Unlike the Congress which never has to worry about who its prime ministerial candidate will be in 2014, the BJP is being very coy about it.

Many people think it should be Mr Narendra Modi. But there is a powerful section within the BJP which is opposed to him.

Within those opposed to him there appear to be two groups. One is led by persons who want to be prime minister themselves.

The other is led by persons who believe that if his name is announced prematurely the NDA will not fight the general election as a united force.

There is also some amount of overlapping between these two groups. Each group seems to be leveraging the other.

It is not clear as to where the Party President, Mr Nitin Gadkari, stands. He does, however, give the impression that he believes himself to be quite up to the job. But he could be in a minority of one.

Mr Modi, meanwhile, is deliberately keeping aloof. He knows that when push comes to shove, it will be hard to keep him out because he has what it takes: a prosperous State under his belt, a good development record, money, and personal ability.

But his success can’t be taken for granted. There is a long way for him to go yet before he can move into 7RCR.

The arithmetic

The BJP is hopeful of winning at least 175 seats. It also thinks that the Congress will get less than a 100.

That sounds nice until you ask: who will have the remaining 275 seats? This is where the Modi Vs BJP Vs NDA problem starts.

Of the above 275 regional party seats, as many as a 150 could oppose Mr Modi, thinks a section of the BJP. These obviously would be parties/MPs from States where the Muslims are sizeable electoral groups or states that are ruled by volatile leaders — or both. UP, Bihar and West Bengal are thus ruled out.

That leaves the game in the hands of Maharashtra (Shiv Sena), Tamil Nadu (AIADMK) and Andhra (TDP). And of course the very small parties whose tally could add up to 50 seats or more.

But here’s the million dollar question: even if they support the BJP will they support Mr Modi? Many in the BJP are hoping not. And some are working towards ensuring that they don’t.

Vote BJP, not Modi

That is why the BJP, in Gujarat which goes to polls in October, is not asking people to vote for Mr Modi, but for the BJP. That is why in the general election campaign it will project the party and not this or that candidate. That is why the party is likely to wait until after the results of the next general election are in to propose its prime ministerial candidate.

In that sense, the BJP is laying itself open to the worst vagary of politics: democratic decision-making. This is a problem that the Congress does not suffer from.

And so here’s my guess as to who will emerge the eventual winner: that quintessential backroom man, Mr Arun Jaitley, because he will be the least unacceptable of all aspirants to the job.

The BJP will, so to speak, have its NexGenAtal. He is only 58, liberal, can speak English, quick mind, experience, consensus builder, non-RSS, dadada…

(This article was published on July 26, 2012)
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