Gujaratís choice

But Modi's presumed next move raises challenging questions for BJP and the polity

The Gujarat assembly election ended as widely predicted, with an unequivocal victory for Narendra Modi. No quibbling over margins can diminish his third-time triumph and the sixth emphatic defeat of his opposition. Modi has fought this election with remarkable energy, taking on opposition from every corner. He was fighting not only the Congress and its fellow-travellers on the left, he was also dealing with deserters from his own party and parivar functionaries positioned to his right.

These election results, and Modi's performance, have affirmed that an aspirational idiom combined with a language of regional assertion can be a compelling reason for a pro-incumbency vote in the state. Yet, these results have also been seen to be loaded with consequences for politics at the Centre and Modi himself has been complicit in the hype. He has not been coy about his prime-ministerial pitch, addressing his campaign exclusively to the national stage, targeting the Congress's highest leadership. In the aftermath, as he delivered his victory speech in Hindi, his gaze appeared riveted on Delhi. After his emphatic win, therefore, the BJP may no longer be able to evade or delay the question of his capacity to lead the party in the next general election. It is an uncomfortable question, for many reasons. So far, Modi has displayed scant respect for the party organisation's hierarchies. In Gujarat, he destroyed the internal opposition to himself and consolidated his grip, presiding over an unabashed personality cult. He successfully sidelined sangh outfits and the RSS. The central BJP, already in unceasing turmoil over the leadership question, will now have to deal with the formidable claimant from Gujarat, who disdains not just the opponent across the political fence, but also the opposition within.

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