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Monday, September 16, 2013

The surge from below

By Swapan Dasgupta

In the history of the Sixties’ counter-culture, the anti-Vietnam War protests of 1968 occupy a very special place. The ageing radicals I encounter at various reunions in the pubs of London often recall the 100,000-strong demonstration chanting ‘Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh’ outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square one overcast October 44 years ago. The more impish among them also recall how some contrarians with an exaggerated sense of self-worth even made the journey from the sublime to the ridiculous: the earnest activists of a Trotskyist sect distributed leaflets explaining “Why we are not marching!”

It would be cruel to equate L.K. Advani’s missive explaining his non-attendance at the BJP Parliamentary Board meeting last Friday with those who missed the bus in 1968. But it may not be entirely inaccurate to suggest that in 2013 India, Advani is probably as representative of the ‘parivar’ mood as the Socialist Labour League was of British radicalism in 1968. By sitting morosely in Prithviraj Road while BJP workers celebrated, Advani wilfully reduced himself to a petulant footnote. However, he has also ensured that even if coalition vagaries deprive Narendra Modi of a Race Course Road tenancy next year, the BJP will not turn fall back on its ponderous nostalgia machine.  

Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushma Swaraj were cleverer: they advertised their dissent but didn’t sour the party spirit. They, along with Rajnath Singh, can still aspire to be the second choice of the first party after the 2014 polls.

It is pertinent to highlight the sub-agendas that were temporarily put on hold amid the intense the emotional upheaval that greeted the declaration of Modi as the NDA’s PM-in-waiting. The euphoria was warranted. The transition of Modi from a strong regional leader to the PM-in-waiting didn’t happen as a consequence of his success in playing the committee game. On the contrary, Modi’s dogged sense of right and wrong and his unwillingness to make short-term compromises cut him off from the rest of the political pack. At the time of his second victory in 2007, Modi was very much a political loner—hounded by the all-powerful secular establishment, detached from the BJP national leadership and alienated from the apparatchiks of the RSS.

So, what happened in the intervening six years to allow the entire Parliamentary Board (from which he had been unceremonious dumped by the same Rajnath Singh in 2006) to pose for photographs with him last Friday?

The suggestion that it was the change of guard in RSS from the outspoken and indiscreet K.S. Sudarshan to the more quietly determined Mohan Bhagwat that did the trick, is over-simplistic. No doubt the RSS threw its entire moral weight behind the decision to declare Modi primus inter pares. But this was a considered collegiate decision, not the personal choice of the sarsanghchalak. And this decision in turn was forced on the RSS by a groundswell, the likes of which the country has not experienced in recent times. It may sound hyperbolic but the reality is that Modi’s elevation to the national stage was almost entirely a result of overwhelming and irresistible pressure from below.

The seemingly nail-biting sequence of events that led to the formal recognition of Modi as the BJP’s face for 2014 was actually only a formality. For the thousands of ordinary BJP workers and lakhs of the party’s well-wishers, Modi was the only national leader who counted ever since his third-term victory in Gujarat last December. The writing was always on the wall for everyone to see.

It wasn’t merely Advani who failed to decipher the script. India’s intellectual establishment, whose dislike of Modi had turned visceral, interpreted the Gujarat Chief Minister’s growing cult status among a section of the population as evidence of what Marxists call ‘false consciousness’—the inability to realise their own self and class interests. This resulted in the simple assertion ‘Modi is popular’ being turned into a more philosophical question ‘Why should Modi be popular?’ This in turn prompted a contrived conclusion: ‘Modi is unelectable’.

This expedient sleight of hand is a common mistake of politicians and public intellectuals: the equation of personal preference with the larger mood. Ronald Reagan was, for example, denied the Republican nomination in 1976 because the party establishment also deemed him unelectable and a deeply polarising figure. Most of the old guard of the Conservative Party had similar misgivings of Margaret Thatcher.

