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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Master of the National Game: Narendra Modi does not have to go begging to BJP. Pressure from below will compel BJP to come to him

By Swapan Dasgupta

It was December 2002 and the last days of an extremely tense election campaign. I was with Narendra Modi in a small aircraft, flying from Jamnagar to Ahmedabad where he would address an evening rally with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Leaning across the aisle, he asked: “What do you think?”  “Looks very encouraging” I replied. He nodded and then lapsed into a reflective silence. Then, quite abruptly, he shot me another question: “And what if we lose?” I smiled warily and he too smiled back.

“But at least I fought a good campaign. I gave my best.”

Modi had every reason to consider the worst-case scenario. The forces ranged against him in 2002 were formidable. Apart from the liberal intelligentsia and media that held him personally responsible for the post-Godhra riots, it was an open secret that a powerful section around Prime Minister Vajpayee was less than enthusiastic about him. Any electoral mishap, including a failure to secure a resounding victory, would have spelt the end of his political career. For Modi, it was a do-or-die battle.

In hindsight, that short flight to Ahmedabad was also one of those rarest of rare moments: when a flicker of doubt crossed the mind of a man who has today earned a reputation for being the last word in political decisiveness. Never before—not even in those dark days of the late-Nineties when he was more or less barred from even visiting Gujarat—had I ever seen a hesitant Modi. And never subsequently have I seen his fierce sense of mission falter. Modi is a man blessed with astonishing self-resolve.

On December 20, as the Electronic Voting Machines revealed the extent of Gujarat’s determination to persist with its longest-serving Chief Minister, there was a realisation that what was being witnessed was more than just another state Assembly election: Modi was on the cusp of becoming a national phenomenon. Even his fiercest detractors—and they still dominate the Indian Establishment—have grudgingly admitted that in this 62-year-old Gujarati they are dealing with someone who has the potential of not merely reshaping the rules of electoral politics but even contesting the muddled ambivalence of India.

Modi has emerged a leader you can either love or loath but can’t ignore.  

In the aftermath of his third consecutive victory in Gujarat, there is certain to be a clamour for giving Modi a national role and even declaring him the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for the next general election. Hitherto this insistence was confined to a group of enthusiasts active on the social media, a clutch of business leaders wowed by the energy and dynamism of Vibrant Gujarat, a few oddball intellectuals detached from the academic and media establishments and a handful of political activists exasperated by the inability of the BJP to capitalise on the failures of the Central Government. In the past six months or so, as the drift in the BJP has become more palpable, the ‘Modi for PM’ constituency has grown exponentially and embraced not only BJP-inclined voters and the party’s grassroots workers but even a largish section of elite opinion-makers. Modi’s growing national appeal has even begun to be strongly reflected in the opinion polls.

The trends don’t reflect a contrarian fad. There are three significant points of value-addition that Modi is likely to bring to the BJP table. The first is the youth vote. Gujarat has clearly demonstrated that Modi’s most enthusiastic support comes from the below-35s, which explains why Modi’s election rallies often covey a rock concert mood. They are passionately attracted by his ability to both sell a development dream and translate some of this into reality. In a party often seen as being antediluvian, Modi stands out as the leader with strongly modernist impulses. His 3-D campaign may have seemed a needless gimmick—akin to the helicopter that never fails to draw an incremental, gawking crowd at political rallies—but Modi calculated it would be viewed as an example of his technology-friendly approach that is in tune with Gujarat’s aspirational ethos.

The Gujarat experience has also pointed to Modi’s hold over women’s imagination. A social psychologist may be able to better explain if this appeal is centred on raw machismo, his status as a single man (something that has also worked to the advantage of Naveen Patnaik in Orissa) or something more complex. Whatever the reason, this appeal is advantageous for a party which sees women and youth as weak links in its social architecture.

