The surge from below

Modi's transition to PM-in-waiting didn't happen due to committee games

In the history of the Sixties' counter-culture, the anti-Vietnam war protests of 1968 occupy a very special place. The ageing radicals I encounter at various reunions in the pubs of London often recall the 1,00,000-strong demonstration chanting "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh" outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square one overcast October 44 years ago. The more impish among them also recall how some contrarians with an exaggerated sense of self-worth even made the journey from the sublime to the ridiculous: the earnest activists of a Trotskyist sect distributed leaflets explaining "Why we are not marching!"

It would be cruel to equate L.K. Advani's missive explaining his non-attendance at the BJP parliamentary board meeting last Friday with those who missed the bus in 1968. But it may not be entirely inaccurate to suggest that in India 2013, Advani is probably as representative of the "parivar" mood as the Socialist Labour League was of British radicalism in 1968. By sitting morosely in Prithviraj Road while BJP workers celebrated, Advani wilfully reduced himself to a petulant footnote. However, he has also ensured that even if coalition vagaries deprive Narendra Modi of a Race Course Road tenancy next year, the BJP will not fall back on its ponderous nostalgia machine.

Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushma Swaraj were cleverer: they advertised their dissent but didn't sour the party spirit. They, along with Rajnath Singh, can still aspire to be the second choice of the first party after the 2014 polls.

It is pertinent to highlight the sub-agendas that were temporarily put on hold amid the intense emotional upheaval that greeted the declaration of Modi as the NDA's PM-in-waiting. The euphoria was warranted. The transition of Modi from a strong regional leader to the PM-in-waiting didn't happen as a consequence of his success in playing the committee game. On the contrary, Modi's dogged sense of right and wrong and his unwillingness to make short-term compromises cut him off from the rest of the political pack. At the time of his second victory in 2007, Modi was very much a political loner hounded by the all-powerful secular establishment, detached from the BJP national leadership, and alienated from the apparatchiks of the RSS.

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