My previous post attracted nearly 75 responses in less than 24 hours. I thank everyone for taking the time to address the question.
Predictably, there was no unanimity. But there were two broad strands of thought:
- Those who want the BJP to take on an uncompromisingly pro-Hindutva stand and assert its identity on that basis.
- Those who feel that Hindutva's time has past and therefore it is more prudent and electorally judicious for the BJP to become a more conventional right-of-centre party. Of course, this stand was coupled with interesting suggestions (drawn from marketing) of how to increase the BJP's appeal.
I got a feeling that those who opted for the first course tended to be based outside India. One of them even recommended that people like me should be thrown out of the party--a difficult proposition because I am not a member of the party. Another identified me as a member of the anti-RSS faction.
I don't feel there is any need to personalise the debate. We are discussing ideas. But I think there is a basis for suggesting that ultra-nationalists do tend to believe that the integrity and patriotism of those less forthright are somehow suspect. This prompts them to arrive at somewhat bizarre and over-conspiratorial conclusions.
However, the role of the individual did seem to matter on one count: the future role of Narendra Modi.
There is no question that Modi's role in this election was seminal. He addressed meetings in nearly 150 constutuencies, particularly in western India. His meetings were very well attended, marked by enthusiasm and invariably reported in the media. Without his presence, the Congress inroads in Gujarat would have been greater.
Modi's speeches in this election were quite focused on development and security. But his asides on the dynasty received maximum coverage--quite predictably. The "budiya"-"guriya" remarks in particular drew flak.
Throughout my visits to constituencies I made it a point to ask BJP workers about Modi. The responses were quite uniform. The BJP supporters believed that had Modi been the PM candidate, the party would secure more than 200 seats.
I can't say whether this perception was based on fact or wishful thinking. What matters is the fact that Modi excites the imagination of the BJP supporter.
At the same time, Modi carries the baggage of liberal derision. Many CMs from non-Congress parties admire Modi's administrative skills and development record. Yet, they fear any formal association with him on account of a Muslim reaction.
It would be fair to say that this Muslim veto has prevented Modi's emergence on an all-India plane.
Do we accept this veto meekly or should it be countered frontally?
A good way of countering it is by making sure Modi effectiveness is maximum. When I say he has to curb some of his rhetorical excesses, I am merely suggesting that the media must not be given any opportunity to attack him for being frivolous or personally offensive.
When I say that Modi must work on his national acceptability I do not say he should change his image. There is nothing worse or more pathetic than a leader trying to be what he/she is not.
Modi's image rests on three pillars:
- As a Hindu icon, a modern day Shivaji.
- As an efficient administrator committed to development. His Gujarat record speaks volumes.
- As a no-nonsense leader, capable of taking tough decisions even at the risk of unpopularity.
It is tragic but nevertheless true that Modi's Hindu credentials have got linked to the Gujarat riots of 2002. This is a reality the BJP must live with. Any apology will undermine Modi's appeal as an uncompromising leader.
The key to building Modi is to relentlessly drive home his ability to take tough decisions which are for the national good. He will have to play on his humble origins and (subtly) even his Most Backward Caste status. Remember, there will be formidable opposition to his claim to be PM. To make Modi win, the BJP will have to look well beyond its traditional voters. We must also assume that apart from Shiv Sena and Akali Dal (and, maybe, AGP), there will be no other allies.
I also agree with those of you who have argued for a Modi-Jaitley combination. I have seen this duo working very effectively in 2002 and 2007. I look forward to the time this team can galvanise the country in 2014.