This Modi moment

As his party's prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi breaks many political moulds and conventions

It is possible to say now that the decision of the BJP parliamentary board was foretold almost three months ago in Goa, when Narendra Modi was elevated as head of the BJP's campaign committee for 2014. But that is too easily said. If spectacle and suspense filled the run-up to the Friday announcement, it wasn't all atmospherics. In a real sense, Modi's rise and rise, from Goa to Delhi, and before that too, has not been smooth or uncontested within his party. The opposition to the formal announcement of his prime ministerial candidature, which gathered around the figure of L.K. Advani in recent months, was as genuine as it was layered. Eventually, Modi won, Advani lost. But in a country where political parties are ruled by families and genuine contests for leadership are rare, the squalling within the BJP over Modi's elevation has been a remarkable thing. It is a refreshing departure from the terrible placidness and acquiescence that generally accompanies the anointment of leaders. It could have been more forthright, and too much of it happened behind closed doors. But even so, Modi versus Advani has been a gripping watch.

Modi's candidature for PM challenges the way-things-have-been in more than one sense. He is the most polarising figure with a serious prime ministerial claim this country has seen. Conventional wisdom has it that PM aspirants in a country as diverse as India would have to perforce reach out, blunt the edges. In his continuing refusal to engage with the serious questions about his role in the 2002 violence in Gujarat, Modi has been an exception here too. Then, Modi is an outsider — to the high command in his own party and, in a wider sense, to the "national" leadership club and arena. A chief minister of a not-so-large, non-north Indian state, someone who has not held office or position at the Centre, and yet forced his way into the India-wide contest and imagination. He has done this not in a presidential system, but in a parliamentary one, in which the crafting of a wider appeal is fraught with so many more obstacles and constraints. He has done it, further, while being accosted every step of the way by fierce criticism and sustained hostility from within his party and outside it.

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