Narendra Modi is not going to offer himself as a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate for prime minister in next year’s election.
This will disappoint those who see him as able to transform India. But he is hardly the sort of man who does things because others want him to.
This isn’t to say he doesn’t want to become prime minister, or even that he isn’t considering what it’ll be like to head the campaign — he does and he is. But ultimately, even if he is asked to, he will not be the prime ministerial candidate. Here are my reasons why.
The first thing is that he likes to be in total and absolute control of what he does (an example may be found in the third point below). Getting into a battle where the BJP is not in charge of some parts of its organisation and absent from large parts of the country will worry him. In Karnataka and Rajasthan, for example, the BJP’s issues are Vasundhara Raje and Yeddyurappa. The charisma of Modi means nothing to the party units there. He doesn’t have enough space to insert himself into the equation, as he could in Gujarat.
The second thing is that he is terrified of humiliation. I cannot emphasise this enough. When shoe-throwing began in the 2009 campaign, and across the country publicity-seekers won their 15 minutes by chucking footwear at leaders, Modi was alarmed. He instructed that a fine mesh be put between him and the crowd so that his aura not be violated. Heading a campaign where he’s not in control and where his greatness shows itself able to win no more seats than Vajpayee or Advani will strip him of the magnificence that three wins in Gujarat gave him.
The third thing is that he’s fully engaged in Gujarat. I have pointed out before, that in 2006, he himself held the following portfolios: finance, home, industries, mines and minerals, information and broadcasting, energy, ports, general administration, Narmada and petrochemicals. There are more but let’s stop here to observe the number and quality of his ministries — he’s a one-man cabinet.
He gave up the finance portfolio after the RSS whined about his power-grab, and a couple of the industry ones after he finally elevated Saurabh Patel to cabinet rank. However, he still holds on to most and his focus is the government in Gujarat.
The fourth thing is that he no longer has, if he ever did, the RSS pracharak’s attitude of giving up the world for some higher cause. He owns the BJP in Gujarat, having got rid of all the people who built the party over decades, and inserted his own people up to the second and third tier levels. He’s not going to give up a solidly and loyally BJP state by leading a campaign where ‘victory’ — meaning an absolute majority for the party — is out of the question.
The fifth thing is that he can achieve his goals without essentially compromising his claim to become prime minister when the opportunity arrives. There is no leader in the BJP who approaches him for national popularity. Advani will be 87 next year and his career is over. Of the others, Sushma Swaraj is not of Modi’s stature, Arun Jaitley has never contested an election (he’s a Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat) and there the list ends.
So, if Modi is not going to be leading the election, what will he do given that he wants to be prime minister?
My prediction is that he will encourage the party not to have a candidate for prime minister.
His partisans in the party and the press will ensure nobody else is projected either and they will effectively protect his space.
In the event that the National Democratic Alliance gets a majority, he will, of course, be the most obvious candidate for leadership. But even here my feeling is that unless the BJP gets 200 of the 272 seats needed, he will not want the job of being kicked around by allies.
Between now and the election, Modi will position himself, he will campaign where he is invited, and he will, of course, dominate the media along with Rahul Gandhi.
But he will not announce himself as the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 27th, 2013.