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By the afternoon of December 20, incumbent chief minister Narendra Modi had not just won the popular vote in Gujarat but also managed a knockout in his personal battle within the BJP and RSS. Evidently, a sense of acceptance over Modi’s growing stature and claim over Delhi was beginning to settle in. Till just a day before, senior RSS leaders had expressed reservations about endorsing Modi’s national ambitions. By Thursday afternoon, the same reservation had been replaced by a reluctant acceptance, even resignation. If nothing, Verdict 2012 had only deepened the dharamsankat of the saffron brigade. Modi, with his 115 seats in Gujarat, could no longer be ignored. As also the growing clamour for his candidature as prime minister for 2014.
Reason enough for even senior RSS leaders like Manmohan Vaidya to admit that “no one was ever stopping Modi from coming to Delhi or trying to become PM. Still, the BJP will have to decide on the matter”.
Until now, the RSS leadership had been hoping against hope that Modi would have a less spectacular victory. In fact, on Wednesday, one day before the election results, a senior Sangh leader in Ahmedabad had told Outlook, “He may be the lion of Gujarat. But this lion needs to be put in a cage.” Anything between 100-110 seats would have ensured that, allowing the Sangh could have easily put off the leadership issue in the BJP hanging until 2014 dawned. Now it’ll have to do some quick thinking on how to handle its western front.
Vaidya insists that “2014 is still some distance away. There is still time for that”. The RSS face in the BJP, Murlidhar Rao, added, “Modi cannot leave Gujarat right now. Leadership issues cannot be decided in a vacuum. As of now, Modi is not even an MP. Having said that, there is no doubt that Modi is now top of the ladder in the popularity stakes. He is also a hugely motivating leader for the cadre and both these factors turn him into an advantage for the BJP.”
But it is these very same factors that divides the RSS and the BJP right down the middle. While the top Sangh leaders, including RSS chief Mohanrao Bhagwat, are now in favour of Modi, the opposition comes from second-rung leaders. They say, “Modi in Delhi will do exactly what he did to the VHP and the RSS in Gujarat—push them completely to the margins—and we can’t afford that.” So the tensions are bound to play out, even if not openly.
The divide was the prime reason that despite sending feelers to the Sangh leadership in October, just a month before the state went to the polls, Modi was left out of the high-level meeting in Baroda that included Bhagwat and other top leaders. Realising that Destination Delhi could well be impossible without the Sangh’s support, Modi got to work in building bridges with the RSS chief, resulting in a one-on-one meeting in Nagpur just ahead of the polls.
Even as the Sangh warms up to the idea of Modi, Nagpur is busy sending out a word of caution. A source in the RSS bastion says, “Modi’s candidature will have to wait. The first concern now is the five state assembly elections in 2013. It will also determine if Modi’s magic can work outside of Gujarat or not. Besides, then there is the crucial BJP presidentship issue.”
Highly placed sources confirm the saffron landscape in Delhi is getting ready for a serious change. Party president Nitin Gadkari is unlikely to contest for a second term and an announcement to the effect is likely to come from the man himself in February once the BJP organisational polls are completed in January. Once Gadkari steps down, the party is likely to choose an older BJP leader as party president, someone with no prime ministerial ambitions.
Indeed, for those expecting a 2013 march to Delhi for Modi, the wait might just be a tad longer. As Murlidhar Rao puts it, “The possibility of capturing power is far more important than who does it. The focus will be on taking the mandate in 2014. If Modi can help do that for the BJP, then issues like Modi being authoritarian become small and irrelevant. The most important thing is getting the numbers. For without the numbers, there are no allies, no government and no PM.”