan and Raman Singh, and senior leaders like Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshi, who are clearly unhappy with Modi’s elevation, will strike back.
Moreover, it is also the Congress’s assessment that the RSS and belligerent BJP cadres will push the party into giving primacy to its hardline Hindutva agenda that can alienate the middle class who are enamoured with Modi’s Gujarat model of development.
Such a development will also ensure the support of the minorities to the Congress, these leaders feel.
Congress insiders maintain that the BJP cannot hope to get a majority on its own as the party is in contention in no more than 300 Lok Sabha seats.
Even if the BJP wins anything between 180 to 200 Lok Sabha seats, the party, Congress leaders argue, will not be able to enlist the support of allies who are put off by Modi’s image.
The Congress, on the other hand, these party leaders argue, will be in a position to win more friends even if it gets less Lok Sabha seats than the BJP.