There are two fundamental questions that I want to discuss through this post. Firstly, whether Modi should get an opportunity to become the Prime Minister? Secondly, whether Modi would get an opportunity to become the Prime Minister, given the political dynamics within and the BJP and the situation of potential allies?
Let us first dwell into whether Modi should become the Prime Minister or not? I think he is clearly not an ideal candidate for being our Prime Minister, but given the current drought of genuine leaders at the national level, he is the country’s best bet at the moment.
The view point that he is not an ideal candidate comes from three factors that go against him. Firstly, he is a polarizing figure (I am not referring to his secular credentials here). People have strong point of views, either for him or against him. You will find millions of people who swear by him (such people are increasing by the day!) and millions more who hate him. He lacks the cross cutting appeal that a Nehru or a Vajpayee enjoyed in their times. This puts a question mark on his ability to take the nation along, something he will need to do if he becomes the Prime Minister. Secondly, his style of functioning is not best suited for a country like ours. He is more of a benevolent dictator that a democrat. His style might have worked well in a largely homogenous state like Gujarat, but is unlikely to suit a diverse country like India. Specially in an era of coalition politics you need an inclusive figure like Vajpayee to head a Government, as opposed to a strong headed person like Modi who is unlikely to accommodate contrary view points. Another associated issue is his likely contempt for constitutional bodies which has also been one of the biggest fallacies (along with several others) of the current UPA Government and does not auger well for the country in the long run. Well, some will argue that Modi might adapt his working style. This certainly can not be ruled out but sounds improbable given his enormous success with the same style over the last 10 years. Thirdly and lastly, his inability to follow the rajdharma in 2002 has a certain repercussion. We can safely assume that he will NOT discriminate against the Muslims if he becomes the Prime Minister, but the very fact that he is allowed to lead the country has a potential of alienating the Indian Muslims – “how could someone who allowed us to be killed become the Prime Minister of our country?” This fear of alienation can be completely unfounded but only history will be able to tell if it were so?
Now coming to the point, why in spite of the above 3 factors he is our best bet at the moment. Most importantly, he brings with him virtues which the country so desperately needs at this stage – strong and decisive leadership, focus on genuine development (not just sops), clean governance and an ability to inspire optimism. I would not dwell into the details of why each of these virtues have become so important today and why Modi fits the bill perfectly on each of them. The record of the UPA and the state of the nation makes the answer amply clear. The second and rather disappointing reason that makes him our best bet is the absence of any other leader at the national level who cuts it for the Prime Minister’s role – L. K. Advani is past his peak (and better suited to be the President rather than the Prime Minister), Arun Jaitley is an armchair politician who lacks connect with the common man, and Rajnath Singh remains a light weight despite being BJP’s president twice. Sushma Swaraj, the only other genuine contender with a mass appeal has proved to be a cynic and obstructionist in her biggest responsibility – Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha. She has taken a cynical stance on several policy issues (which the BJP had traditionally supported) just for the sake of opposing the Government. In spite of being a good orator she has preferred obstruction over debate. The mobilization against the UPA that could have been best done by incisive arguments inside the Parliament and public mobilization outside of it, has been left to news reports of Parliament obstruction and press conferences by opposition leaders. The shoes of vintage Vajpayee (the best Leader of Opposition our country has known) have been clearly too large for her to fill. On the other side if you look at the Congress, their offering for the Prime Minister’s role – Rahul Gandhi – is immature and incapable to say the least. Even after 10 years of trying to polish himself and enjoying undying loyalty of Congressmen, he has done not anything worth a mention. This dearth of leadership at the national level, makes Modi the best person to lead the country at this stage.
Let us now dwell into whether Modi would get an opportunity to become the Prime Minister or not? This is a more analytical question and has no clear answers. However, let me try to predict how things will unfold based on an analysis of the prevailing political situation in the country.
