This is a remarkable feat for a man to whom the United States has refused to grant a visa and with whom the British government did not have any relationship until two month ago. Both decided to shun Modi because of his alleged role in the grisly riots against Muslims in 2002, sparked off in retaliation to the burning of a train in which 59 Hindu activists were returning from the Hindu holy town of Ayodhya. For days, murderous Hindu mobs killed, raped and looted Muslims even as the state administration watched. It was popularly perceived as a veritable state pogrom against Muslims, over which Modi presided.
Modi's alleged complicity in the riots is bound to make the international community, particularly Muslim countries, apprehensive if the BJP were to anoint him as its prime ministerial candidate. For long, he conflated the Muslim with the terrorist, Islam with backwardness. He is among the few who have targeted the head of another country in his election campaigns, spewing venom on Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and imploring the people of Gujarat to teach him a lesson by, believe it or not, voting Modi to power.
Should then the BJP project him as the prospective prime minister? At this question BJP leaders are likely to reprimand you for seeking the approval of Uncle Sam and India's erstwhile colonial master, simultaneously pooh-poohing the clout the Muslim countries can wield.
Yet these leaders were overjoyed when Time magazine to put him on its cover and went to town at the British government's decision in October to renew ties with Modi, whom they had boycotted after the 2002 riots. The British government cited 'national interest' to justify its rethink on Modi, a point BJP supporters often harp upon to claim that as prime minister, he can't remain pariah to foreign countries, who would not wish to risk their commercial interests in India.
The logic of self-interest has bolstered the hope of the BJP that most of its existing or potential allies, despite their deep dislike for Modi, would veer to rallying behind him, as it is only he who has the mass appeal to wrest power from the Congress-led coalition in Delhi. Would they for the ideological reason of secularism sacrifice their chances of securing a share of power, ask the BJP leaders.
Most of the BJP's current or potential allies are confined to just one state. Most of them are also crucially dependent on Muslims to win a majority of seats on their home turf. Considering that Modi is anathema to Muslims, these potential or existing allies fear their support to him could weaken them in the state where they command influence.
For them, secularism is the cloak they must wear to both retain their attraction for Muslims and scare the BJP from openly projecting Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. They would rather have the debate over Modi prolonged, thus fanning the hope of both his supporters that he could become India's prime minister as well as that of his detractors that he might not.
Ordinarily, this could have been the BJP's preferred strategy. But the party is riven by competition among its second generation leaders. Further, the BJP's hope of exploiting the corruption charges against the Congress government has diminished because its own leaders have been accused of defalcation of public funds. Desperate to capture power, many BJP leaders believe Modi is their best bet for victory, for he can polarize the electorate along the religious divide as well as gather votes because of his credentials as the man who could usher in development.
The BJP's warring leaders have their own calculations. They know the BJP under Modi can improve its performance but can't form a government on its own. The potential allies could then be worked upon to offer support in exchange for denying the post of prime minister to Modi. But otherwise too, they believe the demands of coalition politics will persuade Modi the prime minister to take the middle ground and refrain from building a cult around him.
His record in power for over 10 years in Gujarat doesn't inspire confidence. He chased out his rivals from the party. He whipped up emotions, harping on Hindu or Gujarati pride. To sustain such politics Modi needs to create enemies: it is either the Muslim, or the wicked Centre discriminating against Gujarat. Now imagine Modi as India's prime minister. From talking about the pride of Gujaratis, he will harp on the pride of Indians. His emotive style of politics will demand he create enemies capable of terrorising the entire nation.
Such enemies will be so much simpler to find outside India, in other nations, particularly the neighbours. A trade dispute between India and another country could be blown out of proportion, and a border skirmish portrayed as the prelude to an inevitable conflict. It has been Modi's trait to feed on the weak to become strong personally. Ultimately, Mr Strong is Mr Bully.