Indian Decade

The BJP’s Premier Debate

A row is brewing over who should be premier if the BJP takes power. Should it be Narendra Modi or L.K. Advani?

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is getting scorched by the wrong debate at the wrong time: who should be prime minister?

Elections in India aren’t due until May 2014. But this hasn’t stopped an unseemly, unacknowledged cold war erupting between two prime ministerial hopefuls: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his one-time mentor and eternal prime minister-in-waiting, L.K. Advani. As a result, Modi skipped the first day of the party’s National Executive meeting that began in New Delhi on Friday.

The whole debate on who should be premier if the BJP takes power has taken a nasty turn with Gujarat BJP chief Balbir Punj describing Modi as ‘the best prime ministerial candidate.’ Party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad, meanwhile, said that there were several strong prime ministerial candidates in the party, and argued the BJP wasn’t dependent on ‘one yuvraj (prince)’ – an obvious and uncharitable allusion to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

Though Modi’s media managers have gone on a clarification overdrive, the political grapevine suggests that Modi hasn’t taken kindly to Advani’s decision to embark on yet another political tour from October 11. Indeed, Modi is said to have been particularly annoyed with Advani for initially planning to start his tour from Gujarat, apparently announcing it without having consulted Modi.

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The fact that Advani changed the venue to Bihar has further deepened the gap between Modi and Advani. The tour will now be waved off by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, a Modi baiter who is seen as a much stronger candidate for premier than Modi because of his secular image.