From old BJP to new BJP: The shaky transition was inevitable

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The anointment of Narendra Modi as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate is a unique event in the history of the party. It is for time to tell whether Modi will become the PM and deliver as per his supporters' expectations, but in structural sense, his elevation settled the question of succession, although not in a smooth way.

But the party had to face this phase and it is good that it has taken the brave step finally, for further delay would not have taken it anywhere. Modi's anointment signaled the rise of the new BJP from the ashes of the old BJP led by patriarch LK Advani, with which the Indian electorate is more familiar.

Why and how does the new BJP matter today?

To answer this, we must underline the basic fact that a party needs a leadership, an ideology and an organization to flourish. The Hindutva movement propagated by the Sangh members has always put the BJP, a softer project, in a dilemma in ideological terms. The same was also true during the days of the Jana Sangh, the predecessor of the BJP.

The ambiguity of the ideology became more distinct as the BJP rose to prominence in Indian politics and subsequently required a combination of extreme and moderate leadership provided by LK Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, respectively. This was not an easy thing to do but the party was lucky enough to get these two towering leaders who provided the flexibility. Had there been no Vajpayee, Advani would have faced the same obstacle that Modi is facing today. He was lucky to have Vajpayee with him.

Advani paid the price for not settling the succession issue during his heydays

The image of the BJP was so much influenced by the Advani-Vajpayee duo that the question of succession was always going to be a tough question for the party. The consecutive losses of the party in 2004 and 2009 only delayed the inevitable but when time ran out, the party leadership had to counter the crucial question: Past or present? Who will lead the party in future?

The third characteristic of the party, organisation, was also being put at stake by this question. For, if the BJP leadership did not show the courage to look beyond Advani, then there was every possibility of an implosion in the party ranks and files. Arun Jaitley was right when he said that a party is essentially made of supporters and cadres. The leadership of such a cadre-based party could never ignore the pressure from below. The RSS's throwing its weight behind Modi compelled the leadership all the more.

Advani's apprehension that Modi is too polarising a figure and could hit the party's prospects in the upcoming polls will ultimately point at his own failure in grooming a future leadership. May be he was too confident about himself being the automatic choice for prime ministership at every election, but he was proved wrong and hence disappointed by the law of nature, which is: You get old only to retire. The Congress had a same problem after Nehru's death but the Gandhi family settled the succession issue once and for all in that party after Indira Gandhi took over.

Advani could have never expected that the man, whom he had shielded after the 2002 riots, would derail his dream of becoming the prime minister.

Advani tried to don the mantle of Vajpayee vis-à-vis Modi, thinking that a moderate face would catapult him more easily. But he failed to gauge that by 2013, Modi has emerged such a powerful leader that not many would be ready to differentiate between the mask and the face. Today, Modi is the only face of the BJP that the party cadres and supporters identify and there is no scope for preferring a dual leadership model like that of the 1990s.

It is futile for Advani to feel worried about whether Modi's BJP could opt an aggressive politics for it won't require him anymore to author the party's future prospects. What he can do best is to play the role of a mentor and help it remain on a moderate track for as an inexperienced candidate for the top post and also an outsider in Delhi, Modi will require his advice.

Advani had a great opportunity to strengthen his beloved party's hands by backing Modi at this critical juncture and prove to the world that the BJP is mature enough to get rid of an outside influence (read the RSS) to get itself going. But he chose to play the game differently and lost the plot.

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