Now that Rajnath Singh is set to become BJP president, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s Delhi plans may face a new obstacle. An outward show of geniality is likely, but the Rajnath-Modi relationship has a history of rancour. Rajnath, as party chief in 2006-09, had thrown Modi out of the BJP’s parliamentary board. By now the RSS ambivalence on Modi is strong—and Rajnath is a Sangh choice. So Modi may not necessarily find an eager cheerleader in him.
The real inhibiting factor, of course, will be the RSS, which believes it was pushed to a corner during the party president’s election. It was forced to select by elimination. Now, RSS stalwarts are likely to vet and veto appointments to all BJP positions. “In recent times, we have taken a different approach: we don’t tell the BJP what needs to be done, we tell them what should not be done,” says a senior Sangh functionary. So even if a reluctant consensus emerges in the party about Modi as prime ministerial candidate, the Sangh could try to scuttle it. Rajnath, as party chief, will be the one talking to the allies—and can cite their opposition. A strong scenario is that Modi could be offered the ambiguous post of election committee chief, with the decision on his entering the prime ministerial race reserved till after the elections. Modi is unlikely to accept this and could stay out. Besides, Rajnath himself can be a prime ministerial candidate—as can be a few others.