The third feature of Modi’s political strength is his ability to inspire the BJP’s bedrock social constituency—the middle classes. This following owes to Modi’s three perceived strengths: his passion for rapid development, his decisiveness and his personal integrity. In the 1990s, a much smaller middle class rallied behind the BJP because it was seen to be ‘different’ from the rest of the political pack. Today, a much larger and more fiercely aspirational middle class may well view Modi as the no-nonsense alternative to a bunch of narrow-minded, self-serving and venal political class.

In the past, Modi has successfully experimented with creating an all-embracing political community. After the 2002 riots which were attributed to a visceral majoritarian backlash against Muslims, Modi deliberately avoided the temptation of re-creating the Hindu vote bank of the Ayodhya years. Instead, he invoked Gujarati asmita which incorporated the ‘garv se kahon hum Hindu hain’ theme to something larger and non-contentious. In the process he subsumed the caste mobilisation that had been a feature of the Congress resurgence in the 1980s.

It is said that Gujarat isn’t India and that Modi’s bid to invoke an India Pride will falter in the face of the fractious caste and community mobilisation of the Hindi heartland. There is some merit in the argument. At the same time, Modi’s critics have failed to take into account the possibility that no meaningful national campaign can be a carbon copy of an approach evolved in the context of just Gujarat.

Modi has two cards that have been kept in reserve. The first is the element of class that Modi touched upon tangentially in the final stages of the Gujarat campaign, as a retort to Rahul Gandhi. “Your father, his grandfather and his mother were Prime Ministers”, he said in a few rallies, “but my father wasn’t even a sarpanch.” This was a direct assault on both privilege and the Gandhi family’s remarkable sense of entitlement.

The second reserve card is Modi’s membership of a backward caste. He has never invoked his OBC status, not least because casteism goes against his commitment to an all-embracing Indian nationalism. But this is a theme that is rarely proclaimed on public platforms. It is a message transmitted through the powerful bush telegraph. In theory, Modi has the weapon to replenish his larger appeal with the OBC card. The leaders of caste parties in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar know this and are awkward about confronting him frontally on the social justice theme.

Modi’s strengths are known to the BJP but yet there are misgivings on two counts. First, Modi is seen to be too much of an individualist. Despite being a former RSS pracharak who was trained to receive instructions and follow them, Modi is an argumentative Indian. Many RSS veterans are wary of his constant questioning of certitudes.

Secondly, flowing from this is the belief that Modi lacks the flexibility to manage the disagreeable world of coalition politics. With Nitish Kumar determined to walk out of the NDA in the event of BJP naming him as the candidate for the top political job, there is a fear in the party that the BJP would be left in ‘majestic isolation’, as happened between 1990 and 1996.

These are real issues and there is only one way Modi can confront them: by letting public support do the talking. This was precisely how Vajpayee handled very similar problems between the collapse of his 13-day government in 1996 and the election of 1998.

Frankly, the BJP has no option but to anoint Modi soon, giving him the time to build his national profile from his Gandhinagar operational base. The alternative will be a BJP entering the general election campaign with a sullen, listless and unenthusiastic support base—an approach calculated to produce indifferent results and the subsequent inability to play a meaningful post-election role.

Within the ‘parivar’ it is often said that Modi has unlearnt everything he imbibed as a swayamsevak. This is untrue. One attribute that he has never lost sight of is the strategic virtue of patience over impulsiveness. In his 12 years at the helm in Gandhinagar, he has rarely overplayed his hand. He has never been a man in a tearing hurry, even while aware of his ultimate destination.  

Modi does not have to go begging to the BJP. Pressure from below will compel the BJP to come to him. After that the battle for India will formally begin. Knowing Modi, he will be fighting to win. He always has.

INDIA TODAY, December 31, 2012 


Aravind said...

