Narendra Modi always hogs the headlines and always generates sharp responses of two kinds. One from the people who believe Modi is the future of India, natural choice for the Prime Ministership, India's development-man, modern, determined and decisive. Industrialists say he made Gujarat an ideal state for their industries where decisions are not dependent on red-tapism. Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani see a PM in Modi. He is the only leader in BJP with a mass following and admirers outside the party. Modi is perhaps the only Indian politician to have a cult status on the social media. You may not get any feedback when you write on other leaders on Twitter or Facebook, but one piece on Modi and there is a barrage of hate- or fan-mails.
Modi, of course, has another image too. The villain of the 2002 riots. The man who divides the Hindus and the Muslims. Despite all the claims of development and harmony, Modi has not been able to reach out to the victims of the riots. They still await justice. Modi is abhorred by the secularists. Modi, on his part, also doesn't care about carrying all sections of the society along. Dictator, destructive and defiant. All those who nudged him the wrong way paid for it, whether it be the state bureaucracy or his fellow leaders in BJP. Modi is not a believer in equality. He is the party as well as the government in Gujarat. The megalomaniac is too tall for anybody in the state. His compatriots are scared of him. Speaking out of turn and without Modi's permission invites his wrath and even jeopardizes careers.
In short, Modi is an epitome of paradox. And in this paradox lies his rise as well as his debacle. Whether or not he plays a larger role in national politics will also be decided by this paradox. This paradox creates friends as well as enemies. If he has an admirer in Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa, he has a detractor in Bihar CM Nitish Kumar. Modi visits Jayalalithaa who in turn is pleased to host her Gujarat counterpart whereas Nitish refuses to be photographed with him, let alone meet him. Modi is welcome everywhere except Bihar.
It is despite these paradoxes that Modi is trying to seek a larger role in national politics. He knows how crucial the 2014 polls are for him. He knows that if he has to be acceptable outside Gujarat, then he has six months to not only win Gujarat again with a huge mandate in the Assembly elections, but also project himself as the most powerful politician within the BJP.
The Manmohan government is in bad shape. Congress is in coma, a fact acknowledged even by the Congress leaders. 2014 Lok Sabha elections is a golden opportunity for the BJP to come back to power. The party only has to put its house in order. After Atal Behari Vajpayee and L K Advani, the party needs a leader who could unite the party, take everyone along, and excite and inspire its cadre. A leader who becomes the hero of the urban middle class and helps the undecided voter decide in his favour. BJP lacks such leaders. There is a vacuum. There are various names, but not one of them matches upto an Atal or an Advani. Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi and Nitin Gadkari look tall not because of their clout, but because of their positions. Modi is the only one who stands out. He has charisma, a magnetic personality and the ability to pull in voters.
Unfortunately, Modi is a natural leader at a time when coalition politics is the only reality and option. If BJP had the capacity to form a government on its own, then Modi would have been, without any hesitation, its obvious choice. Swaraj, Jaitley, Rajnath and Joshi would have been nowhere. He would have been the first choice of RSS too. The taint over riots or legal obstacles would not have stopped Modi either. After all, leaders like Advani, despite facing legal battles over the Babri demolition, have largely remain unaffected by them.
But the compulsions of coalition have put the BJP and the RSS in a dilemma. Arrogance coupled with Gujarat riots taint have made Modi an untouchable for a section of the society. BJP knows it has to garner support of other political parties to form a government at the Centre. The Prime Minister, in such a situation, has to be a consensus candidate. Coalition turns leaders like Narasimha Rao, H D deve Gowda and I K Gujral into heroes. Or you have to be somebody like Vajpayee whose charisma overshadows all the limitations and who everyone bows to. Or you need a Manmohan Singh who can never be a threat to anybody. Modi, because of his paradox, is none of the above. Nitish Kumar, in such a scenario, looks like the only politician who can openly oppose Modi. Even BJP and the Sangh Pariwar has no dearth of leaders who feel threatened by Modi's rise. Modi's national dreams are alright, but his paradoxical image can easily eclipse his ambitions.