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Upping the Ante

 

With Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, the Sangh parivar is hoping for a swing to beat all swings.
RANJIT BHUSHAN | Issue Dated: September 29, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Narendra Modi | Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh | NDA | Ram Jethmalani |
 

By choosing to formalize Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate and declining to entertain any opposition, the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS) is playing the biggest card of its life: in an era of coalition governments, it wants to establish the supremacy of an individual whose strength outside of Gujarat is relatively unknown.

 

What is known in Gujarat is not particularly pretty: a decade-long rigorous civil rights campaign after the Godhra train killings and the 2002 riots, has painted Modi in a tight corner. His role has been under the scanner by the apex court and the media and he continues to be a divisive figure for many.

 

The stakes in this case should be considered very high. In its heyday under Atal Behari Vajapyee, NDA was a 25-party coalition run with varying ideologies; from the Hindu Right to Socialists of all hues, former Congressmen, independent candidates and regional satraps. Today’s NDA is a shrunk affair with two relatively bigger allies in the Akali Dal and Shiv Sena along with a host of minor partners that include the Haryana Janhit Party, the Maharashtra Gomantak Party, the Nagaland Peoples’, a section of the Republican party of India and the virtually non-existent Asom Gana Parishad (AGP). Its big ally JD (U) is no longer with it. The attitude of potential ally AIADMK remains uncertain. Other political marquees like Mayawati, Navin Patnaik, Mamata Bannerjee, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Yadav don’t seem like they could tie up with the Gujarat strongman anytime soon.

 

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose JD (U) walked out of the NDA alliance causing a national stir precisely on the issue of support to the Gujarat Chief Minister, told reporters in Patna that Modi’s elevation has actually strengthened the hands of the Congress. ‘‘The BJP has put an end to the anti-Congress and anti-UPA mood in the country. They are responsible. As per my understanding, the BJP is not going to gain from this. They did as per their own wish and have gone into isolation since then.’’

 

The BJP’s strength in the four south Indian states remains questionable with a whopping 129 seats at stake. While General Elections could well turn out to be a totally different ball game, the fact is that in the recent Karnataka bye-elections, the JD (U)’s tie up with the BJP cost the party two sitting Lok Sabha seats and virtually decimated the Deve Gowda family’s hold on Karnataka politics. Remember Karnataka was once regarded as the BJP’s gateway to the south.

 

So in a sense, with the anointment of Modi, coalition politics is virtually ruled out. What it then means is that the RSS and the saffron leadership who have presided over Modi’s elevation have decided to go it alone, well against conventional wisdom, disregarding the all important caste factor in the populous Hindi heartland of the country.


Insiders however say the BJP had no option to put anyone upfront because simply put, Narendra Modi remains their best bet. Despite the high voltage campaigns against him, Modi has managed to survive, nay win comprehensive elections to the state assembly. In an era of predictable politicians, he stands apart, not the least because of the controversial halo round his head. He appears mostly unapologetic about the past and goes about his work in a manner befitting a corporate honcho: rattling figures, raising new issues, setting deadlines.

 

It may have earned Modi with the sobriquet of ‘pheku’ (boaster) from the Congress party, but his ability to mobilise is regarded as formidable; for many of us who have covered Gujarat at some time or the other, it was pretty much the obvious conclusion to arrive at.

Modi has the backing of large sections of the corporate class, fed up with five years of UPA pussyfooting on economic reforms and reducing the country to a bad investment destination. The dominance of the Sonia Gandhi-backed National Advisory Council (NAC) on policy decisions has been the dominant theme of the second UPA tenure. For support, Sonia has turned to the traditional Congress vote bank, the vast masses of poor, by a series of subsidy-driven flagship development programmes including right to food and MNREGA, the world’s largest welfare scheme launched anywhere. That has obviously meant subsidies, inflation and flight of capital as even Indian industrialists are keen to invest their money outside the country. In addition, the bulk of India’s top industrialists are either Gujaratis themselves or based out of the state. Which means the BJP alliance with the corporates is well in place.