That was a splendid article Swapanda, Kudos!!! To talk about Namo(as he is popularly called) very rarely you would come across a politician as perfect as him, who personifies all those great qualities of a true inspirational leader to believe in. I would bet on him to lead this country looking at all this chaos around. As most of my social media friends say it is not whether Namo deserves to lead India but whether India deserves to be lead by Namo.

Cirrhosis said...

Quite insightful article. Many people are hoping that Mr. Modi would soon get a role at national level. But as you said it needs to go through its own churning process. There is another interesting article that captures the similar thinking.

Anonymous said...

Narendra Modi presented himself as a charismatic leader, messiah of the masses. In his 10 years of rule in Gujarat he had showed that it is possible within the limitations of all the laws, rules, and regulations to work wonders for the people.But Sonia Gandhi with a group of NGOs,Lawyers, Media Groups engaged him relentlessly in vicious slanders and insinuations to tarnish his image as a good administrator and showed him as a dictator, cruel,insensitive,communal,murderer.
But all these slanders worked positively for him as people understand that all these are false frauds and malicious.He gained by their slanders and climbed the rope.

Now whole of India has high hopes on him and his ability to change india.EX- military personals, Army, police force supports him for his objectivity and plain talks.He never talked rubbish or malicious against any of his political rivals although they are deadly against him.

Sonia Gandhi wanted to trap him several times with SC appointed SIT and Teesta Shetalvad Javed Khans NGOs but failed to sent him to jail.It is a matter of shame for some media houses who played into the hands of Sonia Gandhi either by force, blackmail or money to tarnish image of Narendra Modi.It is strange that some leaders of BJP in National level played into the hands of Sonia Gandhi to check entry of Narendra Modi to national Politics to be appointed as President this year and later on nominee for PM.But People love him and wants him to lead the nation for its development in all sectors.If these selfish leaders of BJP will not allow Narendra Modia s PM and party President the future of India Hindus and BJP is doomed.Now time has arrived for unity of Hindus for polarization,consolidation of their votes irrespective of caste creed race religion sects for a strong backlash against a aggressive belligerent Muslim and Fraduster thugs Christian who are holding the country at ransom and blackmail it in every and each sphere.Namo is panacea to all ills in India and needs to appointed as National President of BJP and Nominee for PM post by BJP.NDA would be automatically strengthened when BJP gets a thumping majority and few short to 272 in LS.

Anonymous said...

For Narendra Bhai Modi Gujarat BJP infighting was not public but a group was propped up by Advani gang to defeat him and minimize his strength so that Namo would not come to Delhi to claim the post of Party President and PM. And they succeeded in their attempt and conspiracy. Namo was telling that on 20th the victory will be spectacular and a diwali will be performed but due to decrease in his seats from 117 to 115 dampened his spirits. All the conspiracy was hatched by Advani’s gang of 4 with collusion of Sonia who spent huge money on their directions and they propped up Keshubhai Patel to create a new party GPP at the election time get it recognized by ECI at once at the middle of night and huge fund of 200 crores was given to him to defeat namo at any cost.He was having nurturing a grouse against Namo from the very beginning and after getting monetary support he placed all his candidates in all 182 seats.It was done only to divide the BJPs votes and cut namo votes to defeat him or marginalized him. Congress Sonia and BJP dread arrival of namo in National scene too much and they don’t want him to come to national politics.If he would arrive then all the BJP TOP leaders will lose their relevance in BJP and he would be a messiah of mass.Sonia fears him too much that if he would be PM by peoples love for him he would made her life hell and congress will be destroyed beyond recognition and in future congress will never comes again.Nitish kumar is being propped up by Advani gang to stop namos PM adventures.
Namo will be national hero by his style of talking working and his agenda of development,visions for a strong super power India will endear him among masses.He will be charismatic leader if he would be PM for 5 years.Alos this not a mirage and improbability as the awakening among Hindu is growing its unity polarization and consolidation of votes.In recent elections Congress succeeded in Uttarakhand ,Assam,Himachal Pradesh by the faulty policies of BJP bosses and also EVM tampering. In TN WB UP Congress failed.In Kerala CPM cant get support so Congress stitched up a ministry with all communal terrorists parties of Muslims who are now converting Kerala the land of Gods as a new mecca.We hope Namo will be our PM and save us from tyrant fascist congress.If Namo will not be given post of president on 10th January and PM nominee then BJP will be wiped out from Indian history very soon and Namo will be our sole leader with his role as a regional leader with all BJP and all non congress patriotic nationalist regional satraps following him. Today JJ supported him and agreed to attend his oath ceremony.We are astonished to see silence by all Delhi leaders of BJP who did not utter single word in favour of Narendra Bhai after his victory which shows their anathema to Namo and deep conspiracy to halt him in Gujarat.If BJP is not improving it is because of D4 and its top boss Advani who are having a deep rooted conspiracy to elect congress and get their monthly salary from Sonia.These leaders could have raised issue of EVM tampering and file cases in SC to ban EVMs or get orders for paper counter foil for every vote cast so that EVMs cant be tampered.The Gujarat and HP elections showed that EVMs were tampered with the Microchips containing commands to convert all votes in favour of lotus to hand.

