Dealing With Modi
An American academician visiting India presently asked me the other day, “Do you think Narendra Modi will be able to become India’s next Prime Minister even after his victory in the so-called semi-final, the latest round of Assembly polls?” I think this is the question many in India are pondering over too. In any case, our English press and television anchors are having grave doubts over Modi’s chances of becoming India’s highest political executive.
Of course, there are exceptions like veteran journalist Vinod Mehta, a known Modi-baiter. He told a literary gathering in Lucknow, “it’s almost inevitable that Narendra Modi will become the next prime minister”, and added, “I say this despite being labeled a Congress chamcha (sycophant).” He said that Modi’s rise was more due to inept leadership of Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul than his own merit. The veteran editor predicted that Modi’s ascendancy to the PM’s post would be bad news for English media which has been after him since Gujarat riots. “Mr. Modi is not a man who forgets and forgives. For years, English media, including Outlook (which Mehta edited until recently), has criticised him. So our jobs would be in peril if he becomes PM,” he said.
It is obvious that Mehta is not happy at Modi’s ascendance in Indian politics. But he made a valid point when he admitted that the national media, particularly the English media and leading TV anchors, has been launching a systematic campaign against Modi. It is not prepared to accept the contribution of Modi behind BJP’s spectacular performance in the latest round of Assembly polls. I am sure that had the BJP performed poorly, Modi-bashers would have ascribed that to the negative image of Modi. But now that the BJP has performed splendidly, they say that the success is more due to the Chief Ministers or Chief Ministerial candidates of these states—Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan and Harsh Vardhan in Delhi.
If one goes by these habitual Modi-bashers, then it is the reverse logic for the Gujarat Chief Minister, seen against the one that is applied to Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in the Congress. Any electoral victory of the Congress at any level—be it the local or the state or the national—is credited to the campaigns and images of the Gandhis; but any defeat of the Congress party at the hustings means the failure on the part of the local leaders. One is amazed at the logic of anti-Modi media this time. It says that had there been a real Modi-factor, then in Chhattisgarh the BJP’s victory margin would have been much higher and in Delhi the party would have got a clear majority. It is not prepared to listen to the other possibility, which is that but for Modi the BJP would have lost in Chhattisgarh and failed in stopping the juggernaut of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi. And but for Modi, the BJP simply could not have got the near two-third majority in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Be that as it may, the pattern or course of anti-Modi media in creating hurdles in the path of the realisation of Modi’s prime ministerial ambition has been like this. First, it was argued that the BJP, or for that matter the RSS, would never agree on Modi becoming the prime ministerial candidate. And here, Modi’s critics were greatly helped by the shenanigans of the BJP’s central leaders. In my considered view, if Modi finally crossed this hurdle, it was primarily because of the pressure from below, that is, from the second and third tiers of the BJP and the RSS—their grass roots workers, in short. Of course, the mass popularity of Modi as such and his image as a decisive politician who could deliver goods on the development front also played an important role.
Now that Modi has been formally declared the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, and here the party president Rajnath Singh played a very constructive role by withstanding pressure to the contrary, the anti-Modi commentators have been focusing on two other facets. One is the character assassination of Modi and his close confidants. Here, they are highlighting statements of a handful disgruntled officials of the Gujarat government, who are under suspension or have retired—the likes of Sanjiv Bhatt, GL Singhal, Pradeep Sharma and R B Sreekumar. The latest snoop-gate scam, in which Modi was alleged to have illegally monitored the activities of a young architect is the case in point. The swiftness with which senior Congress leaders, beginning with Law Minister Kapil Sibal, Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari and some of the top women leaders of the party—Jayanti Natarajan, Girija Vyas, Rita Bahuguna Joshi, Shobha Ojha and others—questioned Modi’s credentials for being considered a Prime Ministerial candidate aimed at stalling Modi. It is obvious that a dubious tape to this effect was deliberately leaked, with the help of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), it seems.
The argument here is that the women of the country will not be safe under Modi. Nobody is prepared to listen to the other side of the story that the father of the girl, a friend of Modi, had requested to provide security to her and that if the critics are so much perturbed about the invasion of the privacy of the girl concerned, then they are exactly doing the same thing. Because, if the matter goes to the court or there is an investigation, then the girl, who incidentally has not complained and is happily married, will be interrogated and the whole world will come to know who she is. But then, as I have argued earlier, the critics are not concerned about the privacy of the girl but keen to exploit the situation to use it as a potent weapon against Modi. In fact, I am sure that between now and the general elections next year, the anti-Modi media and the Congress party will work very hard to pressurise the CBI to nail Modi by hook or by crook.
The other strategy of the anti-Modi brigade today is to exaggerate the limitations of Modi in cobbling up a comfortable majority after the next general elections to be the Prime Minister. It estimates that the BJP will be getting not more than 180 seats under any circumstances and in that case a “highly polarising Modi” will not be able to get allies, something that Atal Behari Vajpayee had managed. For them, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s decision to snap ties with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is a big reference point. They also point out how the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, another important component of the NDA, is a reluctant partner of Modi. And they are right. Because, the Shiv Sena under Udhav Thackeray has issued controversial remarks about Modi many a time. On one occasion it wanted Sushma Swaraj, the present Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, to be the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate.
Given the fluctuating views of the Shiv Sena on Modi, it is a fact that the Akalis of Punjab under the leadership of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal are the only BJP ally, who do not have any reservations on Modi’s candidature. In recent months, Badal has stood as a rock behind Modi, despite the fact that anti-Modi forces had tried recently to project Modi as anti-Sikh because of his government’s land policies concerning Sikhs in Gujarat. In fact, by the time this issue reaches the readers, Badal would have organised a huge Modi rally in Punjab.
This being the case, will Modi attract new allies? And here, let me disappoint the anti-Modi brigade by stating that BJP under Modi is not politically untouchable. In fact, to the best of my knowledge as a political observer, contrary to what the Indian politicians say, every political party except the Congress has been on the side of the BJP at some time or the other. The Communists did not mind voting for the BJP in the 1989 elections. The BSP has been a coalition partner of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. Both the DMK and AIADMK have dealt with the BJP. So have Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik. If the Shiv Sena has reservations, another Sena, Raj Thackeray’s MNS, (which political pundits say to be more effective as a vote catcher) is more than willing to join hands with Modi.
As I write this, I hear that DMK is reconsidering its position towards the Congress and has sent feelers to the BJP. AIADMK under Jayalaitha is a “personal friend” of Modi in any case. TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu has given ample hints that he may support the NDA. In fact, in Andhra, Modi has now an embarrassing choice to make—whether to welcome Naidu or woo YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy. Signaling the possibility of a major political realignment ahead of the 2014 general elections, Reddy apparently told the India Today Group, that he was not averse to an alliance with a BJP led by Narendra Modi. “Why not? No one is untouchable. We are willing to do business with Modi. Anybody who accepts our demands is acceptable to us,” said Reddy.
Of course, one cannot be sure that whether there will indeed be a pre-poll alliance between Modi’s BJP and the regional parties across the country or there will be a post-poll arrangement. But the important point is that the Modi-bashers will be surely be disappointed (as they were when Rajnath Singh declared Modi to be BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate) to see the regional chieftains doing normal business with Modi if the situation so arises.
By Prakash Nanda