The summer of 2013 is promising to be a major watershed in Indian politics. Though signs of change were on the horizon, yet it required a meeting in the Goan capital Panaji to act as a catalyst to bring the political pot of the country to boil.
It looked like another laidback Sunday, but political storms don’t come by invitation or appointment. On June 9, BJP president Rajnath Singh announced that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has been appointed as the chairman of the party’s election campaign committee serving friends and foes a fait accompli. More than a month later, the party chief left little to imagination, when he virtually anointed Modi as the prime ministerial candidate in New York July 19, leaving no room for confusion on the issue.
BJP versus the Rest
The politics of the country has undergone a sea change by these two announcements which were possibly meant for two different audiences. While till then, Indian politics was the Congress versus the rest, now it has turned into the BJP versus the rest.
The current political discourse has turned Modi-centric as all political parties, big or small, react to his statements, observations, comments and doings. He may not be wished well by many, but cannot be ignored either by friends or foes.
Unravelling Modi mystique
It needs to be understood as why a controversial leader who enjoys popularity and has a following among not only Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) large family but even among others who are convinced that the root of all problems and below-potential performance of India lies with the Congress is being preferred at this juncture by his party.
Out of the power game for over nine years in New Delhi, the BJP and its extended saffron family was in search of a formula which can possibly catapult it to New Delhi Delhi throne, and in Modi they saw their only hope.
A detailed exercise of feedback from party workers and sympathisers of the RSS was conducted and it was found that Modi alone fitted the bill and only after that it was decided to project him as the prime ministerial face of the party.
In choosing Modi, the BJP, under the RSS’s remote control, decided to embark on the road of ‘realpolitik,’ abandoning the earlier platform of principles and idealism. Undoubtedly, there were other leaders in the party like L. K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley but none, in the RSS’s hard-boiled assessment, could galvanise the party cadres as well as the youth of the country who are looking for better employment opportunities and a higher standard of living.
The urban youth and traditionally anti-Congress elements of the country’s polity who nurse a deep hatred for the Nehru-Gandhi family is another reason for selection of Modi because he alone is capable of turning Gandhi-baiting into votes for the BJP. Gujarat Chief Minister’s aggressive and abrasive choice of words, along with his populist oratorical style, attracts this constituency immensely and the Sangh leadership is confident that this would stand the BJP in good stead.
Global embrace of Modi?
Whether the BJP’s strategy would indeed turn out to be a winning formula or not is a question whose answer time alone will be able to give. The political history of the country has no lessons on this. It is unique in many ways.
With Rajnath Singh removing confusion on Modi’s prime ministerial candidature in New York on the very first day of his five-day trip to the US, the BJP now appears to be battle ready as it has made all the necessary preparation for the electoral war in 2014, if not earlier. General has been appointed, men and machine have been put in place and resources have been marshalled to win what promises to be the mother of all electoral battles in 2014.
It is indeed intriguing as to why Rajnath Singh chose a US city to make the announcement. The BJP planners and policy makers seem to be of the view that support from the US was needed to make the party under Modi come to power. The party is working hard to get the US sanctions against Modi lifted as has been done by the European Union earlier.
Ready for Battle 2014
The war against the country’s grand old party – the Congress – is going to be fought by the BJP under the overall command of the RSS whose chief Mohan Bhagwat has ensured that the party remains united. A strong evidence of Sangh’s effort was available when the BJP announced the formation of a dozen poll- related committees last week which has all the senior leaders as its members. Even party’s senior leader and one of the prime architects of the BJP, L K Advani, who had rebelled against the foisting of Modi on the party by resigning all the party posts in month of June, has also fallen in line with the RSS chief’s intervention as he has accepted the role of a guide.
The first tremor of the Modi’s elevation to national electoral politics was felt in Bihar where a 16-year-old alliance between the Janata Dal (United) and the BJP came apart, turning friends into foes. JD (U) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, an astute political player and a product of caste politics, took no time to terminate the alliance, this opening doors for the revival of the idea of a non-Congress and non-BJP Third Front.
While there are many contradictions in the formation of a credible alternative to either the Congress or the BJP as ambitions of regional leaders like Mulaym Singh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee, J. Jayalalithaa and, last but not the least, Nitish Kumar come in the way of such a front, the BJP under Modi would have to win enough Lok Sabha seats on its own strength to enable it to stake a claim for forming a government at the Centre.
After the exit of the JD (U), the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is bereft of credible partners. Only Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal are still in the NDA tent. These two parties cannot significantly contribute to the BJP’s tally. The saffron party would, therefore, sorely need other parties in the coalition to turn the BJP’s fortune but only a spectacular electoral performance can attract others to the NDA’s fold. This seems unlikely at the moment.
Going by the past electoral performance, the BJP’s highest tally in the Lok Sabha polls has been 183 and that too under the leadership of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee whose appeal went beyond the saffron camp and reached even those sections of polity and society whose loyalty towards secularism was unchallenged. The critical figure of 183 was reached in 1999 after the Kargil war and the NDA was unable to complete its full term as the then Vajpayee government had lost the confidence motion in the Lok Sabha after withdrawal of support by the AIADMK of Jayalalithaa.
The Vajapyee government was seen as a victim of manipulative politics and thus enjoyed sympathies across the country but whether the tally can be repeated by an aggressive campaign needs to be closely analysed to be understood.
Modi is popular in urban centres, but whether his appeal would demolish the entrenched barriers of caste, religion, regionalism and language is doubtful at present because today politics is an aggregation of all the above factors and interests. Modi would have to generate a similar wave like that of 1971, 1977 or 1984. In all other elections, no party has been able to win and form the government on its own.
Even in 1977 general elections, held after the lifting of emergency, the Congress was ousted not only because of the popular anger against the government of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi but also because that index of opposition unity against the Congress was the highest.
The BJP, under Modi’s leadership, is bound to increase its tally but one is not sure whether that be enough for it to come to power. Crystal-gazers should play safe; the best-laid electoral predictions have gone terribly awry in the past few years. A string of assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi in December this year would offer enough indications of the emerging trends in the country’s unpredictable politics.
It may sound a tad too pessimistic, but India seems to heading towards another prolonged period of political instability. A naked and brutal struggle for power bereft of all principles and ideologies seems to be on the cards.
(Dr Satish Misra is a veteran political commentator. The views expressed in this column are personal reflections of the author).
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