Can Modi gate-crash into Lutyens' Delhi?

Since Narendra Modi is not known for his modesty, his disavowal of any interest in the prime minister's post has been seen as a show of annoyance or umbrage over what must appear to him to be an unconscionable delay by his party to nominate him. It has also been interpreted as a pressure tactic for expediting the process.

When he was elevated to the post of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) campaign chief, he probably thought that it was only a question of time before his selection for the coveted post was announced. For him, the possibility was all the greater because the Rashtriya Swayamsevek Sangh (RSS), the BJP's ideological guide, was backing him.

But, to his surprise, a tiny group in the BJP which is against him has held firm. Its resilience presumably comes from the fact that it is headed by L.K. Advani, the hero of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement of the 1990s - and an anti-hero today in the eyes of the pro-Modi netizens - and Sushma Swaraj, leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha.

Till now, their resistance had remained behind the scenes. But, now, Sushma Swaraj is believed to have told an RSS emissary that naming Modi at present will undermine her position in parliament.

To strengthen the case of Modi's detractors in the BJP, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, too, has expressed his preference for delaying the announcement till after the assembly elections in the state lest the Gujarat chief minister's anti-minority image scares away the Muslim voters from the BJP.

It is obvious that to Modi, all these roadblocks amount to a vote of no-confidence in him. As a result, he must be becoming increasingly aware that by the time his coronation takes place - if at all - he will cut something of a sorry figure since the reason for the delay will not only be known, but any negative outcome for the BJP in the polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi will be attributed to him, especially by Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Co.

It is apparently to avoid such an embarrassment that Modi has said that he is not dreaming of becoming prime minister and that he will like to "serve" Gujarat till 2017.

The reason why the BJP finds itself in such a curious situation where the poster-boy of a section of the party is persona nongrata to another is that the organization has been bereft of a credible leader ever since Atal Bihari Vajpayee's retirement from public life.

As a matter of fact, Vajpayee himself was an exception for the party rather than the rule because of his across-the-board acceptability which led to him being described as the "right man in the wrong party". Since then, there has been no other BJP leader who has a pan-Indian appeal. Instead, all of them carry the baggage of being Hindu leaders with a sectional focus.

Advani, the perpetual No.2 after Vajpayee, tried to don the non-sectarian mantle a la the undisputed No.1. But his role as the fiery 'rath yatri' (chariot-rider) of the 1990s, bent on removing the "ocular provocation" of the Babri Masjid, was a hindrance.

The BJP's mistake was that after the failure of Advani as a prime ministerial candidate in 2009, it chose the most controversial of its four chief ministers to be the front-runner for the post. Admittedly, none of the others - Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Chhattisgarh's Raman Singh and Goa's Manohar Parrikar - has the in-your-face, dominant behavioral traits of Modi that appeals to a section of the party and the RSS.

But, what is not realized is that a low-profile can be an advantage in a democracy unlike an abrasive personality like Modi, who was called a "modern-day Nero" by the Supreme Court for his role during the 2002 riots in Gujarat. In choosing him, the BJP was clearly pushed by the RSS, which acted through its nominee in the party president's post, the unprepossessing Rajnath Singh, who was once described as a "provincial" by BJP M.P., Jaswant Singh.

If the RSS prefers provincials - Nitin Gadkari was another - instead of the BJP's so-called Delhi-based leaders, the reason is that the former are relatively simple souls, without the urban polish of Advani and others. Modi, too, is an outsider in this respect, not least because he lacks fluency in English, the language of cosmopolitan India.

This is the reason why his supporters want him to gate-crash into Lutyens' Delhi, an exclusive club according to them, which is characterized by the bonhomie among politicians across the ideological spectrum barring the extreme Right (RSS) and the extreme Left (Maoists).

It is possible that Modi has sensed that it will not be so easy for him to gain entry into the gated enclosure and that it is better for him, therefore, to remain confined to Gujarat, where he is the lord of all he surveys.

(07-09-2013-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at amulyaganguli@gmail.com)

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