By Swapan Dasgupta
By the afternoon of Thursday, December 20, two things will be pretty apparent to the people of India.
First, it will be clear whether or not the electorate of Gujarat continues to retain faith in the leadership of Chief Minister Narendra Modi. With a 70 per cent turnout (in Phase 1 of the poll), a spirited election campaign that was centred on the state Government’s performance over 11 years, and little chance of a hung Assembly, the answer to this question should be unambiguous.
The second issue will touch on the future of Indian politics. If the BJP is successful in meeting the combined onslaught of the liberal intelligentsia, the mainstream media, the local leadership of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Gujarat Parivartan Party, the Central Government and the local Congress, there will be compelling pressure on the National Democratic Alliance (which, naturally, includes the BJP) to discard the absurd idea of ‘collective leadership’ and anoint Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for the next general election.
I use the phrase ‘compelling pressure’ with some pre-mediation because I am almost certain that the process of declaring Modi the first among equals will not be without hiccups. Such a momentous step in a polity where succession planning is both non-existent and bereft of institutional structures is never without hiccups. Assuming Modi passes the December 20 test, the coming months will be delight for the media as a multitude of veterans, rivals and unnamed ‘sources’ will air their misgivings of such an ‘extreme’ step.
There will invariably be questions raised about Modi’s suitability to move from local to national politics—as if participation in state politics automatically negates a politician’s ability to play in a larger arena. There will be doubts raised over Modi’s temperament: can a man used to being the supreme boss of a one-party government adapt to the infuriating complexities of coalition politics? There will also be the Nagpur question: will the RSS leadership allow such a towering individual to put the parent organisation in the shade? And, finally, there will be the inevitable Muslim question: can India be ruled by a man whose very name is anathema to the Muslim minority, at least outside Gujarat?
None of these posers can be brushed aside as irrelevant. No doubt the issues will be raised by people who have been opposed to Modi for the past 10 years and who are still hopeful that a ‘silent undercurrent’ will stop the Chief Minister’s juggernaut in Gujarat itself. But they are powerful people who wield considerable clout in the Establishment of what Modi derisively calls the ‘Delhi Sultanate’. For them, Modi is not merely someone they disagree with; he is an enemy. They would rather countenance the indefinite continuation of Gandhi-Vadra rule and the perpetuation of cronyism than imagine an India in the hands of an outlander from Vadnagar. Modi threatens their ‘idea of India’.
What we have witnessed and perhaps will continue to witness till the last voter in the next general election has pressed the EVM button is a form of class war. It is a war not about economic philosophies or even about something as nebulous as modernity. Looked at from every conceivable angle, the Gujarat over which Modi has presided for the past 11 years is a showcase for resurgent India. Nor is there any fear that Modi will pave the way for some perverse, backward-looking and insular society. Trade, technology and even globalisation have been central to the Gujarati mind, a reason why that society never took very kindly to the Nehruvian way.
No, the class war centres on the exercise of power, control and clout. A small example may suffice. Last week, a group of influential media people—known in rarefied circles as the Limousine Liberals—travelled to Gujarat, courtesy an international investment house, to do a spot of election tourism. In the recent past they travelled to Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal to observe the ‘real India’. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the Limo Libs are always given an audience by the leaders of the main parties. In Gujarat, the Congress rolled out the red carpet for them and I am informed (but am yet to verify) that the party’s heir apparent also found time to exchange notes with the group. The only exception was Modi. He encountered them at one of his public rallies, acknowledged them with a polite Namaste and went about his main business.
It is not for me to say whether Modi missed an opportunity to charm those outside his natural constituency—they are itching to be wooed—or whether he thought that spending time with those who are intractably opposed to him the individual is a waste of time. The point is that the likes of the Limo Libs are inherently ill at ease with a man who challenges the existing power structure without inhibition and with aggression.
Sunday Pioneer, December 16, 2012