So Narendra Modi is in the news again. (When was he ever out of it?) But this time the Gujarat Chief Minister feels that he's not at the receiving end.
First was the Supreme Court's decision to pass the Gujarat riots case back to the trial court in Gujarat. This was interesting because it was seen as a victory by sections of both parties of the Modi-divide.
Then the US Congressional report showed him in good light.
Now the three-day sadbhavana fast has grabbed big-time TV coverage.
But interestingly, Modi has scored a minor victory with all of this.
Yesterday, nobody seemed interesting in discussing Modi's prime ministerial prospects.
Today, everyone seems to want to talk about it even if they want to rubbish it in the end.
That's a small step forward.
The Indian political landscape is a pretty strange place. You can never be sure which party will be elevated by the masses and which will be brutally discarded.
The same goes for all political leaders.
All hardliners go soft in the end
Many people forget that Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the first hardliner of the BJP. Till the 1980s, he strode the party like a colossus. He was known for his nationalistic and hard-hitting speeches, some which left the minority communities really uncomfortable.
Vajpayee laid the base for the party. If the BJP was hardline till the 1980s, then Vajpayee has to share some of the blame.
Of course, when BJP firmly came to the national stage, Vajpayee toned down his rhetoric and started making the right noises, so much so, that he emerged as the consensus candidate of the Opposition to become the NDA's Prime Minister in 1998.
That's why detractors dubbed it all a show and called him the "mukhauta" (mask) of the hardline elements of the BJP.
The second hardliner was LK Advani. He almost became synonymous with the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. His famous Rath Yatra, which urged kar sewaks to head towards Ayodhya, was the genesis of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.
In that year, few would have expected Advani to find a national consensus to ever emerge as a prime ministerial candidate. The NDA would have never agreed to Advani as PM in 1998 said all the analysts.
However he did emerge as a consensus candidate in 2009. Had the NDA won in that year, then BJP's second hardliner would have got the country's top post.
That the NDA lost is a different matter altogether.
Now the focus has shifted to Modi, the third prominent hardliner of the BJP.
In 2002, nobody would have ever considered Modi as a candidate for PM. In 2009, the BJP itself seemed finished. And here we are in 2011 at least discussing the subject.
An era of dwarves
Let's face it. There is no large leader of pan-Indian appeal. No leader can appeal to each and every aspect of India today.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi has proved to be a shrewd behind the scenes player. But that's all she is: A behind the scenes power. She wisely turned down the PM's post in 2004, for that would have led to an era of partisan and divisive politics.
Also, as an orator in public or in the Parliament, she is nowhere near the likes of Rajiv Gandhi or Vajpayee. She isn't even a patch on Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.
Manmohan Singh is a qualified bureaucrat-technocrat who peaked during the 2009 general elections. But he is incapable of even winning a Lok Sabha seat or influencing the people or Parliament with his oratorical skills.
Rahul Gandhi has been in Parliament for seven years and has shown no grand vision yet. His biggest qualification still seems to be the fact that he is the direct descendant of three PMs.
The BJP had many strong leaders in the 1990s, but most of them seem to have fallen by the wayside. The top two today are Sushma and Jaitley, but they too like their Congress counterparts are far from being complete packages.
Another name being mentioned for premiership is Mayawati, but the less said about that the better.
Let's face it. The last tall Congress leader was Rajiv.
The last tall BJP leader was Vajpayee.
What will happen if the SIT and trial court clears Modi's name? What will happen if the BJP wins the 2012 Gujarat elections by a resounding margin?
Modi will at least join the above-mentioned dwarves, if not go past them.
HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral have proved that any dwarf can become PM.
A very forgiving electorate
A final factor in Modi's favour is the extremely forgiving nature of the Indian electorate who also boast of inexplicable memory losses.
An interesting example is another Gujarat CM in the form of Chimanbhai Patel.
He was CM in 1974. Corruption charges, the Navnirman Movement led by protesting students and Jayprakash Narayan's censure saw him being kicked out of office. That was the genesis of the events that led to the Emergency.
Donkeys were paraded in Gujarat with Chimanbahi's name on them. Women came in the streets and pledged that they would never name their sons Chimanbahi.
And what happened? When these very same students grew up and took charge of Gujarat, they voted Chimanbhai back to power in 1990!
Laloo Prasad Yadav had the fodder scam, a jail term, raging Bihar violence, zero governance and zero development. Yet he and his wife ruled for three terms.
Rajiv had the 1984 anti-Sikh riots blot to his name. Nearly 3000 were killed and 50,000 displaced. Shockingly all the Congress leaders accused in the riots apparently got rewarded. He also had Bofors. Yet had Rajiv been alive today, he might still have been a popular PM today.
One must say that Modi has an outside chance to become PM in 2014 taking such things into account.
One must also not forget that he has just turned 61, which is pretty young by political standards.
He may yet look good for 2019 or 2024, when Godhra will be a distant memory for most voters.
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