Understanding Modi

Published: January 26, 2013
The writer is a columnist. He is also a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar

The writer is a columnist. He is also a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar aakar.patel@tribune.com.pk

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.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • gp65
    Jan 26, 2013 - 11:52PM

    Ah, so if he had projected himself as a PM candidate, he would have been called greedy for power. Now that he is focussing on the development of the state which has elected him repeatedly, he is somehow Machiavellian for doing so. Can’t win either way can he?


  • MSS
    Jan 27, 2013 - 1:18AM

    The most capable but unelectable leader in the BJP is Mr Jaswant Singh. A former soldier and a well educated, well rounded person who could take India forward. However, he is not a politician of Modi’s caliber. It is upto BJP to see beyond their noses.
    BJP will not win on its own anyway. It may not win at all and that may be another problem for them. There is no Vajpayee waiting in its cadres.


  • John B
    Jan 27, 2013 - 2:13AM

    The analysis is on the dot. However, whether he announces or not, the BJP voters will assume that he will be the PM candidate during the election campaign or atleast it will be projected so. But I doubt, if the Party will agree with the voters. Modi may be good for Gujarat, but he cannot pull a national campaign.


  • Diogenes
    Jan 27, 2013 - 5:02AM

    As an Indian, it’s going to be awesome to hear the screaming Indian right-wing brigade reaction to this. The inevitability of the advent of the right is as enduring a motif as it is false.

    Modi presided over state-sponsored violence against Muslims, where the bodies of the kar sevaks were paraded through Gujarat by road in open carriages, where police control rooms were staffed with party loyalists who would direct the mobs to the places they needed to go, where “two days for Hindus to express their anger” were given.

    Thanks to a responsible media which uncovered the conspiracy behind the riots and the cover-ups, it is fundamentally very difficult for the BJP to gain an electoral alliance with many national parties. The Congress is flawed, dynastic and sycophantic, but it is infinitely preferable to the BJP.


  • Concerned
    Jan 27, 2013 - 1:13PM


    Cool down man, he is just trying to analyse a political situation.


  • more Concerned
    Jan 27, 2013 - 4:03PM


    ‘Cool down man,……’

    Correction: It should be ‘Cool down madam,..’


  • Yoghurt lover
    Jan 27, 2013 - 4:08PM

    “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.”

    You obviously missed the point being a Madamji’s loyal servant.

    The point is, BJP will get more than 200 out of 272 seats only if Modi is the PM candidate.


  • Jan 27, 2013 - 4:24PM

    BJP has to get a LOT of seats for Modi to be PM. BJP just doesn’t have that kind of presence all over India, that Congress has.

    If BJP has to form a coalition, Modi is ruled out.

    I for one want Nitish Kumar to be PM. He is an able administrator, even greater than Modi and he is acceptable to everyone.

    In India people who want to be PM don’t get to be (unless of course they are form the Gandhi family) but people who show no interest do.


  • BlackJack
    Jan 27, 2013 - 5:36PM

    I don’t really agree with your perspective on Nitish Kumar. Bihar has undergone decades of misrule and an average of 2-3% growth during the Lalu era – its current growth is thus on a very low base; and while his performance stands out against his predecessors, it is highly unlikely that there are learnings there that can be applied at national level – in fact, you will find that Nitish’s sheen is wearing off fast, as stifling the existing goonda raj is just not enough to attract investment to Bihar. Nitish has also had an extremely lack lustre innings as Railways Minister while Lalu did a great job there, so both can apparently deliver when the previous track record is really bad. As you have aptly pointed out, Modi will require a stable majority based on very few allies to be able to maintain his governance style and deliver similar results – and this is highly unlikely. Under the circumstances, I would prefer a Sushma Swaraj or a Yashwant Sinha as capable national level politicians who have experience in working in coalition governments. Jaitley is a great communicator but has no mass base, which effectively rules out the top job for him.


  • He
    Jan 27, 2013 - 7:00PM

    @BruteForce:”I for one want Nitish Kumar to be PM. He is an able administrator, even greater than Modi and he is acceptable to everyone”
    I dont know from where you r but I from bihar .This guy Nitish kumar is the most hated person in my district.Even a dog on the ticket of BJP will win the election from my place .By the way if Nitish kumar is so much confident why doesnt he break ally with BJP and fight alone in the next election.Let me to tell you,it will be BJP vs JDU not laloo vs Nitish.Nitish wins election in those areas where there is extreme backwardness and significant population of muslims.Else where he will never give ticket to his candidates.Its upto BJP.to fight election in those areas.Nitish will loose all his strength the very minute he leaves NDA.Upper caste hindus r against Nitish Kumar.Infact Nitish kumar is a Brahmin hater and he has sympathy with maoists.Killing of Mukhiya Ji conspired by one of his party memeber sparked more anger among upper caste Hindus.He also tempers the result of general cateogary in order to intake more OBCs candidate.People r not happy in my region with his policies.There is a rumour going out that caste based census result is out and there is significant decrease in the % of upper caste hindus.Condition of upper caste hindus detoriated considerably due to govt policies overtime. Becoz of backlash ,this cong. govt is not putting out result in public(perhaps we can expect after next election).10% reservation for upper caste in Haryana is mere the reflection that what is going on inside.Anyway haryana is cong ruled state.But this man is definitely not a good choice.Then it will be better to elect cong.He has no idea about political conditon of inside as well as outside world.He only knows the theory of development.But present day generation expect much more than that.Nitish kumar will eat up the ramaining upper caste population by putting some more reservation and quotas in private sector and govt jobs.4% RESERVATION is on his agenda.If you will ask upper caste hindu…answer is no not at all.NaMo is the best option in existing scenario .He has a vision.Perhaps the man is much bigger than BJP.He is better option for all section of the society.Muslims may feel threatened under his rule.But someone has to do sacrifise.Cong has also some anti hindu agendas which have been proved time and again.Recommend

  • Jan 27, 2013 - 9:04PM


    Fair enough. But, Nitish Kumar will not be the worst choice too. A bit of a socialist, a lot in fact and that is dangerous also.. We don’t need any more populist leaders and need someone with vision.

    Jaitley is smart, modernist. Mass base doesn’t really count after elections. He is acceptable to the allies and will work well with almost everyone.

    Swaraj is out there for me. I don’t trust people who talk a lot. She is smart but overdoes it a little bit for me.

    The strategy should be project Modi(but not name him the PM candidate. keep everyone guessing). Consider rest as real PM candidates.


  • Foreign Leg
    Jan 27, 2013 - 10:31PM

    For once Aakar Patel is spot on. Modi will not project himself before the elections unless he is able to get 200+ seats. NDTV had carried out an analysis sometime back and there is no way that Modi can be PM with less than 200 seats. BJP will end up losing some of its coalition partners if Modi is nominated for PM..
    Personally, I liked BJP under Vajpayee. The current BJP is a shadow of its glorious past. No one in the current leadership holds a candle to Vajpayee, not even Advani.
    The only way BJP can win is if it is able to project a center-right leader. A person like Yashwant Sinha has the right credentials for the job but he has been stymied by his own party leadership. Sinha would be a palatable choice for coalition members and his FM background gives him a lot of credibility
    However Congress could project Chidambraram for PM and everyone knows PC is a hawk and definitely center-right as far as the Congress is concerned which would bring BJP back to square 1.


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