Modi Engulfs BJP Show
Called to ratify Rajnath Singh’s elevation as party president, the BJP national council meet in a way turned out to be an event to project, though informally, Gujarat Chief Minister as party’s prime ministerial candidate in the next general elections
It could otherwise have been a lazy post-budget Sunday morning. But on March 3, over 3,000 BJP delegates, gathered from all across the country at the Talkatora stadium in New Delhi, had been waiting for the moment for quite some time. They wanted to make their voice heard by their own party leadership. That came at around 11 am when party president Rajnath Singh called “Lokpriya” Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to come on the stage. The next few minutes rent the airs interspersed with clappings, cheers and chantings. The mood was suddenly transformed from being a political conclave to some World Cup match India won after a nail-biting finish.
For a political meet, the mood appeared to be more of a celebration than a preparatory poll strategy. But then large numbers of BJP intermediary-level leaders and workers guided by a new sense of belief, almost bordering on the faith that Narendra Modi has the capacity and charisma to deliver at the national level also in the next general elections after his three consecutive wins in Gujarat. Though it is not yet official, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s three-day national executive and council meeting testifies that Modi has now emerged face of the party, de-facto leader for taking on the Congress in 2014 general polls.
Gone was the talk in the BJP that the party should return to Hindutava and Mandir. It was, at least for the records, was to challenge the Congress on development and governance plank. Even when the BJP president spoke of Hindutava, he spoke more in manner of analysing the Supreme Court observation, calling Hindutava a way of life and then talking of Muslims, Christians and other religious communities. He did not refer to contentious ideological issues, perhaps they did not fit in the prevailing national mood and if one goes by party patriarch LK Advani’s assertions of making NDA into an NDA-plus.
The official purpose of calling the conclave in the midst of Budget session of Parliament was to ratify the election of Rajnath Singh as party president. But then it was coincided with the rising “Modi for PM clamour” among the party ranks and it was only natural that the pressure from the below was in full reflection during the last two days of open session of the conclave.
A seasoned Singh who was earlier been party president for four years, sensed the mood of the delegates and accordingly shaped the proceedings of the conclave. He began his inaugural presidential speech by saying, “It reminds of sense of responsibility because on such occasion, the expectations of karyakartas and people of this country once more makes me aware of the challenges that lay ahead of us.” On the conclusion of proceedings, there was a broad consensus among the old timers in the BJP that it was after a long time that they have seen such enthusiasm among the delegates. The challenge before the leadership would now be to provide right channel to the new found vigour.
Whether it was carefully crafted or an impromptu decision of the party president, but his singular action to take a break while making his presidential speech, asking the delegates to give a standing ovation for Modi. While Singh heaped praise on Modi for creating a history by winning three consecutive terms in Gujarat, saying, “His achievements cannot be lauded in words, no matter how much you clap is enough, so I as party president wish to garland him on behalf of all party workers across the nation.” Singh offering Modi a huge garland and the two hugging each other made the picture of the day. For the ordinary BJP workers, the hug of the two leaders sent some kind of a message that the party’s undeclared prime ministerial candidate and party chief stood united in purpose. For long party workers and middle-level leaders had been tired of hearing of internal bickering. For the moment, they sensed some relief, though it is difficult to suggest at this time how internal factional feuds would reflect on party’s poll preparedness.
Most party leaders in audience took the informal announcement of Modi emerging as party’s new face, settling the vexed issue of leadership. A known Modi supporter and minister in Bihar government, Giriraj Singh immediately lapped on Singh’s gestures.
Though he did not get a chance to get to the podium, he spoke to the waiting mediapersons. “This national council meeting was called to ratify Rajnath Singh’s presidency, it did that. But the way the national president himself felicitated him during his own speech, made several laudatory references of Narendra Modi, the message is loud and clear to us that Modiji will be the party’s PM candidate. I am sure the formal announcement would follow in due course,” he said. Incidentally, Giriraj Singh is one of the outspoken BJP leaders in Bihar, who does not shy away from taking on Nitish versus Modi issue.
