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BJP: The party with differences

Last updated on: June 10, 2013 13:54 IST

BJP: The party with differences

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Narendra Modi takes centre stage, but not a PM candidate yet, says Business Standard.

The Bharatiya Janata Party's president, Rajnath Singh, closed its controversy-ridden Goa conclave on Sunday by declaring that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi would be the head of the party's campaign committee for the 2014 elections.

This puts Modi firmly on the national stage, giving him the chance to select candidates and influence his party's election platform in the forthcoming general election against a Congress that is demoralised and in disarray following nine increasingly problematic years in power.

But this does not make him the undisputed prime ministerial candidate for the BJP. That will depend on the outcome of the general election, the number of seats the BJP gets and, more importantly, what the party's allies have to say about Modi.

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Image: BJP president Rajnath Singh with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and senior leader L K Advani
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters

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Modi's crucial journey begins

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Note that Modi's elevation was accompanied by open dissent, with many senior leaders choosing to stay away from the Goa conclave by pleading illness -- which one of them, Yashwant Sinha, called "Namonia", after Mr Modi's nickname of "NaMo".

In the years leading up to its successes in 1998 and 1999, the BJP was united, immune to the factionalism of the Congress, believed to be honest, and sold itself as "the party with a difference". Many have pointed out that, today, the party with a difference looks more like the party with differences.

Indeed, those differences have been aired quite openly and brazenly. Its former president and prime ministerial candidate, Lal Krishna Advani, led the list of those who chose to stay away from Goa; he has made no secret of his belief that Modi is not the right candidate.

The popularity of Modi with his party's rank and file, as someone who can win the next general election, was demonstrated when the hero of the Rath Yatra discovered that some of his own party members had gathered in front of his house to heckle him for his opposition to Modi.

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Image: Supporters of Narendra Modi celebrate in Ahmedabad after the Gujarat CM, was appointed BJP's campaign committee chief for upcoming LS polls.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters

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Modi's opponents are in retreat, not vanquished

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That the Goa meeting, and the entire BJP narrative, should have been taken up with this power struggle is unfortunate for the party; it has lost an opportunity to showcase the performance of its many successful chief ministers, which would have helped it make a more convincing claim to form the next government.

Instead, voters have been treated to an unseemly leadership battle in full public view, something that could and should have been internally resolved, or at least with greater decorum and transparency.

Modi, therefore, will have to continue to tread carefully. His opponents in the party are in retreat, not vanquished. They may maintain silence now, but that does not mean their opposition will melt away -- especially if the party's performance in the election is not good.

It is possible that the BJP will deliberately try to remain ambiguous about Modi's position, pushing him forward as the party's face to enthuse its base while maintaining deniability about actually choosing such a divisive figure to its allies and to undecided voters.

This strategy may or may not work. But Modi will have his work cut out in the next few months; before he could be accepted as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, he has to ensure that the party does well in the next general election.


Image: Senior BJP leaders and chief ministers at the Goa national executive meeting.
Photographs: Courtesy: Narendra Modi's website
Tags: BJP , Modi

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