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Monday, August 12, 2013


By Swapan Dasgupta

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is both an accomplished politician and blessed with a pleasing personality. He has admirers cutting across the political and ideological divide. If the opinion polls are to be believed, his popularity and administrative skills should see the BJP win a third term in this mid-sized state of central India.

However, Shivraj has recently been confronted with a unique problem that, to be fair, is not of his own making. He has become the favourite BJP politician of those who have never supported nor are ever likely to support the party he belongs to. Ever since it has become clear that Nitish Kumar’s departure from the NDA on the question of Narendra Modi does not enjoy the unqualified endorsement of the people of Bihar, Shivraj has become the darling of those who otherwise hate the BJP. L.K. Advani tried hard to fill this unlikely slot but somehow there is growing realisation that his moment to be the proverbial right man in the wrong party has gone. Hence the chattering class’ anointment of Shivraj as the man they would love to oppose.

That the sudden discovery of Shivraj owes considerably to the fear of the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is not in any serious doubt. If the projection of Modi was likely to result in a clear electoral sweep for the Congress and its allies—as the likes of Digvijay Singh like to proclaim—there would have been no gratuitous show of concern for the fate of the BJP. Atal Behari Vajpayee was another so-called ‘right man in the wrong party’ but you just have to go through the old newspaper files of the election of 1996 and 1998 to realise that the same class of people who shower Shivraj with flowery compliments were also the ones who warned the country of impending fascism if the BJP somehow managed to come to power. A casual perusal of newpaper files of 1998 files, the time Sonia Gandhi joined politics formally, will reveal a higher intensity of the attack on both Vajpayee and the BJP. Yes, a small section of the old Establishment (mainly retired bureaucrats and military officers) did endorse Vajpayee openly but they were a small minority.

Those who believe that if the BJP re-calibrated its politics to appeal to appeal to the old Establishment (what may better be called the ancien regime) it would acquire greater acceptability are living in a dream world. Yes, there is a definite political objective in broadening the scope of the nationalist umbrella and reaching out to Congress voters who are disgusted with the UPA’s dismal record in government. No election can be won or even closely contested unless a political party acquires the ability to reach out to those who are not its natural supporters. But this is different from being swayed by the syrupy pronouncements of those who have an ulterior motive in projecting their version of the alternative.

Having been out of the power structure for long and having been the objects of social disdain of the Nehruvian Establishment, some BJP leaders have craved social acceptability. They are secretly pleased when the beautiful people whisper “such a good chap, pity he is in the BJP.” Worse, they often indulge in political contortions to reach out to the other side and invariably end up falling between two stools. Advani’s certificate to Mohammed Ali Jinnah was such an exercise and ended up destroying him politically. Nitish Kumar’s anti-Modi grandstanding was also driven by similar compulsions.

Shivraj has so far resisted all such blandishments. He has tried to be nice to everyone and the outcome hasn’t always been wholesome. Advani’s generous praise for him was not entirely innocent; its subtext was tantamount to the disavowal of Modi. Raza Murad, the person Uma Bharti described as a C-grade Bollywood actor wasn’t even that subtle. He took advantage of a Eid gathering where Shivraj was present to declaim against Modi’s national candidature. The occasion was such that it was singularly inappropriate for Shivraj to either protest or respond. Consequently, the CM of MP found himself engulfed in a needless controversy by sheer association.

Perhaps Modi should surprise everyone by suddenly appearing on a public stage with an embroidered skull cap, just as Shivraj did. Would that impress his detractors enough to suddenly hail him as the epitome of “secularism”? Would that result in all the talk of him being a communal ogre abruptly coming to an end? For that matter, will Raza Murad be seen on the streets of Bhopal in November appealing to his co-religionists to vote for the local BJP and ensure another term as Chief Minister for Shivraj? Symbolism has a place in public life but its practice doesn’t necessarily influence election results. A few years ago the CPI(M) formally censured one of its stalwarts in West Bengal for offering puja at the temple in Tarakeshwar. Was there an outcry? Did the party’s godlessness become an election issue, and did the anti-Red forces seize upon that lapse to call the Left Front anti-Hindu? The answers don’t need elaboration.

India is a land of many languages and faiths, but it is also a land bound by a common nationality. What matters is not who engages in how much symbolism and who goes to how many mandirs, mosques, gurdwaras and churches. The relevant criterion for governance is common citizenship. 

Sunday Pioneer, August 11, 2013


Devil's Advocate said...

Good one Swapan! I am not sure if this is a Modi Phobia or some vested groups including media just dont want to see an alternate option to Congress!

Devil's Advocate said...

Good one Swapan! I am not sure if this is Modi Phobia aur some vested interest group just dont want to see BJP an alternate option to the Congress in India.

Vishnu Gupta said...

Brilliant Swapanda. Some people in BJP like Sudheendra Kulkarni who wrote Advani's Jeenha speech were trying to fill that gap of "Right person in wrong Party". But BJP should understand that in this process they will compromise on their core ideology and that is what this Media and Old status quoist want. The Experiment of Gandhian Socialism in 1980s, Compromise of 1999 for NDA ultimately succeeded in restricting BJP's appeal. That is the agenda of the media and so called opinion makers in India. They already have coined the term BJP is another side of the same coin of Congress. Only NaMo understand these games perfectly and is not afraid of controversies and becomes difficult for them to understand and handle. This is why the media says that NaMo thrives on controversies.

Chandan Chawla said...

Superb Swapan da ! Yes, Modi should indeed surprise with a skull cap; given religions connotations are so emotionally charged and his every move is being dissected.
Just imagine what happens to Modi haters, once if he decides to exclude 'burqa', 'biryani' and 'puppies' from his speech. So when Times now was debating his I day speech, all the panelists lost the plot and feel Mr. Modi / anyone has the right to question the PM ! One of the panellists, even went to extend of asking - what Modi has to offer?
You will agree Advani - Modi love hate praise is already driving media crazy and they report every ounce of it ! Same was with 'yes we can' slogan from Hyd speech. Some journalists are still referring to it as plagiarism from Obama's speech :) So I guess Mr. Modi should continue pulling new tricks from underneath this sleeves :) He is definitely that material, that is going to rock the UPA boat !