The elevation of Modi to the body marks a “homecoming” of sorts. Modi had earlier served on the panel, but had been dropped under pressure from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the mothership to whom the BJP remains fused. The supreme irony of today’s ‘promotion’ for Modi is that it will be BJP president Rajnath Singh – who eased Modi out on that earlier occasion – who will be reinducting him.
It says something about the distance that Modi has travelled on the road to political acceptability in recent years, from being dropped owing to Sangh displeasure to being welcomed back on his terms and acknowledged as a mass leader of the party whose centrality in reviving the BJP’s political fortunes cannot be ignored.
Yet, Modi’s elevation has also triggered stirrings of discomfort within the BJP, particularly from other regional leaders and Chief Ministers who appear to believe that their claims to national leadership within the party are being steamrolled by the Modi juggernaut.
Most notably, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister and BJP leader Shivraj Singh Chauhan too evidently yearns for a seat at the high table of the BJP’s decision-making body, and his case is being advanced most visibly by party patriarch LK Advani.
But it appears from all accounts that Chauhan will not be taken on board today. For one thing, the parliamentary board has only one empty seat – that arises from the death of senior leader Bal Apte last year.
Additionally, the BJP also believes that political optics demands that Modi’s elevation within the party leaders’ pantheon be seen as a singular achievement, and that elevating Chauhan simultaneously will dilute that message somewhat.
The BJP’s efforts to project Modi as its candidate for prime ministership are manifesting themselves in carefully calibrated steps that will seek to harness his mass appeal without giving away its strategy too early in the game. As this report notes, the BJP’s dilemma is that announcing Modi’s name far in advance of the next elections may cause the National Democratic Alliance to unravel. “Nitish Kumar will leave. The Shiv Sena doesn’t want Modi. The Muslims will consolidate fully behind the strategy,” the report quotes a BJP source as saying. “It helps us as a strategy to keep his name afloat because every attack on him from the Congress and the secularists strengthens his position.”
On the other hand, the source argues, projecting Modi as a candidaate for prime ministership may deprive him of this advantage. “He is not a fool,” the source said of Modi. “He realises the merits and demerits of the issue; he knows why sections of the media are demanding to know whether he will be a PM or not.”
Alongside his own elevation, Modi may also succeed in having his way with the imminent appointment of his lieutenant Amit Shah as party general secretary. Shah was Minister of State for Home during the time of the 2002 riots, and is even today an accused in two cases of killings in fake encounters. But he claims that the charges against him are trumped up by the CBI.
Yet, for all the taint that he carries, Shah is considered Modi’s political ‘fixer’ – and if he is appointed to the post of general secretary, he will expand Modi’s footprint in Delhi and will keep tabs on political goings-on within the party’s central leadership. And since the Modi juggernaut still has a few residual hurdles to cross within the BJP, Shah’s foot at the door will likely prove beneficial for Modi.