Narendra Modi is indeed a polarising figure, not only in the national politics, in the NDA but even in the BJP itself. The party is deeply divided over contesting the next Lok Sabha polls under the leadership of the Gujarat leader but those in favour of him are smiling because they have the blessings of the RSS.
But why is the saffron camp polarised over Modi?
Modi will polarise voters, feels one camp
Senior leaders like L K Advani believe that projecting Modi as the poster boy could be counter-productive for the latter although is a popular leader, isn't an acceptable one across the political spectrum. Advani feels projecting Modi will polarise the voters on communal lines and it will ultimately eclipse the failure of the Congress-led government at the Centre. The likes of Sushma Swaraj and Yashwant Sinha have backed Advani's stand.
Doesn't matter, BJP anyway gets majority votes, feels the other
But the other camp doesn't buy this theory. The likes of Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley, backed by the RSS, feel that such polarisation is not going to affect the BJP's chances for the minority voters hardly ever prefer the BJP.
The party doesn't need to wonder where those votes are going for they were never BJP's votes. It is better to focus on how to improve its majority vote tally, rather. Advani, too, had made his way to the top in Indian politics by banking on the same mantra. Then why suddenly the U-turn today?
Second camp thinks right if the BJP has to survive
What Singhs and the Jaitleys are projecting reflects the true picture. The BJP clearly has nobody else to bank on at this stage but Modi. Whether the leader can help the party to lead a government at the Centre is a different story altogether. But given the state of the principal ruling opposition party in India today, Modi is its only hope.
What if Modi is replaced?
If the saffron camp decides to replace Modi with somebody else, there will be two clear disadvantage.
First, it will gift away an undue advantage to the Congress as the latter will start claiming a moral victory and secondly, with just a year away from the big elections, no other leader in the BJP can hope to exert a similar impact. Advani is just a figure of the past, if not a shadow, and the young Indians can by no means identify themselves with him. December 6, 1992, is way way back. The writing is thus clear: If Modi can't do it for the BJP, nobody can. The question of whether communal polarisation is going to stop the BJP because of Modi is absolutely irrelevant here.
Modi's task won't be easy but yet he is the only answer the BJP has
This brings us to the second aspect. Can Modi do it for the BJP? Not an easy task, undoubtedly. Two factors will challenge him. First, the concerted opposition of the pseudo-secular forces, who to fill up their own vote baskets, will go on accusing Modi as a communal politician.
Secondly, the geographical limitation of the BJP. The party has witnessed a steady shrinking in its basis across the country and will face a herculean task to gather seats from southern and eastern India, more because not many party will prefer to make an alliance with Modi.
The only solution to this situation is to project Modi's administrative high points before the country and do everything necessary to take his stories at the grassroot level, where popular perception about the leader has remained stuck in 2002. Modi himself has also shown an intent to project himself as a softer leader by not visiting Ayodhya and lending patient ears to the Muslims. This effort towards 'Vajpayeefication' is very vital for Modi in future.
Just 2014 is not the whole story, it's about the BJP's survival
It is futile to just think how many seats can Modi-led BJP can win, at this moment. If he fails in 2014, there is always 2019 to come back but for the BJP to reassert itself as a viable alternative to a scam-ridden Congress-led government, the Gujarat leader is their only hope.
The party had seen a stagnation ever since Vajpayee left politics since the mid-2000s and with Advani, too, approaching the end of his career (irrespective of his undying ambition) and there is an urgency to find a new leadership fill up the vacuum. The BJP must understand that as the democracy in Indian deepens, it is regional leaders who are going to play a decisive role in the national politics. Can it spare a realistic thought ?