Party and the mascot

Modi's inclusion in Team Rajnath signals a new pact between the two — and its difficulties

Ever since Narendra Modi won Gujarat for the third time after an assembly campaign in which he conspicuously addressed the nation, he has signalled his imminent move to stake his claim in Delhi. In the months that have followed, Modi has all but declared himself to be the BJP's prime ministerial hopeful-in-chief. The reconstitution of Team Rajnath confirms and underlines this undeclared candidature. In an organisational exercise otherwise careful not to send out any big messages of change, hemmed in by factional by-plays, regional and caste compulsions and circumscribed by RSS micro-management, the striking signal was the party's acknowledgement of Modi's national role. This is evident not just in Modi's return to the party's parliamentary board and poll panel — the only serving chief minister to be in this position — but also in the unabashed rehabilitation at the central level of his controversial aide, former Gujarat minister and accused in the Sohrabuddin encounter case, Amit Shah.

In fact, a Team Rajnath that includes Modi-and-friends signifies an attempt to give a new twist to the story that has gained currency, not undeservedly: of Modi's inexorable rise in the BJP against the BJP's will. In his quest for a larger role, the story goes, many of the obstacles Modi would be required to vault over lie within his own party and parivar. Of course, he would also face formidable difficulties outside the party fold — of winning allies and of widening the BJP's area of influence as opposed to merely inflaming the faithful already inside the BJP tent. While his continuing failure to address the question of accountability for the crimes of Gujarat 2002 remains a primary problem in winning friends outside, it has been no secret that a large section of his own party visibly strains away from its most powerful chief minister and his abrasive personality cult. Sunday's organisational exercise, under new BJP President Rajnath Singh, and backed by the RSS, may be aimed at tweaking that storyline. From now on, it says, the party will be trying to establish a working relationship with its mascot-to-be.

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