Battleground 2014 Rahul Vs Modi They are both brands looking for their India story
The 2014 Lok Sabha polls have for all practical purposes been slotted as an election between the persona of Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. But neither party is willing to acknowledge that.
The Congress workers and the BJP karyakartas have been raising their decibel for the projection of their respective leaders as the prime ministerial candidate for 2014. But the party bosses are shying away from it, albeit for different reasons. Ask a BJP leader and he/she will take recourse to the argument that the decision of who will be the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee will be decided by the party’s highest decision making body, the Parliamentary Board and would be taken in consultation with the allies which remain part of the National Democratic Alliance after Janata Dal-United leader Nitish Kumar walked out of the combine over the growing national role for Modi despite his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The story is no different in the Congress. Over the last five years at every party meeting Congress workers have cried themselves hoarse by calling for a change of guard at the Centre with Rahul as prime minister. With elections nearing, they want him to be the PM candidate. But when quizzed on this, a Congress leader will throw the question into the court of the `High Command’ which, in effect, means that Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul will take a decision on the matter. Indeed, there appears to be a determined effort on the part of the Congress leaders to prevent 2014 from turning into a Modi vs Rahul playoff in 2014.
The big question is why? Why are the Congress and the BJP shying from naming their PM candidate? The general elections, unless advanced, are expected in April-May 2014 so that a new government is in place by May 22 when the term of the present Lok Sabha ends. With less than a year to go for the polls, there is a marked reluctance on the part of the two major parties to name their PM candidate.
In the case of Modi, the recent developments in the NDA amply reflect the reason why the party has been hesitating to do so openly. The BJP stands at the crossroads. After pursuing hard Hindutva, it had toned down its rhetoric in order to win allies and come to power at the Centre which it managed to do in 1999. But with the JD-U recently ending its 17-year relationship with the NDA over Modi’s elevation and Advani’s marginalisation, the main opposition party, which once had as many as 23 allies, is now left with just two—the Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena, which has its own reservations about Modi. And it would not like to rock its own boat any further.
Today, the BJP is faced with a situation where a greater role for Modi has driven away the JD-U and would prevent the entry of potential allies but elevating him would not anger the cadres who want him as their PM candidate and who play an important role in shepherding voters to the polling booths. The developments in the saffron ranks could have its own spinoff effect that could see the BJP taking a hardcore Hindutva line ahead of the elections to consolidate its base and polarise the voters in order to offset the absence of additional support that it may have hoped to get from potential allies. Modi—who carries the aura of Hindutva without having to proclaim it—has, for the moment however, chosen not to accept the Vishwa Hindu Parishad invitation to go to Ayodhya, preferring to hardsell himself as a leader who can deliver development and governance to the country.
As far as Rahul is concerned, it is an open question whether the allies would accept him at the helm. But while the objection to Modi would be on ideological lines, the hesitation in accepting Rahul’s stewardship would lie, among other reasons, in his lack of experience in governance, administration or political management. Will NCP chief Sharad Pawar accept him in that role? Or for that matter, Nitish Kumar, if he decides to join forces with the Congress? The same question will come up vis a vis other parties. As it is, UPA-II has lost nearly half a dozen allies including the Trinamool Congress, the DMK, the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha and the AIMIM. In the event, can Rahul bring in what Sonia and Singh could not retain?
The answers to some of these questions would also be hinge on the performance of the Congress and the BJP in the year end assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Mizoram and perhaps Jharkhand too. The leadership of Rahul and Modi would be on test in these elections, even if they are fought by the respective chief ministers.
“THERE IS NO CONTEST BETWEEN RAHUL GANDHI & NARENDRA MODI”
— Meem Afzal, Spokesperson, Congress
After winning 2004 and the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress is gearing up for the 2014 general elections, which have got a new twist with the possible entry of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as a prime
ministerial candidate. Meem Afzal, the newly-appointed spokesperson of the Congress party, dismisses the Modi factor in the polls. In an interview to Saroj Nagi, the former MP and ambassador to Angola and Turkmenistan punctures the BJP’s claims of development in Gujarat. Excerpts:
The 2014 Lok Sabha polls are being slotted as an election between Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. What does the Congress have to say about it?
Actually, this debate has been started by the media. Rahul Gandhi himself has said several times that we are going to the elections on our policies, plans and achievements. We will take all our programmes to the people and ask for votes.
Merely opposing Narendra Modi is not our cup of tea. We find no difference between Modi or LK Advani or Rajnath Singh. There is absolutely no contest between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. There cannot be any comparison between them.
Rahul Gandhi is the leader of a big national party. He is its vice-president. He is our leader. Modi is even now only a leader of Gujarat. He is only a chairman of a campaign committee. A section of the media is hyping him up and trying to present him as an alternate which he is not.
