Will BJP lose more than gain from Modi's emergence?

New Delhi, July 21 (IANS) Narendra Modi has clearly emerged as the first among equals in the second generation of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, throwing up the possibility of a hard and bitter political fight with the Congress for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Will he succeed in the high stakes contest as the BJP's campaign chief?

The odds appear loaded against the Gujarat chief minister as he battles minority polarisation, Congress aggression and the distancing by other political parties.

Subrata Mukherjee, a former professor of political science at Delhi University, said the BJP's image of a national party had taken a dent after its loss in Karnataka assembly polls and it was a minor force in several big states such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal. He said the party faced stiff challenge to revive its fortunes in Uttar Pradesh.

He said Modi, who sees himself as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, cannot lead a winning coalition even if the BJP emerges as the single largest party as other parties will stay away.

"He (Modi) has tried to build a (campaign) team (for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections) from all factions but I do not think the BJP will propel him to be the prime ministerial candidate. I think the BJP will fight the polls without projecting a prime ministerial candidate," Mukherjee told IANS.

He said Modi "was a divisive figure" and "there was possibility of diminishing returns if BJP overuses him".

The Bharatiya Janata Party had Friday announced its central election campaign panel and placed virtually all its top guns including Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Murli Manohar Joshi, Venkaiah Naidu and Nitin Gadkari under Modi's stewardship. While the declaration helped settle apprehensions of dissent over the functional duties for the Lok Sabha polls, it underlined Modi's growing ascent in the party.

The formation of the campaign committee and 20 sub-committees took place after massive consultations between senior BJP leaders who, in turn, were in touch with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The declaration of the panels signalled BJP's intent to fully plunge in the preparations for the Lok Sabha polls that have to be held by April-May next year.

It also signaled Modi's eagerness to get on with the task of campaign committee chief that was assigned to him at the party's Goa conclave last month.

BJP cadres appear energized by growing role of Modi even as it has led to a sharp attack from the Congress. The BJP has also lost Janatta Dal-United as an ally after Modi's elevation.

Analysts said that Modi had succeeded in having a team with representation of various factions but will face momentous challenges in the task of improving the party's prospects. The assembly polls later this year in four states - Delhi, Chhattisgrah, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan - are likely to have an impact on Modi's image as a vote gainer.

Delhi continues to be the Achilles' heel for the BJP even as it tries to put its act together in the other three states. The party does not have a chief ministerial candidate in the national capital and there is no perceptible anti-incumbency wave in its favour even after three terms of Congress rule.

Rizwan Qaiser of the history department at Jamia Millia Islamia, said that the BJP was looking at Modi as vote-ATM machine but he was essentially a polarizing figure.

"They are looking at Modi as vote-ATM...Ordinary people are far more intelligent than parties. They will give their verdict," Qaiser told IANS.

Rakesh Sinha of Delhi University's political science department said that the BJP had sought to send a "collective leadership" message through its new team.

A senior BJP leader said that demand for sending a clear message of Modi's projection had come from the party cadre. He said the Congress was confused about its line of attack on Modi and has not been able to decide its course for the past several years.

"If they attack him, they end up providing him centre stage. If they don't, they themselves feel uncomfortable about it. Providing him centre stage is giving advantage to Modi," the BJP leader said, requesting anonymity.

BJP sources said that a reason for projection of Modi was party's desire to make the Lok Sabha polls a presidential style contest between him and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi.

The Congress has attacked Modi over his various comments since his elevation as BJP's campaign committee chief and has made several references to the 2002 Gujarat riots which occurred while he was the chief minister.

Party MP Raj Babbar took a dig at BJP leaders and Modi over the party's national campaign team.

"They are going to report to whom? That person (needs) to be watched. What is his background. It is very clear. His electoral politics stood on the 2002 Gujarat Model. He is also bringing 1992 Ayodhya model also," Raj Babbar told IANS.

While the BSP has suspended one of its leaders for defending Modi's controversial "puppy" remarks during an interview, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has said that her party will never support Modi.

(Prashant Sood can be contacted at prashant.s@ians.in)

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