To begin with, let us look at potential allies of the BJP in 2014. By any stretch of imagination this list can not go beyond the AIADMK (Tamil Nadu), KJP, JD (S) (Karnataka), TRS, YSR Congress (Andhra Pradesh), Shiv Sena, MNS (Maharashtra), BJD (Orissa), AGM (Assam), TMC (West Bengal), JD (U) (Bihar), RLD, BSP (Uttar Pradesh), INLD (Haryana), SAD (Punjab), and the NC (Jammu & Kashmir). States in which BJP’s presence is insignificant, making it difficult for it to contribute to the tally of an ally, parties are unlikely to join the NDA before the elections. This rules out the AIADMK, TRS, YSR Congress, AGP, TMC and the NC as pre-poll allies. In addition, BSP would want to contest is the whole of UP and RLD in the whole of western UP, ruling both of them out from the potential pre-poll ally list. Amongst the remaining parties – KJP, JD (S), Shiv Sena, MNS, BJD, JD (U), INLD, SAD – only the BJD (if it considers allying with the BJP at all) and the JD (U) are likely to get affected by Modi being projected as the Prime Ministerial candidate since both of them have a material Muslim support base. To all others – KJP, JD (S), Shiv Sena, MNS, INLD, SAD – the Modi factor is either positive or neutral. Since the BJD and the JD (U) together can contribute around 20-25 MPs to the Lok Sabha, BJP is unlikely to strain relationship with either of them before the elections on the Modi issue. Coming to the post poll scenario, amongst the entire list of potential allies, it is only the JD (U) that might have an issue with Modi. The BJD also would have already contested the state elections (along with the General Elections) by then. A closer look at JD (U)’s (in particular Nitish’s) position will tell us that it will not be able to retain power in Bihar if it goes to the extent of breaking ties with the BJP. But the fact that Nitish has so openly come out against Modi, might make it difficult from him to retract thereby putting him in an extremely uncomfortable situation if indeed a call has to be taken after the elections on the Modi issue.
Now let me get to the predictions. Firstly, I believe that the NDA is unlikely to project a Prime Ministerial candidate before the 2014 General Elections. The prime reason for this would be internal politics of the BJP where leaders are unwilling to accept Modi as the first amongst equals and have political ambitions of their own (which they feel may get realized depending on the scenario the election results present). The second reason would be lack of consensus on Modi’s name amongst pre-poll NDA allies (as discussed in the previous paragraph). The alibi the BJP is likely to take in not announcing a Prime Ministerial candidate is “the UPA has also not announced one” (which is most likely to happen). So in all likelihood BJP (and NDA) will contest the 2014 elections without declaring a Prime Ministerial candidate under a collective leadership of L. K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Narendra Modi. This will be sub-optimal because of 2 reasons – the electorate will be confused whether Modi will actually become Prime Minister if they vote for the BJP, leading to some swing voters playing safe and not voting for the BJP; and the election campaign not being a cohesive exercise with the leaders working on their own strategies. What is Modi likely to do is such a scenario? In addition to Gujarat, he is likely to focus on the crucial state of UP which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha. He will do so with the support of his confidante Amit Shah (BJP General Secretary, in-charge of UP) and Rajnath Singh, whom he seems to have taken into confidence on this game-plan. They may face some resistance from local leaders like Vinay Katiyar and Uma Bharti but these leaders are also expected to toe the line once they see the writing on the wall.
Let us come to the post poll scenario. If Modi is able to make a mark in UP (25+ seats) and BJP is able to touch 190 on its own, then Modi will become the Prime Minister with the support of Shiv Sena, SAD, AIADMK, TRS and a bunch of other parties. If BJP lands up below 170, then Modi is unlikely to become the Prime Minister. Either a consensus candidate from within the BJP will lead a bigger and weaker coalition, or the Third Front Government will become a reality once again supported by the historically undependable Congress. If the BJP gets anywhere between 170 and 190, then anything is possible!
This is how in my opinion the future of national politics, with Modi at its center, is poised at the moment.
PS: I have tried to stick my neck out in making the final set of predictions in the last paragraph. They have their own margins of error. However, I am pretty confident that all the other predictions in the earlier paragraphs are likely to hold true.