Can Narendra Modi win friends, influence voters?

A week is a long time in politics; a fortnight is an eternity. What seemed like, what was projected to be the penultimate stop in his march to his advertised destination, his elevation as the chairman of the election campaign committee of the BJP at the party’s national executive in Goa, has come quickly unstuck for Narendra Damodardas Modi.

On one level, the very public resignation of Lalchand Kishinchand Advani from all BJP posts the day after Modi’s anointment served to show that the divisions in the party on Modi’s acceptance wasn’t a media-created fiction, as the paid pipers on TV and the internet contend, but a reality.

That such senior leaders like Sushma Swaraj conspicuously absented themselves from the unctuous celebrations of Modi’s elevation was too obvious to be missed.

On another level, the withdrawal of support by the BJP’s partner, the JD(U), after 17 years of cohabitation showed that Modi’s acceptance within the NDA wasn’t assured either. And Nitish Kumar‘s dismissal of Modi as a “shortlived wave” created by “corporate houses” only underlines the obstacles ahead of the Gujarat chief minister.

Sudheendra Kulkarni, the aide of both former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani, has today described Modi as an “autocrat” and a “self-centered leader who has shown that he cares two hoots for the party organization and long-time party colleagues in his own state“.

Even prime minister Manmohan Singh has suddenly found the strength to say that “Modi is no threat. People of India know what he stands for… People of India have to draw their own conclusion what they stand for.”

What the developments of the last few days have demonstrated is that the knives are now out in the open. There are some in Delhi who smell trouble for Modi’s Man Friday in Uttar Pradesh, the former home minister of Gujarat, Amit Shah, in the Ishrat Jahan encounter killing case, and indeed some read the urgency with which the RSS and BJP ensured Modi’s elevation in Goa (sparking Advani’s resignation and the JDU pullout), in conjunction with it.

In short, the odds are getting stacked and it is going to take a strong heart, a chhappan ki chhaati, to weather the current and future storms. Can Modi still pull it off and become the BJP’s face for the next election? If he does, will he able to provide the kind of thrust and throttle that the party requires to get close to 200 seats? And if he doesn’t, does his personality inspire enough confidence to woo parties and partners?

Or have all these cards been played by Modi’s detractors too early, giving him more than enough time to recoup?