Can Modi Overturn The Advani Model?
Will the BJP make it in the next general elections? This is the question one often faces in the academic and diplomatic circles. And among them, I find many skeptics, who do have a point. After all, viewed dispassionately, the situation today is not very different from what it was in 2009 when the BJP fought under its tallest (some consider him to be ablest as well) leader L K Advani. That time the party, or for that matter the NDA as a whole, including Nitish Kumar and his JD(U), proved utterly ineffective in capitalising the people’s anger over issues such as price rise, corruption, terrorism, Maoism, foreign policy debacles and deteriorating regional environment against one of the most lackluster governments in independent India’s history. And that was essentially due to the fact that the BJP, marked by fighting and intrigues within, did not inspire confidence. As the same intrigues and infightings still continue within the BJP, why should people vote for it this time too?
In fact, this time one is witnessing another discordant feature with regard to the BJP. And that is the fact that the party is terribly confused over its electoral strategy, notwithstanding Narendra Modi being appointed the head of the party’s election campaign committee. And that, in turn, is due to the unresolved issue within the party whether it is time to make a complete break with what I will say “Advani model”. In the 1990s, the Advani model (Vajpayee might have been the tallest leader of the BJP and the eventual Prime Minister, but it was Advani who was the master brain behind the unprecedented success of the party) worked wonderfully. It was based on some premises, two of them being particularly noteworthy. The first premise was that as the BJP could not secure a majority in the Lok Sabha on its own, it must go for an alliance with other parties, particularly important regional parties that are essentially anti-Congress. And once you make them alliance-partners—make them the senior partners at the state-levels by sacrificing the long-term interests of the BJP in these states.
The biggest beneficiary of the Advani model has been the JD- U in Bihar and its Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. It may be noted that in Bihar it was the BJP which was the senior partner of the alliance until 2000. So much so that when Nitish Kumar was made the Chief Minister of the NDA for the first time in 2000 (though his government lasted barely a week), the BJP had more MLAs in the Bihar Assembly than Kumar’s JD-U! But subsequently, thanks to the Advani model, the BJP lost ground in the state and became junior partner of the JD-U. The same pattern was also seen to a lesser extent in Odisha. In fact, when Naveen Patnaik broke away from the Janata Dal to form his Biju Janata Dal in 1998, the BJP was in upswing, particularly in Odisha’s urban areas and the western tribal belt. Naveen then was just new to the politics. But the Advani-model in Odisha ensured that for the sake of the larger national coalition, the BJP would not aim at reaching its true potentials and play a secondary role to the BJD. Now the situation is such that the BJP is virtually a non-entity in the eastern state where it had shown great promise.
One could also argue that even at the level of the central government, the BJP during the NDA rule was more sensitive to the interests and demands of its allies than of its own partymen and sympathisers. It was an open secret during the Vajpayee government that the Telugu Desam and its leader Chandrababu Naidu, who was the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, reaped the maximum benefits and central largesse. And it was precisely the Advani model that compelled Vajpayee to accede to the demands of Chandrababu Naidu to advance the general elections by about six months so as to coincide with the Assembly elections in his state. It is otherwise unthinkable that a ruling party will so easily give up the power and privileges of the office for half a year just to please an ally. Who knows what would have happened to the Vajpayee government had it remained in office the full term with a good monsoon and few important policy decisions (like UPA government’s food-security ordinance) in the last six months? But then that was what the Advani model was all about.
It is, thus, obvious, and this is the second premise of the Advani model, that it gave utmost importance to the principle of making compromises within and outside the party, compromises that went to the ridiculous extent of surrendering the core interests of the party. This demoralised many a promising as well as veteran leader within the party. Because, they thought that with the party making too many compromises, their future was uncertain. This, in turn, resulted in a lot of insecurities in the party ranks and files; and the infightings and intrigues became the order of the day. The Advani model, thus, was marked by many promising and veteran leaders leaving or being expelled from the party, a party, which, otherwise, was wellknown for discipline and principles—Babulal Marandi, Shankarsinh Vaghela, Uma Bharati, Kalyan Singh. The latest major casualty in this process has been Yeddyurappa in Karnataka.
It is against this backdrop that one needs to see the ascendance of Narendra Modi in the BJP. Obviously, the biggest beneficiaries of the Advani model are upset that with the dominance of Modi, the BJP may go for a new style of functioning. All told, Modi’s style of functioning and visions of India are not necessarily the same that leaders under Advani model, and who have been running the party all these years, have. If the Gujarat example is any indication, people voted for the BJP because of Modi’s record in transparently good governance and non-populist politics. Modi has proved that the conventional wisdom of identity politics such as casteism and communalism did not matter in the ultimate analysis. He has won by shunning populism. Modi did not promise free electricity. He disconnected electricity to all those households and establishments that did not pay electricity bill. People still voted for him because he ensured uninterrupted supply of electricity.
Can Modi repeat his Gujarat performance at an all India level? India needs an alternative national party to the Congress which is right of the centre and has a fresh vision that will take the country forward. Such a party needs clear cut alternatives to be presented before the nation’s youth—who are about to constitute the numerical majority as far as the overall population is concerned. We need a party that lives up to the expectations of the rising middle class, the backbone of any county that is or aims at being prosperous. We need a party that is prepared to play a global role, not afraid to rise above the phobia of either Pakistan or China or the United States. We need a party that welcomes capitalism and competence, not prisoner of vested interests that are hell-bent on avoiding competition and remaining mediocre and exploitive. We need a party that is committed to working towards making India a formidable military power. We need a party that will empower the country’s poor so that they are employed (or self-employed) and proud enough not to accept the State-subsidies that, in reality, enslave them in perpetuity. We need a party that focuses on universalising quality education at the school level so that every Indian child is good enough to gain admission to institutions of higher learning and subsequently enter the job market without the crutches of reservation that divide the society and
In my considered view, the above challenges are nearer to the heart of Modi. Secondly, as I have argued before, the next general elections will be in the mould of “Presidential elections”, in the sense that Indian electorate will vote for the leader of the party, not necessarily for the party alone, akin to what we generally see in the United States and France. It is not that we in India have not witnessed this before. In 1971, the people of India overwhelmingly voted for Indira Gandhi as a leader, not for breakaway Congress she represented. And mind you, that year all the veteran leaders of the Congress had left her. The 2014 elections will be on the pattern of the one held in 1971. Here, all the “established names” and parties will not matter. What will weigh in the minds of the voters is who is that leader who can directly establish a chord with them and live up to their expectations. And here, the BJP under Modi stands a better chance.
The BJP thus has to make a choice—whether to stick to the Advani model or go wholeheartedly behind Modi. The Gujarat Chief Minister, of course, has heavy odds against him at the moment —the fiercest opposition from the central government and the agencies under its control such as CBI and IB (in spreading falsehood); Left-liberal NGOs, activists, the national media, and numerous BJP leaders benefiting under Advani model, all trying to sabotage his campaign. Some of them are even working overtime to criminally implicate him.
Let us see what happens.
By Prakash Nanda