How Narendra Modi plans to win voters and influence India

Shekhar Iyer

India, July 23 -- Forty days after Narendra Modi took over as head of the BJP's campaign committee, a battle plan - with the stamp of a clearthinking but micro-managing leader - is emerging out of the chaos that the party was even a couple of months ago.

Once the rains cease, Modi will begin his "carpet-bombing", addressing more than 400 rallies planned across the country so far. But even before that, he will surface on different platforms - digital or otherwise - to keep the momentum going.

But what message will the BJP's 2014 mascot carry to the voter? Party men say Modi will go for an aggressive pitch against what he brands as the years of Congress non-governance.

He plans to induce a yearning for change among the voters, something that US President Barack Obama did in the 2008 and 2012 elections, using a mix of campaign methods - personal appeal, contact with voters and interactions on social media platforms.

But senior party leaders admit that Modi will have to use a tinge of Hindutva too. He has already raised storms with remarks such as "puppies coming under a speeding car" in the context of the 2002 Gujarat riots and "the Congress seeking to hide under the burqa of secularism when confronted with crisis".

For, lower-rung party leaders assert that Modi cannot ignore the core BJP voter completely. "He may not personally like to hype the temple issue, but he cannot be totally silent on it either."

A BJP functionary who handles interactions with the media said the rank and file was happy with Modi's attacks on Congress secularism - "even though sections of the media made it out as attacks on Muslims".

Led by senior patriarch LK Advani, some BJP leaders, however, fear that Modi's hardline utterances may end up helping the Congress turn the middle class against the party.

The last few days did see BJP spokespersons straining hard to explain what - according to them - Modi actually meant while making those comments. But senior leader Yashwant Sinha did not mince words, saying the party must not let the Congress hijack the "real" issues.

On the other hand, Modi's backers like Arun Jaitley, who called for modernisation of the party after the 2009 debacle, argue that the BJP's campaign will be multi-faced and the thrust will be on "saying goodbye to corruption" and meeting the needs of growth and development.

They argue that even Modi won't let his USP of good governance be lost in the communalism-versus-secularism battle though he may keep making provocative remarks to tie down the Congress "in its own trap".

As for the possibility of Modi being the PM candidate in 2014, no one in BJP's rank and file has any doubt now even if it takes a while. "For the BJP, Modi is the answer," a BJP leader said.

But for the party to get its act together, all leaders will have to contribute to the index of internal unity.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.