New Delhi: As important as Atal Behari Vajpayee is to the recognition that the Bharatiya Janata Party is capable of tremendous and visionary national governance, the BJP has to grow beyond him, and only Narendra Modi among the present set of leaders is capable of bringing that growth. Lal Krishna Advani, 85, does not have prime- ministerial vision and was, truth to tell, a non-performing Union home minister. He was as much Loh Purush as Manmohan Singh is India’s finest prime minister. Sushma Swaraj, Modi’s rival, who is fomenting dissent against the Gujarat chief minister via the Janata Dal (United) of Nitish Kumar and the Shiv Sena rump minus Bal Thackeray, is a leader without a state or following. She was a decorative and purposeless information and broadcasting minister (I and B is a redundant ministry anyhow like railways) and there was bad blood in Karnataka on account of her alleged association with the lowlife Reddy brothers which made the papers. This writer shudders to think that anyone can wish her to be prime minister unless it is a Congress plot to keep control of things once in the opposition.

Narendra Modi cannot be more different from Vajpayee and that is perfectly natural. Originality resides in individuality and vice-versa if you didn’t know. Vajpayee was a good coalition prime minister. He had been a ranking opposition leader from the time of Jawaharlal Nehru and his prime-ministership laid the foundation for more opposition PMs to follow. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen because Vajpayee became trapped in National Democratic Alliance politics in which the BJP could not grow. Vajpayee’s chief bete noire was his deputy Advani who controlled the bloodhounds that were regularly unleashed against the prime minister. The Loh Purush versus Vikas Purush controversy was created by Advani’s men to show down Vajpayee when he was overseas. It was the nearest thing to a palace coup. This magazine and this writer vigorously opposed it. The hounding of Arun Shourie who was Vajpayee’s straightest and best cabinet minister also came at the behest of anti-Vajpayee forces. Advani may choose to forget all this but not everyone in the country suffers from memory loss. It is because of internal BJP opposition that Vajpayee had to look to the larger NDA for support and sustenance, which ultimately worked against the interests of the BJP, trapped it in coalition compulsions, and gave mediocrities like Nitish Kumar a larger-than-life persona. Because Nitish Kumar’s predecessors in Bihar were so toxic, he appears an angel in contrast. That may be all right by Bihar’s standards. But compared to Narendra Modi of Gujarat in absolute terms, he pales into insignificance. It may be good for television rating points to pit the two chief ministers against one another but it doesn’t convince serious-minded people.

At any rate, Vajpayee’s use of NDA allies to keep his BJP baiters at bay has now been adopted lock, stock and barrel by Advani and Sushma Swaraj. But history repeats as farce. The same set of people who opposed Vajpayee despite being a good prime minister now counter Modi because he has the potential to be as brilliant and even better. But Modi is cast in a different mould from Vajpayee. Obviously, he does not need the NDA as much as Vajpayee did because the BJP cadres are with him. More critically, however, he is a maximizer in a league of his own. He maximized Gujarat -- highlighting it on the world map, making him a plenipotentiary of sorts -- and he will do the same with India. He will not tolerate corruption or cronyism. He will bind the allies to working for India’s interests first. And he will apotheosize the country to unseen and unimagined levels. Of this, there can be no doubt.

Every man has ambitions for himself and Narendra Modi presumably is no different. But he has a vision for India that Advani, Sushma Swaraj and the tokenistic Nitish Kumar profoundly lack. Nitish Kumar will reduce India to a beggar nation, the same he has done to Bihar. Advani (sorry for the ageism; this writer is not getting younger) is way too manifestly over the hill, and brings nothing to the table. Sushma Swaraj is scarcely serious, breaking into a dance, if you remember, at some BJP function in Rajghat. The problem, however, is that if the Bharatiya Janata Party does not quickly circumscribe the vaulting ambitions of Advani & Co., it may be in more trouble than it reckons with the voting public. The voting public has more or less decided in favour of Modi. After nine disastrous years of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, that is the only intelligent choice to be made. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangha do not perhaps want the Modi momentum to be dissipated by declaring his PM candidature early. But the public is also getting incensed with and weary of the BJP infighting.

The clarity of distance tells solely Narendra Modi has the capacity to spectacularly increment the votes of the Bharatiya Janata Party and bring it to power at the Centre nearly all by itself. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, he will be a runaway hit. The writing is on the wall. People everywhere want good governments. Why not here? All elections are risky, but Modi’s reputation as a successful risk-taker has been solidly established, and that should put him soonest at the head of the BJP campaign, necessarily after a decent and amicable parting of ways with sections of the National Democratic Alliance that won’t come along. Who dares wins.