In the case of Modi, the BJP leadership has certainly gambled on his vote maximising potential. The newly-appointed PM candidate may not wipe the slate clean but compared to him, the rest of the BJP leaderboard lacks the inspirational thrust that alone can counter dodgy electoral arithmetic with positive chemistry. In 1995, Advani rightly calculated that only Atal Behari Vajpayee had the potential to add to the BJP’s committed and exuberant Hindu vote with incremental additions from the fence-sitters. Today, Modi’s great strength lies in his phenomenal appeal to a section that has little time for party politics but recognises the importance of a clear-sighted, charismatic leader with unquestionable personal integrity. If the BJP is experiencing a surge in the Ganga belt, it is almost exclusively due to Modi’s rock star appeal, particularly among the restless youth bubbling with raw energy. This is the incremental vote that Modi promises to bring into the NDA kitty. Countering this surge with invocations to a Nehruvian “idea of India” and dynastic paternalism is touching.

The issue is not whether Modi’s charisma can lead to a radical realignment that will see the BJP scoring unexpected victories in West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. However, Modi alone among the BJP leaders has the appeal to maximise BJP’s yield in states where the party has a meaningful presence. And his pan-India appeal is such as to force other non-Congress parties to seriously explore the advantages of a pre-election understanding with the NDA.

At this stage, before the election campaign has even begun, an outright victory for the NDA looks a tall order. Indeed, the fear of a horribly fractured verdict is widespread. However, an imaginatively run, quasi-presidential campaign could alter equations dramatically. For the BJP, the Modi ‘gamble’ is not premised on the power of will alone.

Indian Express, September 13, 2013 


Anonymous said...

you missed this point reported by dainik Bhaskar today .. LKA? behind vanjhara letter forced prepone decision on BJP PM candidature . : Manish Rathi

Jitendra Desai said...

Right. BJP workers are not like Congress or other family party workers to "fall in line" on ANY decision.And then you have also the extended PARIVAR [RSS,VHP,BMS,ABVP...]They can't be "motivated" to work for anyone.
LKA's behaviour can only be ascribed to senility.A good politician is the first to pick up even the faintest of signals.he failed to hear the screams!

nooffence91 said...

even a blind person can see what Modi can do for BJP & nation.. but intellectually blind people with their fancy theories,political correctness & self-righteousness will never accept truth.. they & the paid media is the reason why our nation is knee deep in shit.. intellectuals either don't know anything about ground realities or they are too pre-occupied in their illusionary world.. Either way I don't give a rat's ass.. 'Seculars','Liberals','Intellelctuals','MSM' and 'Human Right Activists' have reduced themselves and their clan to a wicked joke..

Anonymous said...


Sri.Narendra Modi has "earned" God's GRACE. He has DESERVED it. Thus could surmount all obstacles.

Several months ago a Brahma Gyani a SEER in one of His Sathsangs mentions the name of none other than Sri.Narendra Modi as the FUTURE LEADER of resurgent India.

It is a well known fact that a SEER's words invariably come true.
However casual their utterances might appear to be.

Ganesh R said...

I completely agree that Advaniji missed the bus on whatever second chance he can get in a post poll set up.

Anonymous said...

An outright NDA victory is not a tall order. All it takes between now and the election is for the economic climate to get a LOT worse (perfectly possible given the government India currently has) and then it is game over.

The battle will be won or lost in UP and Bihar. The BJP is actually very strong in Bihar (which few people realise). In UP, the BJP is ascendant but it suffers from years of in-fighting and inertia. Amit Shah has his work cut out.

272 is not a tall order. A good performance in UP and Bihar will propel the BJP comfortably past 200seats. If the BJP hits 230+ as Shourie says it might, 272 is eminently achievable.

Anonymous said...

BJP needs to be clear on ideology. If they again start compromising on ideoligy issues they will be again a pale copy of Congress just like during the NDA days. So, BJP leadership needs to watch what they say and how they act.

Nitin said...

Advani should try to become president rather than PM.He has already been rejected by voters. Only indirect voters might vote for him.