Even more striking is the fact that senior BJP leaders, too, are telegraphing contrary signals. On Monday, former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha was explicit: If L K Advani was available to lead the party, the debate on the prime ministerial candidate of the party would be over. He was followed by Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who declared that L K Advani was the party's "tallest leader".
It doesn't take a genius to figure out what he really meant. In that light, Delhi party chief Vijay Goel's "slip of the tongue" that the next government would be led by Advani "and nobody else" wasn't that much of a slip. There are a number of other leaders who have not yet spoken, but you can be sure that their silence speaks louder than their words.
The contenders: While some in the BJP say Narendra Modi (right)'s rise is irresistible, others believe veteran L.K. Advani remains the party's 'tallest leader'
RaceGiven the circumstances, it would be redundant to ask whether Barkis is willing. There is nothing in Advani's statements and demeanour to suggest that he is not. And why not? He actually is the party's tallest leader, who has been at its forefront for decades and provided greater service to it than any other leader, including, arguably, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Yes, at 85 he is old, and at an age where every year matters. But he is famously sprightly. And at a certain point in life, it is the genes that become the autopilot and so far they seem to be flying fit.
Modi's predicament should not surprise. He has two powerful things going for him: he is seen by the cadre as an exemplar of Hindutva politics, and second, he has a successful record as the chief minister of Gujarat. Maybe there has been some hype about his resume, but few can doubt that he has the leadership traits which appear to be deficient in the UPA - decisiveness and ambition.
Uncompromising: Critics like to paint Modi as an authoritarian figure
He may be innocent till proved guilty, but in politics, the usual practice is to assume guilt by association. At the end of the day, politics is the art of the possible. At this juncture it is a moot point as to whether Modi understands that. By demonising pragmatism and mocking at the formula politics of the day, he comes across as a radical who is basing his politics in the expectation that the Indian electorate is at the stage where it is ready to accept drastic remedies to its predicament.
However, that is not a given. We know that the people (read the middle classes) are fed up of the corruption, poor governance and incompetence that they confront in their everyday lives. But whether this class wants deep-seated changes is quite another thing.
Speaking of change, it is not at all clear whether the rural areas are in a mood for radical things. So an election outcome could well give the Congress a drastic haircut, without necessarily giving the BJP a hair implant.
ElectionsWe could see people turning away from expectations from the Union government and turning to their respective state governments for a resolution of their problems. This is where the likes of Nitish Kumar, Jayalalithaa, Mulayam Singh, Mayawati, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Naveen Patnaik come in.
Having covered several general elections, this writer can testify to the fact that the contemporary observers almost always get it wrong. Perhaps it is because we are too immersed in the events to make an accurate judgment. Or, it could be that the electorate simply refuses to reveal its hand. The prospect of Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial candidate has definitely excited the party faithful, but it seems to have clearly divided its leadership.
Rajnath Singh can either enforce a purge and line the party behind Modi, or he can paper over the cracks and take a divided party into the elections. Either course could have deleterious effects on the BJP's prospects.
CompromiseThere is another way out. Modi can team up with Advani. Even the supreme egoist that he is, Modi recognises that Advani stands much taller than him in the party. If there is one person he could work under in a putative BJP government, it would be Advani. He can play the quintessential party man and emerge as an acknowledged heir presumptive, much in the way Advani became one to Vajpayee.
Advani is 85, next year he will be 86, nothing can stop that. He could, given his present form, be prime minister for a decent interval of a year or two and then hand over the baton to a chosen successor. That way, the BJP could put up a united party to confront the UPA.
The alternate could well be an election in which the BJP campaign gets bogged down with backstabbing and sabotage.
Mail Today April 18, 2013