Jitendra Desai said...

Very well said sir.Compliments.BJP will be reduced to 100 or less seats if it ignores Modi this time.You are also right about giving time to him and his team to work on electoral strategies for 2014.You can't tell him on 1.1.14 to please come and lead the party to victory.You have not mentioned his growing support in southern states.It is not for nothing that Ms Jayalalita has sided with him.He has growing support in Karnataka,AP,TN and even Kerala.

Prasanna Surathkal said...

Dear Sir,

Congress has already hinted that its major vote-seeking issue will be the cash-transfers scheme. Last time it was NREGA. All these ill-conceived schemes are nothing but bribes offered to the citizen for non-performance.

Hope your forecasts about giving NaMo the leadership for 2014 will come true soon. NaMo with his development- and empowerment-based ideas is the only alternative who can take the sheen out of the congress campaign. He will also be a much stronger PM than AB Vajapayee. The softness of Vajapayee made him give exaggerated importance to dialogues with Pakis and China. In the process, the Chinese were able to coax us to wrongfully declare Tibet to be a part of PRC, while in return we did not get anything.

But he needs time to reach out to the people. In 2004 BJP's "India Shining" campaign did not touch the people because congress successfully managed the media to highlight failures, though it was congress' 50 years of malfunctioning that was the actual culprit. Similarly people should made aware of the malicious schemes of the congress. So time is really running out fast for the BJP. They need to quickly put their acts together.

sam said...

Great article. But more than the pressure from below people like u hv to drive some sense into the heads of the BJP top brass who seem to think that making speeches in Parliament and disrupting proceedings is leadership. Leadership is delivering on the ground and today there is no leader who can match Modi in delivering hype with substance. People believe him and are willing to accept him because he communicates a vision and works to achieve it. Forget about his capability to handle a coalition. He will change the rules of the game and gun for a majority instead of mollycoddling alies and playing games. He is definitely capturing the national imagination and young India, whether urban or rural, will definitely look up at him as a true leader different from the paper tigers who strut around as leaders. If BJP is really earnest to project itself as the party with a difference,then the dinosaurs Should handover the organizational reins to Modi to revive the party and get it going so that weevan make a start to destroy the cancer that debilitates the NATION

Om Prakash Sharma said...

Modi is a risk worth taking by the BJP. Damn the self serving Nitish

Shayri said...

Gujarat is a pro industrialist's state offering lot of freebies like land, electricity,exemption in Income-tax etc.

Hindi SMS said...

Mr modi should be made the next prime minister of India. A man of words who has proved to the whole world that he can turn things around as per the law and order . He can make things happen as a powerful Indian. The difference can be seen in Gujarat .let make him the next P.M. India and change India out of corruption one for all.