Congress must now bite the bullet or dust
By anointing Narendra Modi as the party's prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the Bharatiya Janata Party has honoured the wishes of the vast legion of its supporters across the country and the party's rank and file who believe that the Gujarat Chief Minister has the potential to drive the BJP to victory. This belief is shared by a large number of the party's senior leaders who say that he is a ‘vote maximiser'. There are no two opinions that Mr Modi is a charismatic leader with a pan-India appeal.
It's not just his persona and his oratorical skills that have brought him to centre-stage, but also his excellent record in governance as Chief Minister. The heartening aspect of his name's announcement is that leaders, who were supposedly opposed to the declaration of his candidature at this stage, were not just present at the party's Parliamentary Board meeting which took the formal decision, but also whole-heartedly endorsed the move. The less heartening aspect is that veteran leader LK Advani refused to attend the meeting and has since expressed dismay over the manner the issue has been handled by party president Rajnath Singh.
It would have been the proverbial icing on the cake had Mr Advani been present to endorse Mr Modi. It cannot be denied at this moment when commentators are writing about the ‘end of the Advani era' that the party patriarch has played a stellar role in building the BJP from scratch. Mr Modi and several other senior leaders owe their political rise to the mentoring that Mr Advani has provided them over the decades. Bearing these realities in mind, the party went to great extents to get him on board, with senior leaders confabulating with him throughout Friday before the formal announcement was made. Regardless of all that has happened, Mr Advani remains the party's tallest and most respected leader, and Mr Modi, more than anyone at this juncture, needs his guidance. That Mr Modi's first stop after the party chose him as its prime ministerial face was Mr Advani's residence where he went to seek the patriarch's blessings, indicates that the Gujarat Chief Minister wants to put past rancour behind and be guided by Mr Advani in advancing the electoral cause of the BJP in the coming months.
If the announcement of Mr Modi's candidature has electrified the party's cadre, it has been enthusiastically welcomed by the BJP's allies such as the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal. Mr Modi's anointment has also opened the doors for fresh political alliances. For instance, Mr BS Yeddyurappa, who broke away from the BJP and formed his own party after he was made to step down as Chief Minister of Karnataka and was not rehabilitated thereafter, is willing to join the National Democratic Alliance.
While the BJP now has a prime ministerial candidate and is poised along with its present and potential allies to launch a blistering campaign against the Congress-led UPA regime, the Congress does not have a face which it can pit against Mr Modi. All these months, the ruling party at the Centre taunted the principal Opposition on the latter's dilemma over the issue of leadership. It's now the Congress's turn to face the heat. The truth is that the party is terrified of a situation where any of its leaders, especially the unsure Mr Rahul Gandhi, has to directly confront a confident Mr Modi in a contest that will turn into a referendum on their leadership skills. The reasons for the Congress's reluctance are obvious and have been deliberated enough. But the party may have to bite the bullet sooner than it wishes to.