Here is a declaration. I am neither a
supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), nor
have I voted for a BJP candidate in the past. I have
interacted with some of the senior leaders, as I
have with those from other political parties. What I
write here has nothing to do with my personal
political views about the BJP. It is about how I see
that party’s chances in next year’s general
The question that faces the BJP is what should it do
to win enough seats to lead a coalition government
after a decade. Can it happen with the old guards
who are comfortably ensconced in Delhi, led by Lal
Krishna Advani? Or does it need Narendra Modi?
To answer this, go back to 25 September 1990, when a
younger and politically more ambitious Advani
started his Somnath to Ayodhya rath yatra in a
chariot-like Toyota. Almost 23 years later, it is
clear that the rath was Advani’s political apogee
with hordes of supporters ringing bells, blowing
conches, beating drums and shouting “Hum mandir
In 1984, the BJP was trounced by Rajiv Gandhi. In
1989, it had increased the number of Lok Sabha seats
from two to 85. Advani’s conscious leveraging of the
Hindutva wave in UP, Rajasthan and Gujarat helped
the BJP to raise the number of seats to 120 in 1991.
Subsequently, the party raised this to 182 seats in
1999 and succeeded in forming government under the
universally liked Vajpayee. Yet there is little
doubt that it was Advani, with his hard Hindutva
line in 1989 and 1991, who created the core
electoral base for the party.
Having run government as the coalition leader during
1999-2004, the BJP got used to becoming a
Delhi-based party. Soon, the comfort zone of its key
leaders was in Lutyens-land, full of parliamentary
perquisites, talk shows, high and mighty evenings
and film premieres.
As the party became effete, the Lok Sabha tally
started to fall — from 182 in 1999, to 138 in 2004,
and then to 116 in 2009.
Can the BJP leadership that lives almost all the
time in Delhi successfully run the next election and
win at least 175 seats? I should think not. That lot
is either too old; or too contented; or too out of
touch with today’s electorate. A long, carefully
calibrated and steadily ‘upped’ election campaign
across the land is no longer their cup of tea.
I can’t see Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh, Arun
Jaitley or even Sushma Swaraj haring off hither and
tither through heat and dust in sweaty places to
solicit votes day after day. Even the venerable lahu
purush of yesteryears is an old man who is bereft of
energy but wants his age to determine the last word
in everything. The 24-hour resignation was a silly
bit of pique of a person who realises that his days
Does Modi have the electoral energy and drive? The
answer is yes — and certainly more than the jaded
Delhi lot. Do his words touch more people of the
country than those of the current BJP leadership?
Absolutely. Can he help the BJP do better than the
last time? Almost certainly. Will he polarise India
between seculars and others? Probably, as he has
earlier. Can he garner 175 plus seats, what with
some allies becoming things of the past? It is a
Do I like him? No. But this piece is not about who
we like. It is about who might win. BJP with Modi
leading the polls should by definition do better
than before. It may not suffice to form government.
But the party has chosen correctly — in opting for a
win with probability over yet another loss with
Which is why those left in the slip stream are
moping. They know that a new force is in play. And
that their days are numbered.
Published: Business World, July 2013