A politician is not worth his salt if he does not attack his opponents. So it was not at all surprising that on Sunday, the second day of the BJP's national executive meet in New Delhi, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in his speech attacked the Congress-led UPA government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Gandhi family and so forth. But curiously Modi also heaped praise on an unlikely individual - President Pranab Mukherjee, who until his recent elevation, had been one of the stalwarts of the Congress and the UPA government.
Why was Modi praising President Mukherjee? It perhaps has to do with the next general elections, slated for 2014. Given the political reality of the country and the inevitability of coalitions ruling in the immediate future, there is every likelihood that the 2014 election will throw up a hung Parliament. In that case, the President could well play a critical role in deciding who forms the next government. Was Modi trying to ensure the BJP's future, in case it wins more seats in 2014 than in the previous poll, but not enough - even with its allies - to form the government?
There was another leader Modi praised who is not active in politics anymore, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He called Vajpayee the best Prime Minister India has ever had. It is, however, well known that Vajpayee wanted Modi to quit as chief minister after the 2002 Gujarat riots. He had publicly urged Modi then to adhere to raj dharma (principles of good governance) and not discriminate on the basis of caste, creed or religion. It was L.K. Advani who steadfastly stood behind Modi then, and ensured Modi retained his chief ministership. He continued to back Modi even when Modi detractors within the BJP, like former Gujarat chief minister, Keshubhai Patel, make repeated trips to Delhi seeking Modi's ouster.
Vajpayee has quit active politics and has also been out of public view due to poor health, but 85-year-old Advani is still active. Advani was the BJP's prime ministerial candidate last time and he has still not ruled out making yet another bid in 2014. Was Modi's praise of Vajpayee a hint to Advani that he was passe and needed to make way for more dynamic youngsters? Modi, of course, did make a mention of Advani in his speech, about his "guidance" to the party. And Advani in turn though did say some nice things in his own speech about Modi and Gujarat, what was conspicuous was his praising of Sushma Swaraj - Swaraj is Modi's biggest rival as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate in the next poll.
Though his prime ministerial ambitions are clear, Modi did not neglect to make the right political noises in his speech by praising party workers and, more importantly, by reiterating that "it did not really matter" who became the Prime Minister from the BJP. He also extolled the achievements of the Chhattisgarh government under Chief Minister Raman Singh. However, his praise of Madhya Pradesh's BJP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan seemed subdued.
If the BJP returns to power in Madhya Pradesh after elections later this year, as many expect it to, Chauhan would become chief minister for the third time. What's more important, while Gujarat has always been ahead on growth and development for decades, Chauhan has been winning praise for taking tangible steps to rid Madhya Pradesh of the backward state tag it carries. Nor is Chauhan a polarising figure like Modi, and could be more acceptable to the BJP's allies. Speculation is rife of both Modi and Chauhan being inducted soon into the party's parliamentary board. Does Modi see Chauhan as a serious rival?