Can Modi Dare Contest For National Leadership Sans BJP?
Strange goings-on in the BJP since Narendra Modi obliquely expressed his aspiration to be prime minister have given the party sheen of mystery and some of its central leaders of indulging in phantom like antics. Modi seems to be tilling his own furrow singly most of the time. Only when he addresses BJP workers or campaigned for the party in Bengaluru that he did from the BJP platform. Why is he, otherwise, touring round the country, and addressing different groups on his own? He has never talked about the party or about LK Advani.
All this is despite the fact that Modi has been included in the highest decision body—the Parliamentary Board—and has also been made a member of the Election Committee. But possibly he knows his detractors within the party well enough to leave them alone to do their designs while he is going ahead with his self-drawn schedule to acquaint himself and the people in different parts of the country. Such conduct could have some serious and strange manifestations.
The open declaration by Vijay Goel, newly appointed Delhi BJP President, courtesy LK Advani, soon after taking over was that the next government, that is after 2014 election would be led by Advani was the first public move. He was followed soon after by Sushma Swaraj, senior party and opposition leader, who said Advani was the tallest leader of the party and there was no question of anyone else leading the party. Later on, too, in response to a question she reportedly said apart from Modi there were other leaders too.
The octogenarian kept his silence, unlike P Chidambaram, who when touted by the Economist and later by Outlook news-weekly as Manmohan Singh of Rahul Gandhi, went on a round of denials, saying he knew his limitations and he had no aspiration to be prime minister.
Advani’s silence speaks volumes and shows his unquenched desire of at least two decades to become prime minister. So what happens to Modi. He has not so far endorsed Goel or Swaraj’s call for Advani to lead the party. In fact he has most possibly not mentioned his name in many speeches he has made. Party President Rajnath Singh in a longish interview said that Advani did not express his desire to him to be prime minister and that Modi was the most popular leader in the country.
Whatever it might be, when the confrontation took place in the JPC over its report giving clean chit to Manmohan Singh and P Cidamabaram in 2G case, reportedly Parliamentary Minister and Congress Party’s trouble-shooter Kamal Nath went to see Advani, purportedly to ask him to call off the confrontation and ask the BJP’s representatives in the JPC, Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Ravi Shankar Prasad to cool off. He was later to meet Swaraj. This set off a lot of rumours. Why did Kamal Nath not go to meet the Party President Rajnath Singh? Do the Congress leaders feel that Advani and Swaraj would be soft on the Congress? But apparently Advani has, at least, publically said nothing about trying to persuade party members in the JPC to cool off.
Such rumours along with the speculation that the Congress Party is willing to assist, in whatever way possible, the elements in the BJP who abhor Modi, have given a mysterious shroud to the goings-on in the party which is the main challenger to the Congress! That raises the question has Modi become divisive in his own party. Would his aspiration to become prime minister destroy whatever chance the BJP has to recapture Centre?
Nitish Kumar has been reiterating that he would snap ties with the BJP if Modi is nominated as prime ministerial nominee. He has not taken Modi’s name but his enumeration of what kind of person the nominee should have eliminates Modi. The party has been hesitating to name because of such likely divisive effect of his on alignments too.
But first what chance the party has under the leadership of Advani? In 2004, under Vajpayee the party got almost 138 seats just seven or eight less than the Congress. In 2009, under Advani’s leadership the party got 116 seats. Now five years later, how do his loyalists or those who are anti-Modi expect the party to come to power under him?
Significantly out of about seven Modi outings from Gujarat to different parts of the country most have not been on BJP’s platform. What does this mean? Being conscious of the opposition and scheming against him the party is Modi trying to show that he can attract people of different generations and strata to listen to him on his own? Like in Gujarat, it was said Modi had won and not the BJP, is he trying to show to his detractors that he can win on his own steam.
He has so far synchronized what he says with what his audiences warm up to. His address to Lady Shri Ram College students of commerce was on the empowerment of women and was at the invitation of the College authorities to him. It had nothing to do with the BJP. The audience was quite with his views. He then spoke to FICCI women in Delhi and then at the Chamber of Commerce Kolkata, and then to Gujaratis’ settled in West Bengal. At the Chamber of Commerce, he spoke about industrialisation and investments. Gujaratis were told of the progress and the state of today’s Gujarat. Both were not on the party platform. The third one, an address to the party workers was arranged by the party, where his speech reportedly uplifted the spirit of the workers.