But is Rahul Gandhi your prime ministerial candidate?
I will reply by repeating what Rahul Gandhi himself has said. Rahul Gandhi has said that my becoming or not becoming prime minister is not important; for me it is important that the poor get food, education, development and a better life and we should work for that.
And now you will say that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that he would like Rahul Gandhi to step into his shoes.
That is his desire. Just as it is my desire that Rahul Gandhi be the prime minister. A lot of other leaders and workers have also said that. All Congressmen want him to be the prime minister.
But it is for Rahul Gandhi himself to decide. It is for the party high command to decide.
But with his statement the Prime Minister has virtually pitted Rahul Gandhi against Modi as the prime ministerial candidate.
No, not at all. The Congress party’s stand is absolutely clear. We are not going into the elections with Modi in mind. We would say the same thing if Advani or Rajnath Singh were there. We will basically attack their policies. We will be focusing on policies, not personalities.
But who will be the prime ministerial face for the elections?
We have that too. When the time comes, we will say it and we have been saying it.
So far as 2014 is concerned, both Modi and the Congress know that they need to win a certain number of seats in order to attract allies. Observers believe that the BJP, which won 115 seats in 2009, would need another 55-65 seats to lure allies. For the Congress, the effort would be to see that its tally does not slip to less than 150 seats from the 206 it had won in 2009, if it has to forge UPA-III, post-2014.
Persona and Perception
Modi and Rahul the two gladiators of 2014—are as different from each other as chalk is from cheese. Modi is raring to be declared the PM nominee. Rahul is reluctant. Modi is brazen about his ambition and with the help of a section of leaders in the party is willing to ride roughshod over his seniors, including party patriarch LK Advani, who refused to attend the party national executive in Goa where Modi was to be anointed as election campaign committee chief. On his part, Rahul gives the impression of shying away from the responsibility that his workers want to thrust on him. Unlike Modi, whose elevation has divided the BJP and the NDA and threatens to polarise the country, acceptance of Rahul’s elevation in whichever capacity is total and complete within the Congress, which draws its strength from the Nehru-Gandhi family and brand.
Taking off from his Hindutva moorings, Modi has created a larger than life image for himself as a doer, a deliverer and a development man. He believes that a shot at power at the Centre will energise the party. Rahul believes in the bottoms-up approach of first strengthening the party before stepping into governance. Modi is aggressive and showed his disdain by scrupulously ignoring Rahul, while targeting Sonia and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Rahul has with single-minded determination kept his focus on rebuilding the party. Modi has made no secret of the fact that he relishes globalisation and liberalisation and has roped in the corporate sector to help him in his campaign to occupy South Bloc. On the other hand, even if his efforts remain haphazard, Rahul is trying to take a leaf out of his mother’s book by trying to work at the grass root level and talking about issues that concern the tribals, the dalits, the farmers and other sections, which are trying to grapple with the rapid changes effected by globalisation and liberalisation. One is a quintessential politician basking and thriving on his popularity among the cadres; the other an unconventional one, who talks about changing the system and the rules of the game.
Both however are eyeing for a big slice of the youth voters. Modi, who has been trying to cast himself in the mould of Sardar Patel and Atal Behari Vajpayee to gain acceptability, is also using the social media and new technology extensively—remember his 3 D hologram campaigns—to signal his identification with Young India. As a 42-year-old Rahul has age on his side to reach out to the youths.
ADVANI’S OPPORTUNISTIC U-TURN
Earlier, the BJP patriarch had always favoured projecting the PM candidate
“The Congress was always at an advantageous position when it came to the issue of projecting a leader for the post of Prime Minster. The Congress used to say that we have so and so as our prime ministerial candidate. Who does the Opposition have? But today I can say that for the first time in the political history of independent India, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by BJP has an all-acceptable leader in Atal Behari Vajpayee, who is our prime ministerial candidate. And perhaps for the first time, the Congress has nobody to project its PM candidate.”
These are the exact words spelt out by Advani, first in an interview to a leading English magazine before the 1998 Lok Sabha elections and later on referred to them in all his public meetings during the election campaign. But today it is surprising, nay, shocking to hear Advani saying that it is not advisable to go to the polls under one man’s leadership. This is nothing but an opportunistic U turn, something not expected from a person like Advani.
Hypothetically speaking, if the BJP had projected Advani as PM candidate, would he have still held the present view? Is it not obvious that just because it is Modi who is likely to be projected as PM candidate, Advani has changed his stance? What a fall!
It would have sounded perfectly fine if he had told directly that he is not in favour of the party going to the polls under Modi at the cost of allies. But to argue something diametrically opposite to his earlier stance smacks of rank opportunism and is most un-Advani like.
