Reality Check For Namo
The NaMo coronation has certainly made major impact on the psyche of Indian voters, and that is why the anti-Modi political pundits have become double careful in creating a NaMo-puzzle in the country. Certainly, the RSS and the BJP chief Rajnath Singh have identified ‘NaMo Shining’ in right time and true spirit. There is a huge hue and cry over Gujarat CM Narendra Modi’s anointment inside and outside the party because of his involvement in the overall growth of Gujarat, his being a divisive leader as he is blamed for a riot in Gujarat, and his popular reputation at national and international levels. Controversy can create challenge and challenge can bring change and change can lead to a cherished life of the nation—this is the Modi Mantra that has forced the BJP and its cadres to chant—Yehi Hei Right Choice. One can mark his arduous political journey, where he faced the demons and Dhritarashtra, characters of Mahabharat. For the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, NaMo is now playing the role of Arjun, Rajnath Singh of Krishna and Advani of Bhishmapitamah.
The events of the last few weeks are reminiscent of the days in 1968, when after the sudden death of Deen Dayal Upadhyay, the trio of Vajpayee, Advani and Nanaji Deshmukh took control of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh after an intense power struggle which ended with the exit of Balraj Madhok. Narendra Modi’s entry was eased due to the support of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the cadres of the BJP. His is a crown of thorns, with the sword of Damocles hanging loosely above his head. The honeymoon will not last forever; the next stage of his quest for national leadership will be more challenging. Modi has his task cut out—he has to deliver in the 2014 election.
The vote share of the BJP has been declining year on year since 1998. This coupled with coalition partners who are fickle minded and with mercurial temperament, does not make the task easy for him. The BJP is weak in several states of the northeast apart from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. The party is not a major force in West Bengal and Odisha and is striving hard to get hold in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh. Modi’s popularity may ensure a larger vote share, but this does not necessarily translate into more parliamentary seats. Modi has to increase the BJP’s vote share quite dramatically if it is to be in a good bargaining position after the election.
The National Democratic Alliance is now a shadow of its old self in terms of the number of parties in it. Modi will have to begin to reach out to potential allies and keep the existing partners in good humour. To get around 230 seats, the party needs to increase its vote share by nine percentage points, and by a further three percentage points if it is to make the half-way mark on its own. This seems a pipe dream, though many within the party are banking on a Modi wave.
Modi will have a Herculean task before him to gather allies to form the government at the Centre. Until he can lead the BJP with at least 170-180 seats, finding allies will be very difficult. In Indian politics, opportunism plays a bigger role than ideology and the anti-Congress forces could be seen making a beeline to back Modi to get a taste of power, even if it is for a short time. Everybody would want his ten minutes of glory. The parties that are now targeting Modi as an untouchable communal element could made a volte face and take a U-turn if the BJP’s poll prospects turn out as per the expectations. Modi is a resourceful politician, who has already begun to widen his support base in recent years. He has projected himself as a man obsessed with development, something that will go down well with the regional parties. Modi’s management capacity is well known. He can take chapters out of Vajpayee’s book and unite a fragile coalition so that the country doesn’t require a mid-term election following a debacle. It won’t be easy, but Modi is also a tested politician who has made all the way up from scratch. It will be an interesting journey for the man, his party and the nation in general from now on.
Among all the challenges that Modi faces, the one of intra-party differences will not disappear overnight. The hidden section in the BJP, which has objected to his elevation at this moment, treats him as an upstart. Advani may be out of contention for the prime minister’s post, but Modi might have to face a bigger challenge from other leaders who have not accepted his PM candidature with a happy mind. Even if he becomes the prime minister in future, these unhappy party colleagues might create a problem in governance for him.
The Congress will retaliate with stepped-up attacks against Modi and a few Vanzara-like incidents to malign him. There is public anger against the Manmohan Singh government, as the economy is weak, inflation has been intolerably high for many years and there are communal tensions in the major states. To counter balance this, the Congress will not let the ghosts of Godhra to rest. One must not forget that the Congress party got 30 million more votes than the BJP in 2009. For Modi, the next moves will be against the backdrop that offers several advantages for him: There have been structural shifts in the political battleground, especially the growing number of young voters, rapid urbanisation and a more aspirational nation. How Modi crafts his election campaign to leverage these advantages remains to be seen. If the BJP fails to get back to power this time, the party will have to take serious note of it and find flaws in the system. There will be serious question marks over its new generation leaders and the implications.