Moditva: Allies must toe BJP line

Moditva: Allies must toe BJP line

Almost five decades ago British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson remarked: “A week is a long time in politics”.

 The statement, used in multiple contexts, is one of the most oft-repeated clichés in political discourse. In Narendra Modi’s political career, the past week is indeed a short period but in the course of this he traversed a phenomenal political distance. He is now well on course to fulfilling his first objective: complete charge of his political brigade in the run up to the next parliamentary polls – now barely ten months away.

When Modi left for Goa to attend the three-day Bharatiya Janata Party conclave on June 7, he was unsure of emerging victorious from the rain-drenched venue. He wanted a clear declaration to indicate his position as first among equals. But there was opposition from the old guard led by Lal Krishna Advani and several of his peers, who opposed a bigger role for Modi because they feared political marginalisation.

The vital question at this stage is what has Modi gained in the past one week and conversely what have his adversaries in Sangh Parivar lost? How many camps has he been able to convert to his fold and how many have others lost? But more importantly, Modi has succeeded in wresting control of the campaign committee of the BJP without compromising on his extreme Hindutva posture. 

Modi no longer mouths expletives like in the years after the 2002 riots. But he has not altered his position – that the events were a natural reaction to the Godhra carnage and couldn’t have been prevented by the state government. He has not expressed remorse for any event under his dispensation, does not partake in any symbolism ritual like accepting skull caps or going to Dargahs and continues arguing against policies or programmes specifically targeted for religious minorities saying that reflect the culture of political appeasement. 

Modi and his supporters say that his agenda now is development but then he has not denounced his past. In fact, his core constituency remains committed because of the politics and policies he pursued at that time. Modi’s principal draw among ordinary voters is his aggression while the development facade provides the intelligentsia an excuse for rallying behind him.

Opinion poll

Despite their veracity being questioned, one opinion poll after another since 2012 suggested that Modi has a clear lead over rivals in one-on-one contests. The persona of Modi, which is endorsed by people who respond to these polls, is that of a no-nonsense, authoritarian, majoritarian polariser who follows a top-down approach while pursuing a development policy where growth trumps distribution. People like him over others who pursue politics of a consensus that is at times ‘messy’ and brings policy initiative to a standstill.

Ironically, the biggest loser in this round – Advani, was once the poster boy of Hindutva, championing each of the attributes of Modi when the Gujarat chief minister was just an aspiring young appartchik of the RSS deputed to the BJP. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Advani talked of basking in ‘splendid isolation’, today it is Modi who is enjoying this position.

The disconnect between Advani and his protégé is accompanied by the discomfort of several contemporaries of Modi within the party who have seen in his emergence, their decline. Because they have no other options, many like Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj will possibly bid for their time, run with the winning horse and hope that at a future point political compulsions make it imperative for Modi to pass the baton.

Extreme Hindutva

The extent of support Modi secured from a section of the RSS leadership was surprising at first glance but a closer look makes it clear that Nagpur saw in the personal rivalries, an opportunity to give an ideological thrust to what was till then a power struggle. Eventually Nagpur put its weight behind Modi because of the pressure from its own rank and file and also as he espoused the extreme Hindutva line and not the toned-down version, adopted in the Vajpayee era and pursued by Advani now.

Modi and RSS leaders knew that the hardline stance would alienate a few existing allies and impede tie-ups with others. As a result, even as the 18-year-old alliance with the Janata Dal (U) came apart, Modi was among the few senior national BJP leaders who made only muted effort to save the coalition in Bihar. By the calculation of the Modi camp, if political equations have to recast before the elections, the earlier this was accomplished, the better it would be from his perspective. And if allies wish to stay on, then they must on the BJP’s terms!

The Modi camp believes he has a significant personal vote bank which will add to the BJP’s vote share – that slipped in 2009 to its lowest point of 19 per cent. There is no doubt about Modi’s charisma and that he will draw support to the BJP by leading the campaign and being – officially or otherwise – the prime ministerial candidate of the party. The extent of this is unfathomable currently and will be known in the elections. But it is clear that Modi has broken the Nehruvian template of a national leader. However, nobody except he is sure that such a persona can deliver in 2014.


(The writer has authored a book on Narendra Modi).

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