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Given the need to keep the NDA in its current form together, chances are the BJP will opt for a Rahul Gandhi-type solution for Narendra Modi—appoint him to oversee the party’s campaign in the next general elections. That way, the three-time Gujarat chief minister, who enthuses the party’s cadres like no other leader does, continues to be at the heart of the campaign, while Nitish Kumar can continue to be mollified by the fact that the BJP has not projected any prime ministerial candidate. If the BJP gets a large enough number of seats, the party’s thinking is, Modi can then be presented as the PM-choice; if not, a compromise candidate can be rustled up, and Modi can go back to being chief minister in Gujarat.
While it’s not clear whether or not Modi’s central position in Election 2014 will polarise the nation along communal lines, the impact on election rhetoric may be a bit clearer. Though the BJP has been painted as anti-reform and obscurantist, Modi’s USP is very clearly development; indeed, going by popular imagery, he has come out with a Gujarat model of development. This includes being proactive about delivering irrigation to large parts of the state, being modern enough to understand that GM crops like cotton are the key to future growth—Gujarat is the only state in India to deliver a 10% per annum agriculture growth for close to a decade. Successfully wooing Ratan Tata and Suzuki with generous offers of land helped Modi establish his pro-industry credentials, and executing a major urban transformation in Ahmedabad while relocating people without the kind of furore seen elsewhere in India showcased his project execution skills.
Modi’s ability to deliver all this, were he to become Prime Minister, will obviously be constrained for a variety of reasons, particularly if he is part of a fractious coalition, since operating as all-powerful chieftain in a state is relatively easier. But who cares about such niceties in an election. If the BJP is to project itself as a pro-development party with established credentials, chances are the UPA will have to up its pro-growth act in the next 12-14 months in the run-up to the general elections.