In the last decade, ‘leadership factor’ has become decisive and winning elections is becoming increasingly difficult for political parties without projecting a popular leader as chief minister or prime minister. This factor would be much more pronounced now as people’s trust in all political parties has sunk to an all time low in the wake of recent anti-corruption campaigns. Against this background, the ongoing debate about who should be the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the next Lok Sabha polls has acquired much significance.
Narendra Modi is the Choice
In this context, no one fits the bill better than Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. He is hugely successful as chief minister, popular among the masses and BJP cadres and is the only BJP leader with a pan-Indian appeal from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.
Nationwide, Narendra Modi is perceived to be a development icon, a role model for strong leadership and a symbol of efficient and honest governance – virtues that are extremely rare in Indian politics today. For the same reasons, Narendra Modi has been rated as the best chief minister in the country by India Today’s “Mood of the Nation” surveys year after year.
If people of every state want to have a chief minister like him in their states, it is natural to expect that they would support him as the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP cutting across party lines. He has the ability to increase the BJP’s support base much like Atal Behari Vajpayee did earlier. This assessment is based on the findings of a nationwide poll undertaken in June this year by LensOnNews in 14 crucial states across 40 parliamentary constituencies. http://bit.ly/iIPZAy
Two of the questions asked in the poll were: First, which party would you vote for if Lok Sabha elections are held now? And second, which party would you vote for if Narendra Modi is the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate?
The results are revealing. With Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, the poll showed that the BJP would gain nationally an additional 5.4 percentage points in votes and an additional 65 seats. The BJP’s campaign would get a huge thrust with Narendra Modi’s projection as the prime minister.
With such strong credentials and support, Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial candidature should have been a settled issue. But there are many myths in circulation about imaginary risks in projecting Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. Let me explain why I consider them to be myths.
Myth 1: “Muslims would vehemently vote against the BJP”
It is the most aggressively circulated myth that Muslims will turn against the BJP if Narendra Modi is the PM candidate. Let me ask a counter question: when did the Muslims not vote vehemently against the BJP in national elections? Did the Muslims not vote tactically and vehemently against the BJP in 1996, 1998 and 1999 when a moderate Atal Behari Vajpayee was projected as prime minister? Of course, they did. The BJP had emerged as the single largest party in all these elections and grew from strength to strength despite stiff resistance from the Muslims.
The BJP attracted allies in 1998 and 1999 despite the Muslim community’s fears and opposition to its ascension to power at the Centre. The allies needed the BJP because it had a popular leader in Vajpayee who could sway masses.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had once told a media acquaintance in a personal conversation, ”Who wants the BJP to get the Muslim votes for us? We want the BJP to win Hindu votes for us.” That is the overriding sentiment among most potential allies of the BJP for whom electoral success is all that matters.
Narendra Modi isn’t even relying on such calculations. He began a process of reaching out to Muslims more than a year ago. Last year, he had got 120 corporators from the Muslim community elected in municipal bodies on BJP ticket. Tell me one other state that has as many elected Muslim representatives from the BJP.
Further, with his Sadbhavana Mission Narendra Modi has begun to build bridges with the Muslim community, albeit without any appeasement. Congress party is already unnerved about Narendra Modi’s efforts and is organizing a statewide minority campaign (See Indian Express Report http://bit.ly/oityTJ). If his efforts pay off, he may be the only BJP leader ever in its history to attract Muslim votes in large numbers first in Gujarat and later, possibly outside Gujarat.
Myth 2: “NDA cannot attract new allies”
The three days of Narendra Modi’s fast have debunked this theory squarely. A number of potential entrants into the NDA like the AIADMK, Raj Thackeray’s MNS, RPI (Athawale) et al. had arrived at the fast venue to express solidarity with the fasting chief minister. It was much more than a subtle hint that they would join the NDA bandwagon with Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.
Nobody does anybody a favour in politics. If parties are willing to join the NDA with Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, it is for their own political success. In Narendra Modi, they see a strong national leader who has a tremendous nationwide appeal.
The cardinal principle in alliance building: allies would like to deal with a leader who has stature, nationwide appeal, a strong political base, authority and ability to strike deals. Narendra Modi has all these and thus has a compelling attraction for potential allies to join the NDA.
Once he is declared the prime ministerial candidate by the BJP and vested with the authority to strike alliances, Narendra Modi will be able to get a number of other parties to sign up with the NDA. The most likely allies would include the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Chautala-led INLD, Ajit Singh-led RLD, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) etc. Alliances with regional parties like Telugu Desam Party, YSR Congress and Trinamul Congress also cannot be ruled out. If not before elections, after elections, they would happily join a Narendra Modi led government.
Myth 3: “Narendra Modi is not acceptable to present NDA allies”
The BJP has only three NDA allies at present: Shiv Sena, Shiromani Akali Dal and Janata Dal (United). Shiv Sena and Akali Dal have cordial relations with Narendra Modi and that was established at the fast venue.
The JD (U)’s opposition to Narendra Modi is overstated. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is a shrewd politician and has strong political instincts. Nitish Kumar continued as the Railways minister in the Vajpayee government in 2002 when the communal riots followed and had not protested against Gujarat developments then.
In my assessment, JD (U) would go along with the choice of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, notwithstanding its grandstanding over the issue. It needs the BJP as much as the BJP needs the JD (U). This is amply illustrated by the combined vote share of just 39% (JD-U 22.6% plus BJP 16.5%) in last year’s Bihar assembly polls when the JD (U)-BJP alliance rode to power with a landslide majority. With such a shaky vote base, can the JD (U) afford to break out on its own? Will it join the discredited Congress-led UPA to enhance its electoral viability?
Janata Dal (United) has been a trusted ally of the BJP and has immensely profited from this association. It will make a rational decision, which is to continue in the alliance and back Narendra Modi’s candidature rather than commit political hara-kiri.
Prime Ministerial Candidate Essential
The BJP’s official position of not declaring a prime ministerial candidate is sure to be revisited as the elections draw closer. Narendra Modi as a PM candidate is acceptable to all BJP leaders if the attendance and speeches at the Sadbhavana fast are any indication. It left nobody in doubt that Narendra Modi is not in any race of any kind but is in a different leadership league altogether.
Narendra Modi has the personal charisma and capacity to channelise the public anger against the Congress-led UPA government and bring the BJP to power at the Centre. Much like Barack Obama who won 2008 U.S. presidential elections on the slogan “Change we can believe in,” Narendra Modi is adept at fueling youth aspirations to build an electoral wave in the BJP’s favour in next elections. And Narendra Modi should be much more successful as, unlike Obama, Modi has a decade of sterling governance record in Gujarat. Modi’s won’t be empty rhetoric but a promise based on proven performance.
Narendra Modi’s promise of a “New India” is not a dream that needs to be told by the BJP. It is a dream already sold by Narendra Modi. The only moot question is not whether Narendra Modi should be the BJP’s prime ministeral candidate but the timing of its announcement.