Why Nitish, not Modi, could emerge as NDA face

Shortly after the Gujarat pogrom of 2002,  John Elliott, long-time foreign correpondent based in India, surprised and shocked many when he wrote in the Business Standard that Narendra Damodardas Modi had it in him to become a potential national leader, “a logical heir to L.K. Advani“.

Yet, in 2011, when Elliott’s prescience seems to be coming true for Modi’s drumbeaters after this week’s Supreme Court ruling, the veteran journalist writes in The Independent, London, that despite his leadership and record, Modi might not quite make the cut as the leader of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Indeed, writes Elliott, Modi might have to cede ground to a softer, less abrasive and more acceptable man, who in fact has tried his darnedest not to be seen with him—Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United):

“The BJP has little support in parts of India, particularly the South, where it has just squandered a chance to expand by running a spectacularly corrupt oligarchic state administration in Karnataka. It therefore always needs to attract coalition partners, which it finds difficult because of its Hindu-chauvinist policies.

“It did however manage to build a coalition for its 1998-2004 governments by agreeing a policy programme that avoided anti-Muslim and other hard-line measures. Indeed those were years of relative communal harmony – a record ruined by the Gujarat atrocities.

“The chances of it being able to rebuild that trust with Modi as leader has seemed remote ever since 2002. It remains so today, unless Modi is prepared to apologise for the riots. He is trying to move on by staging a three-day “social harmony” fast this weekend, but he still rejects all allegations against him, so seems unlikely to readying an apology.

“When 2014 comes, Nitish Kumar, the development-oriented chief minister of Bihar and a BJP ally, could emerge as much more acceptable and moderate coalition candidate for prime minister. However, the BJP might be tempted to portray Modi as the sort of strong though divisive leader that India needs, especially if the Gandhis don’t smarten up the way that the current government operates and is run.”

Photograph: Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar at an NDA rally in Punjab in 2009. Nitish Kumar was to later say that he had no option but to shake hands with Modi because he came and stood behind him.

Read the full article: Could Modi be the leader India needs?

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