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Fallout: Modi clear No. 1 in BJP but others may begin talking back too

Modi set the terms of engagement with the Government on the Communal Violence Bill.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s victory in the last set of state polls before next year’s general elections has strengthened the position of Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi at the party’s pinnacle but it’s also likely to prompt factions within to redraw their boundaries as they deal with a more charged-up Modi.

In fact,the 4-0 scoreline — although the Delhi verdict is still wide open — can help delay a wave of simmering protests but for Modi-baiters in the party,the Aam Aadmi Party stealing its thunder in Delhi and Shivraj Singh Chouhan naming L K Advani before Modi in the list of credits during his victory speech has come as fresh fodder. Their differences with Modi are expected to get sharper given his authoritative style and reluctance to accommodate beyond set terms. 

Even one of his ardent backers,BJP president Rajnath Singh,is up against one such issue. Singh,a leader from Uttar Pradesh,has always contested from that state but since Amit Shah’s appointment as UP in-charge,the unstated effort has been to find a seat for Modi to contest from that state (this is seen as a force-multiplier for the BJP’s prospects in UP). Singh,sources said,does not feel it’s appropriate for both the party president and the party’s PM candidate to contest from UP.

According to reliable sources,Amit Shah recently conveyed to Singh that Modi,too,“agrees with this view” without spelling out what exactly does Modi want: to yield to Rajnath or to get Rajnath to back down. This ambiguity,sources said,is causing concern in sections of the party.

As of today,however,Singh recognised Modi’s role,praising him after he credited victory to all CM candidates and state-level party workers. “BJP has won over 405 Assembly seats from 589 Assembly segments that went to polls. This amounts to an approximately 69 percent victory. This is a clear message for 2014 Lok Sabha elections. We have benefited hugely from Narendra Modi’s popularity.”

Another cause for heartburn among his detractors in Delhi is the way Modi deals with them on a strict need-to-know basis. Take the political row over the alleged illegal snooping of a woman by the Gujarat police where Shah,then a Minister,is allegedly on tape instructing an IPS officer at the behest of “saheb,” an apparent reference to Modi.

When news of this broke,few details were forthcoming from Gandhinagar to BJP leaders. A statement from the woman’s father was all that BJP’s spokespersons in Delhi had to defend their PM candidate. Some senior leaders,who had opposed Modi’s declaration as PM’s candidate,are said to have expressed their view that this went against the BJP’s well-established norms of internal democracy.

Even today’s victory,while dealing a heavy blow to the Congress ahead of 2014 elections,also threatens to eclipse BJP stalwarts in Parliament. “It will be a lame duck Congress government and lame duck Leaders of Opposition,” remarked a senior BJP functionary on the impact of BJP’s sweep in the Assembly elections.

Further,insiders highlighted the way in which Modi set the terms of engagement with the Government on the  Communal Violence Bill. Despite “substantial” dilution of its provisions,sources added,there was no way the BJP in Parliament could even consider talking to the government after Modi’s firm opposition to the Bill.

Even on organisational issues,Modi,it appears,has been passing directions that the party has to execute without question. For example,more recently,the BJP president had to instruct all party general secretaries to help organise “Run for Unity” on December 15,an initiative of the Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG),a non-profit closely linked to Modi which hosted the Gujarat CM at a youth conclave in October.

The party top brass were clueless about this initiative but have now been asked to chip in as per Modi’s directions. CAG,incidentally has also described itself as  “National Movement Partners” for the “Statue of Unity” movement that aims to instal the world’s tallest statue,that of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel,seen as Modi’s effort to appropriate Patel’s legacy from the Congress.

That’s not all. Differences within surfaced during the Delhi campaign,too. For about a month before the polls,all campaign material focused on Modi,including radio advertisements which only had Modi speaking. This did create “issues” in the party,sources said,given that Lok Sabha Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj also sees herself as a key Delhi leader. Then,in the last 10 days of the campaign,advertisements with a message from her started appearing. Soon after,there were Arun Jaitley advertisements followed by Rajnath Singh’s. Similarly,the manifesto cover had to be re-designed to include more faces,including that of Swaraj.

Incidentally,Swaraj avoided any reference to Modi today. In her tweet after the results,she said: “It is a pro BJP wave in Madhya Pradesh,Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan and anti-Congress wave in Delhi.” She congratulated Chouhan,Raman Singh,Vasundhara Raje and “party colleagues”.

The move to bring back former BJP stalwart in Karnataka B S Yeddyurappa through a merger with the Karnataka Janata Paksha has been facing resistance from senior members including Advani and Swaraj. The Aam Aadmi Party’s stellar debut in Delhi may now be used as an argument against this merger,said sources.

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