While election campaigning in Bangalore, Modi showed the aggression which is much more damaging to the opponents than the traditionally routine speeches where ones promises are detailed laced with bits of wrongdoings of the opponents which is delivered in a monotone. Today the voter wants hammer and tongs attacks, at which Modi is adept. Also he comes out so often with points one normally does not think of.
Sample some parts of his election speech in Bangalore: “Such a powerful Government is sitting in Delhi but still is Delhi safe? If they cannot manage Delhi, how will they manage Karnataka; Karnataka was the only state to win two Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence. Of the seven awardees, there was no UPA ruled state; For Congress power is poison but this is the same Congress that spread poison of casteism, communalism, and corruption. It is that poison that divided India, divided brother from brother. We have to save Karnataka, we cannot give it in such hands.”
It is clear that his campaign would involve an aggressive attack on the Congress’s first family, dynastic culture, corruption and the NAC, with a hard sell of “successes” on the development front in BJP-ruled states and pre-eminently Gujarat; the slogan he gave was “(BJP) mission versus (Congress) commission. His ability to attract people was proved in Bangalore. Anant Kumar, the in charge of BJP in Karnataka, admitted that the crowd at Modi’s meet was largest.
But before all this, Modi needs nomination from the party. But if it takes a long time, what is Modi’s outings. So far the party is evasive on this particular issue. So are excursions by Modi without a BJP platform meant to convey something to the party detractors? Is he trying to show his opponents in the BJP that he does not need the whole of the party as he has the cadre, the new young middle class and youth with him! Is this tactic to pressurise and get the party to nominate him as prime ministerial candidate? It could be! But would he dare stand on his own? We would know as the situation develops further. But it is clear that he is determined to contest whatever it might lead to. Is he willing to even split the party? Possibly the situation would not come to that stage. Apparently, Rajnath Singh and most of the Sangh parivar are with him.
He has, however, been challenged on some points. His critics point out that his depiction of the 2014 battle as a fight between the Congress and the BJP is self-serving and inaccurate. The BJP and the Congress must fight not just each other, but also other parties, many of them powerful regional players in their own right. To be in a position to form a government, they must also court these smaller parties, and seek alliances with them.
A Modi-led BJP continues to be seen as un-coalitionable by many of these players and his continuing and conspicuous silence on the accountability for 2002 means that this is unlikely to change, say most critics. Then, for all of Modi’s own assertions on “development”, he will still have to untangle the confused and contradictory signals sent out by the BJP’s central leadership on economic reform. And as he does so, he must brace himself to take on the opposition within. Any effort to reset the terms of the electoral discussion to focus on governance or the politics of aspiration is likely to be met with stiff resistance from entrenched worldviews within his party.
The critics expect that in the RSS, there will be “resistance to any attempt to steer away from certified Hindutva issues or to be seen to be doing so. Modi may have all but announced his prime ministerial candidature, therefore, but this may only be the beginning of the real challenges to his claim”.
Also there is no certitude that he can help the BJP win and take over from the UPA. If the BJP does not get over 180, it would be too difficult for it to get 92 seats to be able to form the government. All parties, except AIADMK and Raj Thackarey’s party, would go with the “secular” Congress.
Modi’s most formidable challenge would be to secure for the party seats between 190 and 200 and above. Can he do it, if the minority community which is substantially large, remains steadfastly against him, apart from the immense task he would have to face if he does become prime minister to bring them into the fold. That is when Modi could apologize without owning any responsibility for 2002 riots.
It is clear that his run to his goal has many hurdles and speed breakers. And that includes desperate and frustrated leaders in his party and the hostility towards him due to the fear that as he is dictatorial and autocratic he could show no mercy to the ungodly in most parties. But this very trait could win him, the young, the new middle class and all of those who have been suffering due to rampant corruption. So there are paradoxes too!
By Vijay Dutt
(The author is former London-Correspondent, Hindustan Times)