New Delhi: The chief trends in the coming general elections have been established for some time now. This is the second report card on the main players in the polls.

Lal Krishna Advani: Clear loser. He should have gracefully stepped aside and made way for a younger leadership in the Bharatiya Janata Party after his failure in the 2009 polls. Indian politicians do not know when to leave and how to retire with dignity. When you lead the campaign and lose, you bow out. This happens all the time in Britain. Even the ‘Iron Lady’, the late Margaret Thatcher, could not overcome this inexorable steel law of British politics when her popularity in the Conservative Party dwindled. And it is inexcusable that Advani became a faction leader, pushing Sushma Swaraj’s prime minister candidature after his own, instead of leaving this to the party to decide in natural course. Where he could have won admiration and respect for building the Bharatiya Janata Party into a national entity by stepping down to preserve and safeguard its interests, he became self-centred and manipulative, and denied the party mentorship when it needed it most. When Atal Behari Vajpayee was prime minister, Advani used Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangha pressure to become deputy prime minister, a position that gained him nothing. Today, he is again pleading with the RSS for prominence in the 2014 election and tries to undercut Modi at every turn, whilst his backers spin away to the media. What a fall. Rating: 2 upon 10.

Sushma Swaraj: Advani’s favourite, and the darling of the Capital’s press corps, she epitomizes the rootless politician of Establishment Delhi with vaunting ambitions. Modi’s elevation as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign chief and probable prime minister candidate has ruined her calculations, as she aspired for the top job with Advani’s backing in case the patriarch failed to win for himself. Sushma Swaraj has superb oratorical and debating skills and a razor-sharp memory but is nil in the direction of national vision and administrative acumen. Officials who have worked with her rate her poorly and she was a disastrous chief minister of Delhi, paving the way for Shiela Dixit’s three terms. Sushma Swaraj resents Modi’s rise and was presumably joyous at Advani’s revolt against his elevation as the party’s campaign chief, but must now protect her own interests given that the Gujarat chief minister is unstoppable. If she had the courage of her conviction, he would not join a future Modi government, but you can expect her to queue up for a plum portfolio. Rating: 3 out of 10.

Rajnath Singh: He appears to have grown in stature since his second coming as national president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, but this may be illusory. In his earlier term, he appeared to flounder, because he hadn’t discarded his provincialism, and he was ill-at-ease with the Anglicized culture of the party at the centre. In that term, he had a few run-ins with Arun Jaitley over liaising with the press. The real problem, though, was that the Bharatiya Janata Party was out of power, and he found it beyond his mettle to guide the organization out of dark times, and this was all the more worsened with the second defeat in 2009, which Advani blamed on him. But if he now looks in control, it is because the United Progressive Alliance is in a shambles, the Manmohan Singh government has given up any pretence of governance, and the Sangha Parivar cadres have forced a decision on the elevation of Narendra Modi. Which politician does not have national ambitions, and Rajnath Singh is not a saint. But he finds himself swept away in the fast Modi current like most of the rest of the Bharatiya Janata Party and has decided, for now, to remain on the right side of the Gujarat chief minister, and some of Modi’s legendary decisiveness appears to have rubbed on him, burnishing his image. At the end of the day, however, he has insubstantial political following, including in his home state of Uttar Pradesh, and his best bet is to remain an instrument for Modi’s rise. He has the full backing of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangha but not for prime-ministership. Rating: 4 out of 10.

Arun Jaitley: He was the first senior central Bharatiya Janata Party leader to endorse Narendra Modi for prime-ministership to the chagrin of his former mentor, Lal Krishna Advani. Jaitley has realized that his biggest handicap is an absent Lok Sabha career and he cannot match the popularity of the three-time chief minister of Gujarat who has a massive and growing following outside the state. Jaitley had earlier tried to repair this handicap but was apparently dissuaded from contesting the Lok Sabha polls by vested interests and in a possible rebound has sided with Modi. Another reason is the rise of Sushma Swaraj. Whilst he is known to nurse prime-ministerial ambitions and has a better administrative grasp than Swaraj, he has no electoral following. He can be intellectually deep and persuasive and has one of the sharpest minds in the Bharatiya Janata Party. Rating: 6 out of 10.

Nitin Gadkari: The backing of the current leadership of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangha gives him a standing which is far in excess of his true political mass. A Maharashtra politician close to Nagpur, he couldn’t break the iron grip of Advani & Co. over the central Bharatiya Janata Party, and his rivals leaked details of his dodgy business dealings for the handy use of the Manmohan Singh government. Advani hoped that with Gadkari gone, Sushma Swaraj could be managed as the party’s national president, but the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangha snubbed him and brought Rajnath Singh for a second term. Subsequently against Modi, Advani sought to use Gadkari, through a parallel election committee, but he refused to take the bait. Gadkari is reconciled to Modi’s rise and is not a serious player in the coming election. Rating: 3 out of 10.

Narendra Modi: He is the star of the show. There are enough and more people who call him communal (although at last count, Anna Hazare said he was not), but this writer believes he is no more than a firm and unapologetic non-appeaser, which this country direly needs. The communal Congress and the sectarian mainstream media (it has gone beyond pseudo-secularism) have taken objection to Modi’s self-description as a “Hindu nationalist” but one has to return to the controversial Reuters’ interview to discover how he reached at that construction. It was not a reflexive comment but a progressive construction which is ultimately harmless and his “puppy” remark provoked undeserved outrage. If there was no method to these remarks before, the manufactured outrage of the communal lobby has certainly pushed him to go the way he would not have chosen in the first place (he politely declined an Ayodhya invitation in early June, and stayed away from a Vishwa Hindu Parishad programme during the Maha Kumbh in Allahabad in February), especially with the “veil of secularism” remark.

Ultimately, what Modi has embarked upon doing is use his misperceived image as a battering ram against Establishment Delhi and established politics to forge and create a brand new narrative that is neither Nehruvian nor fraudulently secular. In doing so, he is acting out his role as an archetypal outsider. This writer does not profess to know Narendra Modi’s mind having met him only once in the mid-1990s in the Bharatiya Janata Party office in Delhi but his Gujarat strategies which have won him three straight terms do hold a clue. Modi will not care how he is regarded and perceived in his single-minded aim to bring the Bharatiya Janata Party to power at the Centre, but those who know how he squared off the RSS and VHP leaderships in Gujarat would laugh at the shrill allegation that he is a Hindutva icon. It is almost impossible to slot Modi. Barring his own self, no one can claim to know the real Modi. He will certainly not indulge in tawdry tokenism of “tilak and topi” like Nitish Kumar whose power base is crumbling in Bihar on an hourly basis and he will not be defensive about his faith, a forthrightness that has now pushed Mulayam Singh Yadav and Digvijay Singh to the backfoot. In the coming weeks, he will by himself change the agenda, leaving his political rivals in the Congress and in the Bharatiya Janata Party entirely befuddled.

As a former Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangha functionary, Narendra Modi has intimate knowledge of the country. There is perhaps no one contemporaneous who knows more about Indian politics and how it works than him. He is thorough and he will go to the bottom of every issue. He is a remarkable political organizer and a brilliant manager and he will bring all his vast talents to bear on the election. What he has set out to do is epic and epically risky. He has already produced a churning in the electorate which is unprecedented. This man is a winner. Rating: 8 upon 10.

To be continued...