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On this day, seven years ago, BJP declared Narendra Modi as PM candidate. I never thought he’d win

That announcement by Rajnath Singh was clearly a watershed moment in the history of a party which has evolved into an altogether a different beast in all these years.

13th September, 2013, just few months ahead of 2014 Lok Sabha elections, then BJP President Rajnath Singh held a press conference in New Delhi. He was accompanied with the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

In the press briefing, it was announced that Narendra Modi will be the Prime Ministerial face of the BJP in upcoming elections. Speculations were rife that it would again be L K Advani who’d be the PM face. Many thought it would be Sushma Swaraj or Arun Jaitley as Modi was dismissed by media as the ‘man who presided over 2002 Gujarat riots’. Never mind the fact that in rest of the 12 years of his chief ministerial tenure, Gujarat remained largely peaceful.

I looked up tweets by the usual suspects, expecting a meltdown. That the likes of Rana Ayyub and Rajdeep Sardesai would have attacked the BJP for choosing Modi. Surprise, surprise. None had a meltdown. In fact, they were taking the anointment quite lightly.

And joking about his US visa status.

You see, no one really thought that this man from the shore of Sabarmati will make it. The media perception was against him. He was referred to as ‘maut ka saudagar’ by opposition leaders. His own allies were not too happy and they made it abundantly clear. In June 2013, when the talks of Modi being the Prime Ministerial candidate were gathering pace, JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar broke the 17-year-old NDA alliance. He had made his ‘dislike’ for PM Modi quite apparent. In 2010, Nitish Kumar had cancelled a pre-scheduled dinner for BJP leaders including Modi. Two years prior, in 2008, he had returned Rs 5 crore aide Gujarat Government headed by Narendra Modi had given as flood relief to Bihar. In fact, he returned it with interest.

For a party that has managed to stay in power for full five-year term only once, the BJP was taking a whole lot of risk propping Modi as PM candidate when its own party stalwarts and allies were sulking. They were also challenging the Congress-led UPA which has an entire ecosystem rallying behind it for reelection for the third time.

During his tenure as Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi had started the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ biennial summit. A senior journalist once told me that right after 2002 riots, Modi decided to bring about a perception change for Gujarat. He had made up his mind that when people think of Gujarat they’d think of progress. The first Vibrant Gujarat summit was held in 2003 during Navratri, the nine-night long dance festival.

Prior to that, Modi called editors and journalists of various media houses and gave them a powerpoint presentation on his vision. Gujarat Samachar Editor, Shreyansh Shah, whose vernacular newspaper was under fire over inflammatory content during 2002 riots, was also present, the journalist told me. He told me that Shah walked out in middle of presentation, apparently unimpressed. The then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi followed him and asked him to get back. But Shah didn’t relent.

It was then that Modi stopped caring what media has to say about him. He decided to let his work do the talking.

The next summit was scheduled for January 2015 by when the elections would be far from over. But, Narendra Modi grabbed this opportunity with both his hands. He arranged a series of ‘Vibrant Gujarat pre-event summits’ on various topics like green energy, clean tech, education, agriculture, information technology and used that platform as his pitch to the countrymen.

The ones who dismissed the summit in 2003, were thronging the pre-event summits and publishing them on front page.

He not only let the nation know what he has done as Chief Minister of one of the most enterprising states but also what he promises. He knew our country’s economy was stuck because of policy paralysis. He made sure everyone knew.

But there was little hope that BJP might actually have a chance. There was the India Against Corruption movement. People were angry with Congress. But were they angry enough to give the BJP a clear majority? Were people, those towards the centre of right, willing to overlook the events and narrative around the 2002 riots to vote for Modi? Wouldn’t it be wise for the BJP to choose a ‘rational’ leader as PM face, should there be a ‘hung parliament’ and BJP has to depend on the allies for a stable 5-year government? Frankly speaking, I wasn’t sure.

Till I saw this image.

Modi with Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari and Arun Jaitley on 14th May 2014

This was 2 days before the counting. India had decided. Modi’s body language shows a resolve that he was sure he is coming to Delhi.

The BJP took a chance. Modi won and how. And not just once. He not only repeated history but wrote a new one when he returned with a stronger mandate in 2019.

That announcement by Rajnath Singh was clearly a watershed moment in the history of a party which has evolved into an altogether a different beast in all these years.

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Nirwa Mehta
Politically incorrect. Author, Flawed But Fabulous.

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