The BJP patriarch has also told Rajnath Singh: “We have to fight the elections under collective leadership.” This statement of Advani on the issue of collective leadership too is something totally contrary to what he had told in earlier days. He had said, “People would not like to vote for a vacuum. They would like to know who will become the Chief Minister or Prime Minister if they vote for a particular political party. Projecting a leader as PM or CM candidate will have its own advantage. Collective leadership sends wrong and confusing signals to the voters, which may prove costly.”
Further, he had said that the collective leadership was an essential ingredient to build the party as the organisation has to draw strength and sustenance from all section and strata of the society. Let me quote, “A political party needs to be representative in character and hence we need to rope in people from each and every section of the society. This principle of collective leadership is to ensure that the party becomes strong and homogenous. But projecting one of our popular leaders as our PM or CM candidate is necessary to win the elections.”
That was once again Advani speaking to the BJP workers of Karnataka way back in 1994 just before the Assembly elections. Have the situation and the principles changed between 1994 and 2013?
Advani has always attached utmost importance to the interest of the party and never allowed either insiders or opponents to interfere or cock-a-snook at the BJP. In one of his interviews to an English national weekly on the eve of the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, Advani had said, “When I say that I own the party, that does not not mean I own it as my personal property. When I say I own the party, I own its positive aspects as well as the so-called negative aspects of the party.”
Today, JD (U) leaders starting from Nitish Kumar downwards have been pillorying the BJP on the issue of elevating Narendra Modi but shockingly Advani has been stoically silent. Not a single word came from Advani defending the party or asking the JD (U) leaders to “mind their own business” and not to interfere in BJP’s internal affairs.
The octogenarian leader had more than once referred and quoted Dharmaraya’s words on many occasions, “…vayam pancha adhikam shatham…” which means “…between ourselves we (Pandavas) are five and they (Kauravas) are 100 but pitched opposite our enemies then we are 105…” So, when the Kauravas in the form of JD (U) were lambasting Modi and brazenly interfering in BJP’s internal affairs, how and why did Advani not recall Dharmaraya’s principles and hit back at the JD (U) leaders?
Does it mean that psychologically Advani has gone too far away from the party, which he built, nursed and nourished for the last 62 years? And his apathy for Modi runs so deep as to not defend him? Advani’s conduct is inexplicable at its best and unacceptable at its worst.
Advani committed a blunder by not participating in Goa conclave. He could have adopted the simple principle “discretion is better part of valour” and by being “tactical” he could have presided over the coronation ceremony of Modi thus making “a virtue out of necessity”.
Advani’s contention that elevating Modi was the reason for JD (U) to walk out of NDA is wrong.
It is not Modi but Advani who is responsible for NDA becoming weak because Advani showed to the world that he is vulnerable, first by resigning and later by withdrawing his resignation at the behest of RSS chief Mohan Bhagawat.
Obviously, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar—the most deceptive political leader who is eyeing the PM post—took it as a credible and advantageous situation for him to walk out of NDA and blame Modi for his act. Had Advani defended Modi and not resigned from his posts, Nitish Kumar would still be sucking his thumbs, thinking whether or not to walk out of NDA. The same Nitish Kumar had no qualms in being the Union railway minister in Vajpayee’s cabinet in 2002 when the so-called ‘pogrom of Muslims’ was going on in Gujarat. Why then did he not resign on
the matter of ‘principles.’? Can Advani dare to ask this question to Nitish Kumar?
By S A Hemantha Kumar
The 2014 War Game
There are hectic activities in the planning rooms of the two leading parties of the countries. Their leaders are burning the midnight oil to work out viable campaign strategies and slogans for their parties.
The BJP, despite its inner wrangling, is already off the block. As election campaign chief, Modi intends to address nearly 75 rallies in the first phase of the campaign between June and September. Though Rahul has been travelling across the country, there is no word yet of the number of campaigns he and Sonia Gandhi—the party’s two star campaigners—will undertake. But it will be a tightrope walk for them in the campaign where they have to see that the attack on Modi and the BJP’s exclusivist agenda does not boomerang in the way Sonia’s “maut ka saudagar” remark against Modi had done in Gujarat. But Gujarat is not India and the Congress is likely to play on the secular-communal divide between the UPA and the NDA on the one hand while emphasising the party’s inclusivist agenda of reaching out the benefits of development and welfare to the poor and the disadvantaged.
The battle for dominance is on because both the Congress and the BJP know that the party, which emerges as the single largest, gets the first call to explore the chances of forming a government. A pre-poll alliance that helps fetch the numbers and attract new allies adds to the possibility of occupying the seat of power in Delhi.
By Saroj Nagi