Two messages emerged from the just concluded Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP's) National Executive meeting.
One, by giving Party President J P Nadda a mere extension till the 2024 Lok Sabha election instead of granting him a full three-year tenure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi signalled his intention of conducting a major overhaul of the party and government if he returns to power for a third term.
Nadda, like others who may retain their posts in the runup to the big polls including chief ministers, party office bearers, and government ministers, is a stop-gap arrangement till Modi is assured of an unshakeable grip on the reins of power to pursue his ambition of sealing his place in history.
Modi’s Global Ambitions Shape BJP’s Die-Hard Election Policy
It is obvious, therefore, that for Modi, it is critical to win the upcoming nine state polls to set the stage for the all-important big battle next year. The National Executive meeting served to reiterate this, starting with the roadshow the PM did as he drove to the venue.
Two, Modi delivered a veiled warning to his party that nothing should hamper his efforts to ride on the back of the G-20 presidency to reinvent himself as a global leader and position India as the 'Voice of the Global South' (a term used for developing nations).
The warning came in the form of an appeal to party leaders to desist from getting embroiled in controversies unrelated to governance issues ("like a movie,’’ he said in an indirect reference to the ongoing storm over the Shahrukh-Deepika starrer Pathaan). He also urged them to focus on reaching out to marginalised groups including minorities, singling out communities like Pasmanda and Bohra Muslims for special mention.
While this is a continuum of sentiments expressed in his speech at the last National Executive meeting in Hyderabad, his words acquire new urgency in view of the diplomatic challenges ahead as India holds its breath to ensure that the upcoming G-20 Summit in September, is a whopping success.
It is hoped that a fruitful G-20 Summit framed around an agenda prepared by the Modi government, will propel the PM into the big league internationally, and possibly help him realise his ambition of surpassing both Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi as influential world leaders.
Party Overhaul as an Election Strategy
There is a heightened sense of anticipation in the BJP ecosystem after the meeting with Modi dropping hints about the next possible moves in the important months ahead.
For instance, there could be leadership changes in some of the states going to polls this year. Modi attributed the party’s huge victory in Gujarat to the decision to change the entire state government including the chief minister one year before the election and drop an unusually large number of sitting MLAs to make way for new candidates.
This was done, Modi explained, to give opportunities to those who have served the party quietly and are waiting in the wings for a promotion. Will the Modi-Shah duo adopt similar tactics in states like Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh where the BJP is facing a possible anti-incumbency backlash?
Modi did not hide his unhappiness with party units in several states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. His fulsome praise for the mass contact programme of the Telangana BJP was a rap on the knuckles for the party in other states where he said the response was below par.
Modi & Amit Shah’s Policies in States Facing Anti-Incumbency
Speculation has started already about the duo’s plans in these states.
However, the biggest buzz was about the one-on-one meeting Modi had with former Karnataka Chief Minister and State Strongman B S Yeddyurappa on the sidelines of the National Executive gathering.
Nothing could have underlined the importance Modi attaches to a victory in Karnataka more than pulling Yeddyurappa aside in front of everyone. The former CM has been in a deep sulk ever since he was forced to step down from office. How does the duo plan to appease him and bring him on board for the polls?
International Diplomacy or Full-Blown Polarising Campaigns: What Will Be BJP’s Mantra for 2024?
No one understands better than Modi the difficulties of balancing electoral compulsions with the demands of fleet-footed diplomacy as India works hard for a successful G-20 Summit in September this year.
BJP leaders are convinced that polarising rhetoric wins polls. However, such rhetoric has international ramifications as proved by the volley of protests from Islamic countries after BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma crossed the line in comments about the Prophet Mohammed. Sharma was sacked from her post and suspended from the party to restore India’s equilibrium with these nations.
Islamic countries form a large and important block of the Global South. It will be a tightrope walk for Modi for the next one year if he hopes to assume leadership of this large and diverse grouping.
The subtext of his message to the party was clear in his closing address to the National Executive. Motormouths and unwarranted comments that negate the projection of a party of good governance will not be tolerated.
(Arati R Jerath is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)