By Swapan Dasgupta
During my college days when high intellectualism and profanity went hand in hand, there was a crude Hindi phrase that became shorthand for a phenomenon that can best be described as the hype-that-never. It is possible that the high-minded disciples of the venerable Dr Raghu Vira in the BJP have never allowed such disagreeable colloquialisms to sully their speech and thoughts. This may explain why this repository of high culture has titillated itself with unending foreplay—a perversity that is fast becoming a bore.
The allusion is to the tortuous prevarication that has greeted the intense all-round pressure that the BJP end the uncertainty over the leadership question. The speculation over the role to be played by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the general election has been hanging fire for nearly six months. Now, as the political game enters the proverbial slog overs stage, the impatience of those who are demanding a formal decision is approaching boiling point. They want a decision, preferably at the meeting of the National Executive in Goa later this week.
The choices before the BJP leaders are simple: either they project Modi as the face of the general election campaign or they adopt a lofty stand that the party is more important than any individual. There is no third path. The suggestion, periodically mooted by sundry individuals, that the old war-horse L.K. Advani be given another throw of the dice amount to very little and would probably constitute an affront to an India that is demographically more attuned to the 21st century. Equally, the wild-card proposal to anoint the previous party president Nitin Gadkari as the chairman of the party’s campaign committee is just a transparently sly bid to stop Modi at all costs.
In reality, the BJP has no real choice but to bite the Modi bullet. Anecdotal evidence—which counts for a great deal in India’s political decision-making—has quite clearly indicated that the BJP’s natural supporters are enthused by Modi in the same way as they were by the Ayodhya issue in 1991 and by Atal Behari Vajpayee’s leadership in 1998 and 1999. More to the point—and this is privately conceded by the leaders of non-NDA parties—the Modi buzz has infected sections that, in the normal course, are not partial to the BJP.
The anecdotal evidence is backed by opinion polls that point to a significant Modi bulge for the NDA parties throughout the country but particularly in northern and western India. The findings suggest that if the downhill slide of the UPA-2 Government persists and the other side isn’t debilitated by self-inflicted wounds, a Modi-led campaign would enable the BJP and its allies to maximise its seat tally from its traditional areas of influence. This is particularly appealing to the BJP in Uttar Pradesh where it has been struggling to re-establish itself since 1999. It may even prove an attraction to parties who are still outside the NDA fold, as the Vajpayee factor did in 1998 and 1999.
In a country as vast, diverse and differentiated as India, there is no single explanation for the dramatic surge in the popularity of a regional leader without any dynastic claim. To a vocal minusculity, Modi is the standard bearer of Hindu nationalism. But beyond this fringe, his appeal rests on other factors: as the proverbial no-nonsense, strong leader who can check India’s drift, as a champion of economic resurgence and as an epitome of personal integrity.
To these perceived attributes is a curious addition: caste. Modi has never flaunted his social origins and that he comes from a small backward caste is still relatively unknown. But throughout northern India, the bush telegraph is resonating with the news that, for the first time in living memory, there is an OBC aspirant to the post of Prime Minister. The potential emotional appeal of this is incalculable.
Sunday Times of India, June 2, 2013