 

One thing is clear though: with the arrival of Modi on the political scene, the results are increasingly difficult to predict because he represents a force which is still largely an unknown entity in New Delhi’s elite circles.

 

Pro-Modi columnist Swapan Dasgupta makes this point. ‘‘Modi is a different kettle of fish altogether. For a start, he is an outsider in the cosy political world of the Capital. He is not linked by the elaborate networks and cross connections that make Lutyens' Delhi an incestuous arrangement. He hasn't been sullied by the compromises and adjustments that are a feature of governance through entitlements. Modi neither possesses nor yearns for the old school tie; he is content being what he is. Despite long years as CM of Gujarat, he has not been co-opted by the Establishment. In fact, being a loner he doesn't really care whether or not the beautiful people find him acceptable or repugnant. After all, for the past 12 years they rarely if ever deemed it appropriate to woo him with awards for being the most reformist state or something similar. The outcry over Modi's 'polarizing' agenda isn't really centred on a defence of the much-acclaimed 'idea of India'. It is essentially an expression of fear and apprehension over the rise of a leader who owes little or nothing to the Establishment.’’

 

But then can such a politician succeed, no matter what the groundswell? Some indication of it may come in the end-of-the-year assembly elections in four crucial states in the Hindi heartland; Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh currently held by the BJP and Rajasthan and Delhi under the Congress charge. But at best, it can only be an indication because anti-incumbency may not work this time in all four states, leading analysts back to the drawing board.

 

Modi is 100 percent secular

Top lawyer Ram Jethmalani was among the first in the BJP to back Narendra Modi. Excerpts from an interview:

Would you say Narendra Modi is the best bet for the BJP?
Of course. He is impeccably secular, honest, efficient and fully qualified to become the prime minister. He is the BJP’s best bet for the top post. The BJP has done well by announcing his name because doing so after the elections would have been counterproductive and the people were expecting it in any case.

There is a public debate on his secular credentials.
Modi’s critics should read the Indian Constitution carefully in which secularism is defined well. Those who do not understand it are raising the issue of secularism. Secularism and communalism have become dirty words today. People are using it indiscriminately without understanding what it means. Modi is 100 percent secular.

What you are implying is that the campaign against Modi is motivated.
His rivals are spreading this canard and tarnishing his image and reputation to keep him down. But I can tell you that there is the announcement of his name is going to help the BJP and NDA both.

 

BJP sources say Modi is not unaware of his and the BJP’s handicaps. But several internal all-India surveys conducted by him project 200 or so seats for the party in 2014. This, Modi calculates, will be the springboard for launching strategic post-poll coalitions because it will represent a substantial increase on its 117 odd Lok Sabha seats that it won in the 2009 General Elections. When it comes to regional allies, those from the North East for instance, will be happy to support any government at the centre, not as politically motivated as some of the other mainland parties.

 

 

One thing is clear though: Modi, aware of the substantially larger all India footprints that Congress has, is working hard on winning the only state that really matters in the final reckoning – Uttar Pradesh. He is aware that the party’s rise to national eminence happened with its successes in UP back in the 1990s and its downfall began when caste equations, Dalits with Mayawati and the OBC with Mulayam Singh Yadav, became a stronger factor than Hindutva.

 

With the induction of chief aide Amit Shah into proceedings in UP, the BJP’s poster boy wants a grip on the Hind heartland – for him to become a factor, the party will have to go back to its 50-plus tally in India’s largest and politically most crucial state. BJP leaders say that Amit Shah has not spent much time in the state, apart from kaining a couple of visits. He is sharply aware of the sensitivities of party president Rajnath Singh who will not like too many outsiders meddling on his home turf. It is this final heave that Modi wants to inject, which he hopes will catapult him to the top. 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017