Modi’s New Challenges
So far so good as far as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is concerned. He has done well to become the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In the process, he has not only defied many a skeptic but also won a really hard-fought battle within his own party. And all that was possible because of the pressure from below. Modi is the unambiguous choice of the second and third rung BJP activists. Left to themselves, the Delhi-centric mandarins of the party would have simply ignored such pleas. And this is precisely here that the RSS played an important role. In my considered view, Modi is not even the natural choice of the RSS and VHP. Had that been so, these two organisations, at least their top leaderships, would not have gone all out to defeat Modi in the Assembly elections last year.
If now the RSS has come behind Modi, it is precisely because of the realisation on its part that Modi is unquestionably the most popular political leader of the country at the moment. In that sense, the RSS can be said to have been the facilitator in declaring Modi the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. But for the pressure of the RSS, the Delhi-centric national leadership of the BJP would not have accepted the candidature of Modi. Some of these leaders were aspirants for the country’s top political post themselves and privately ridiculed Modi for his lack of sophistication and familiarity with the culture of “Delhi durbar”. This was precisely the reason why one heard the vicious theory that Modi was not only a “divisive” leader but also incompetent as not being a member of the Parliament and a central minister in the past, he could never understand, let alone run, the national government from Delhi.
It is fair to suggest that Modi, emerging the prime ministerial candidate as he has because of support from the below, has aroused expectations which are not necessarily in tune with the known policies or goals of the BJP. In my view, the real challenges before Modi now are how to reconcile his party’s views and the public expectations. If he sticks to the BJP’s positions on many burning issues before the country, he is bound to cut a sorry figure. Many of the BJP’s positions on such issues are not only pedestrian but also highly populist and ambiguous. Modi should introspect over this. In fact, he should ask how many of his successful policies in Gujarat are in harmony with the BJP’s stated policies. Let me explain this point.
Like any other leading party of the country, the BJP is a highly populist party. Take for instance what its leaders are campaigning for to win the forthcoming Delhi assembly elections. They are asking people not to give the enhanced electricity and water bills, despite the fact the rates of electricity and water in the national capital are arguably the lowest in the country. But Modi’s record in Gujarat is different. He disconnected electricity supply to the defaulters but ensured what once seemed impossible: 24-hour, uninterrupted three-phase electricity to the people. The point is that like the Congress, the BJP too believes in the “subsidy raj”, costing the nation trillions and trillions of rupees. Like the Congress, the BJP believes in glorifying the notion of “Daridra Narayan” (poor is God) and giving the poor alms of few rupees or some kilograms of grains here and there. The BJP does not advocate for creating a system with all-round development so that nobody remains poor and beggar. The BJP, like others, does not focus on empowering the poor; it, like others, wants the poor to remain poor for all time to come. Modi’s Gujarat-model was a refreshing change in this regard. This model facilitated the generation of more wealth. This model welcomed capitalism and competence, not prisoner of vested interests that were hell-bent on avoiding competition and remaining mediocre and exploitive. It encouraged entrepreneurship and respected those who were contributing to the national GDP. It will be interesting to see if his colleagues in Delhi will allow Modi to develop an India-model based on his Gujarat-experiment.
Similarly, the BJP is as much a casteist party as any other in the country. Come the time of elections and like any other party, the BJP takes into account the caste factor in selecting candidates. But the people of India, the younger generation in rapidly urbanising country in particular and the rising middle class in general want politics to be detached from the factors of region, religion, caste and community. In Gujarat, Modi, despite the party pressures, has kept himself aloof from this pernicious trend. He has not played his OBC card (that he is a teli, belonging to the OBC). In that sense, it is really disgusting now to see many BJP strategists in Delhi talking of exploiting Modi’s teli caste (OBC) in the general elections to “sweep Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar”. Will Modi fall into this trap?
In fact, the BJP’s positions on many issues in the recent past indicate that the party wants to take India backwards, not forward. See its positions on the pernicious system of reservations in higher and specialised education and reservations in promotions for the SC and ST employees. I think the most dangerous piece of legislation that is in the agenda of the Congress party now is to extend the policy of reservations (which, according to the makers of our Constitution, including B R Ambedkar, was a short-term measure for 10 years) in the private sector. Most of the regional parties will support this move. Left to themselves, the Delhi-based BJP leaders will also shore it up inside the Parliament to bring out a necessary constitutional amendment without realising that by so doing the business class will be forced to move their establishments outside the country, and possibly into China, in this age of globalisation. Thus, there will be lesser employment opportunities and slackening of the country’s eventual growth and development. No wonder why the general public, leave alone the industrialists, want Modi to be different. Will Modi disappoint them? Or, will he dare the BJP to be different?
India desperately needs suitable electoral reforms. People will love if Modi promises them to be a harbinger of those reforms. We need good people in our legislatures and governments, people who get elected without the help of money, muscle and heritage. There is a vital necessity of a change in the prevailing first-past- the post electoral system that elects a candidate getting around just 10 per cent votes of the electorate to rule for five years. Such a system will not make him or her accountable as long as he or she has the support of a particular community intact. He or she will simply not bother about what the overwhelming majority of his or her constituency demands. In fact, he or she simply need not care about their sensitivity. Let us face this bitter truth—India is not a democracy in true sense of the term. Most of our institutions are not democratic in spirit. If the world still recognises and respects us to be a democracy, that is because we peacefully change our governments and our judiciary is fiercely independent.
There are many such issues on which the people want fresh debates. The ones pointed above are only illustrative, not exhaustive. And they want Modi to initiate these debates during his electioneering. The country wants to know Modi’s India-vision. He has said enough about his success stories in Gujarat. Now, he has to say new things and new ideas about India. And here, Modi’s biggest challenge lies in taking his own party leaders along. Let me be unmistakably clear. Modi has aroused interests and imaginations of people not as a leader of the BJP but as a Chief Minister who talks and acts different. It is time now to make India “a developed, prosperous and powerful democracy” in true sense of the term. Mother India is no longer happy just with the label of being the world’s “largest democracy”.
By Prakash Nanda