If Rajya Sabha MP Prakash Javdekar while presenting economic resolution of the party compared Modi’s developmental figures with Sachin Tendulkar’s runs, the newly-appointed Delhi BJP president Vijay Goel, who played host to the meet, said, “Manmohan Singh may be Prime Minister today, but it is desire of the nation that Narendra Modi should be the next Prime Minister. Even a child would know that. All BJP workers across the nation are working with the singular desire to see Modi unfurl the national flag from Red Fort.”
Besides their own instincts and feelings on the issue, the BJP leaders seemed to be guided by the fact that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has made it clear at Kumbh in favour of Modi by calling him “a friend,” hoping that on leadership issue, the BJP would make due considerations of the overwhelming emotions of party workers and sympathisers.
Also, ahead of the BJP conclave, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley had made a calibrated yet an assertive positioning on Modi. In an interaction with a television channel, Jaitley said: “There’s a growing interest in Mr Modi as the PM candidate. This is due to a groundswell building up among the people. And it’s just not because of a media buzz. When there was a media blitzkrieg against him, he had the strength to survive by addressing audiences over the heads of the media. There are few Indian politicians who have the courage to do that. I think Mr Modi has made a huge mark on the Indian polity.”
Modi kept spirit of rising number of his supporters. And if there were any doubts left in anyone’s mind within and outside the party, it came to rest after his hour-long address at the national council. It was more in form of an acceptance speech of a Prime Ministerial challenger — giving a sense and direction to the party, highlighting Congress’s dynastic follies, giving a mantra to his party cadre to work with the resolve to overthrow the current Manmohan Singh regime in 2014 elections.“BJP works with a mission, Congress works with a commission. This time fight is going to be between the mission and the commission,” said Modi amid the clappings of the party workers. A reference of ‘damad’ (Robert Vadra without naming him) came in this context. True to the occasion, his speech was political, first since he scored a hat-trick in Gujarat, aimed at galvanising the morale of party cadre, who have been working with the hopes and beliefs that they could win next elections against the Congress.
Even as Modi basked in glory, he was humble in front of party’s biggest policy making body. His tone and tenor was reflective of the fact that without saying a word on leadership or Prime Ministerial candidate, he accepted the new role. If “family (Nehru-Gandhi)” was thrust of his target against the Congress and the UPA, he strategically singled out two non-dynastic leaders from the Congress—Lal Bahadur Shastri and Sitaram Kesri for special mention.
He declared that the Congress was a sinking ship because of its self-inflicted wounds of devotion to the family at the cost of nation and party interest. Raising the pitch, he said that the Congress chose a night watchman in the name of Manmohan Singh instead of more capable Pranab Mukherjee. Though he did not take Sonia Gandhi’s name, her national advisory council (NAC) came for a bitter criticism.
To counter his party’s organisational shortcomings in the East and South India against the Congress, Modi warned ‘political pundits’ against such notion and asked his own party leaders and workers not to be misled by ‘such predictions’. The people have decided to get rid of Congress, the issue is how does the party contributes in translating that into reality, Modi added.
His prescription was to instill a new sense of belligerence among the BJP workers against the Congress. “The Congress has forced a mood of pessimism in the country, it has to be replaced with a sense of hope and aspiration. People don’t get a feeling whether or not a government exists at the centre”, Modi said. “It thus presented a challenge before the BJP and it should be call of duty for all workers that the Congress regime must be overthrown.”
If it all ended with a morale boosting dose for the BJP delegates on announcing Modi’s arrival on the national scene, an unseemly controversy was created on Wharton India Economic Forum (WIEF)’s decision to withdraw invitation to Modi, who was to address via video-conferencing. While Modi supporters called it an insult to nation, the Gujarat chief minister found another way to enter American via web. He will now address Indian diaspora in the US via video-conference on March 10. Through the Community Outreach Programme, simultaneously in Chicago and New Jersey, Modi will address thousands of NRIs in the US and Canada from Ahmedabad.
He is sending a simple message, “Never count me out”.
“Mana ki andhera ghana hai par diya jalana kahan mana hai,” Modi concluded his national council speech with this Hindi couplet.
By Deepak Kumar Rath