Will Modi Fill In The Leadership VOID?
A leader-starved India has finally appeared to have found a leader. The ‘anointment’, not election, of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, despised by civil liberties activists for his ‘role’ in post-Godhra riots and fake encounters (of terrorists, incidentally all Muslims) in Gujarat, and appreciated and praised by supporters for exceptional leadership and governance qualities displayed during his terms as Chief Minister in Gujarat, would perhaps be the biggest leadership divide and controversy in India since independence and would be remembered and analysed for a long time whether or not Narendra Modi makes it to the prime ministerial chair. The question that this essay seeks to examine is whether it is possible to view Modi’s leadership claims within the democratic parameters, or it must be junked as larger than life claim of a ‘pretender to the throne’, who is a ‘proven communalist’, a hater of non-Hindu minorities and one who has made hollow and false claims of governance by appeasing the corporates at the cost of common man.
Comprehending the Leadership Void
India has not witnessed a national leader after the assassination of Indira Gandhi on 31 October 1984. A leader who was not shy of courting controversies, she had developed a style and reach to connect to people of all sections, more particularly the poor, across the country. She was feared, admired, criticised and condemned during her eighteen year leadership reign at the apex level since ascending the prime ministerial chair on 24 January 1966, including her three year oblivion after her loss in 1977. The shadow of her leadership qualities brought her son Rajiv Gandhi to power with an unprecedented three-fourth majority in 1984, which he lost within three years. The Janata Party years saw a triangular leadership tussle that destroyed it within a couple of years, even Jayprakash Naryan could not save it. While none of them had the leadership appeal of Indira Gandhi, and in 1977 the leader of the party was not elected, but selected by JP who was ailing and later sidelined.
V.P. Singh did not have a party to give him an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, but he became a national leader and prime minister amid tremendous national enthusiasm, but could not sustain it even for months despite stirring social justice campaign by implementing the cold storaged Mandal Commission report on the OBC positive discrimination; he too had to be ‘anointed’ leader of the parliamentary party by Devi Lal on 1 December 1989, who was elected leader to neutralise Chandra Shekhar’s claims.
After that Atal Behari Vajpayee was only leader of national stature to adorn the prime ministerial office. But beyond his national image, he was not a leader to stir the nation. In fact, he was pushed into background when the Bharatiya Jan Sangh reincarnated in 1980 as Bharatiya Janata Party to shun the image of a Hindu party, having got just two seats in 1984 Lok Sabha elections, decided to take an extreme Hindutva plunge under Lal Krishna Advani along with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. As the party realised its dream of moving to the Raisina Hill, first in 1996 when Vajpayee’s image could not bring enough support to keep the BJP in power, and decisively in 1998 and 1999, Advani, who was credited with BJP’s ‘do se do sau’ (two to two hundred) journey in the Lok Sabha, was persuaded to gracefully leave the apex chair for a more ‘acceptable’ Vajpayee.
Yet, 2004 Lok Sabha election was lost under Vajpayee with Advani as his deputy and he confessed: ‘hum nahin jaante hum kyon haare, jo jeete woh nahin jaante woh kyon jeete’ (We do not know why we lost, those who won do not know why they won). This reflected both the inability of a Vajpayee-Advani duumvirate leadership to win an election for the party removed from a highly emotive ‘masjid-mandir’ campaign and the emerging political sociology of Indian elections that has been analysed as having shifted the electoral locus in India to states, meaning that no ‘national leader’ can sway it from Delhi and the final Lok Sabha tally is a combination of state results. It also made pre- and post-election coalition a strategic necessity. So, Vajpayee the leader and Sonia Gandhi, maligned for her foreign origin, do not cut ice in 2004 and Congress-led UPA comes to power. A non-leader Dr. Manmohan Singh not only becomes the PM, in 2009 Advani projected as the iron leader does not cut ice with the people and the UPA retains power.
Birth: September 17, 1950
Birthplace: Vadnagar, District, Mehsana.
Father: Damodardas Moolchand Modi.
Education: Post-Graduate in Political Science from Gujarat university and Graduation in Political Science from Delhi University.
1958: On the day of Diwali, he took oath as “Bal Swayamsevak’ from the first “Pracharak’ of Gujarat Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Laxmanrao Imandar aka Vakeel Sahab.
1965: During the Indo-Pak war, he took care of the wounded soldiers.
1967: He helped the victims of Gujarat floods.1971: He became member of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
1974: He became in-charge of Gujarat Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. He led campaign against corruption.
1987: He joined BJP
1988: He became General Secretary of Gujarat wing of BJP.
1990: He went to America for three-month course of Public Relation and Image Management. He also managed LK.Advani’s Rath Yatra.
1995: He became National General Secretary of BJP. He was also made in-charge for five states.
1998-99: He became National Media Chief of BJP.
2001: He became Chief Minister of Gujarat.
August 2013: He became Chief of BJP Election Campaign.
September 2013: He was anointed as Prime Minister candidate of BJP.
The BJP too today rests on strong state leaders, Modi being one of them who has raised his stakes at the national level. Other satraps from Bihar, UP, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, Tamilnadu and critical ones holding critical seats in the north-east have emerged and consolidated because the Congress neutralized its state leaders and ignored regional issues and the BJP could not develop that reach. Post-1996 many of them do dream prime ministerial chair in the quirk of Indian politics, yet ready for power bargain.
While Modi is ‘anointed’, Rahul Gandhi does not even need that. He has the pedigree and dynastic party on his side with all the party members – is any leader there? – clamouring for his coronation. No, I have nothing against anyone discussed here, but is there any leader there in any political party seeking people’s mandate in a democratic political process sanctified by the world’s largest constitution looking for democratic process in the election of a leader? Here we are talking about the leader to lead a billion-plus population, nearly half of them below poverty line, counting even those who are barely able to keep their heads above the line!
The Poor, Governance and Modi
Juxtaposition under the current scenario is the best way to situate pro- and anti-Modi debate. Rahul Gandhi, the silent and scantily visible leader and the prime ministerial choice of the Congress rose to react to Modi’s anointing by saying that the Congress stands for poor. Reports indicate that he has a team of Oxonians and Harvardians helping him with data on poverty and its mitigation strategies. The Congress is also pitching on its recent legislations on land acquisition, right to food and cash transfer to bring about a leaderless ‘silent revolution’ with an overwhelming support of the poor, dalits and minorities (read Muslims), who at policy level overlap.
Modi’s emergence as a visible leader, too eager to conquer the Raisina Hill, flaunting his ‘governance’ record and acerbic rhetoric against the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi family is thus significant. The argument, equally strong, on the other side of the Modi is his 2002 record during the communal riot when Modi’s CMO was reported to be directly monitoring the pogrom against Muslims and the police went completely communal to directly aid the rioters. Modi supporters argue that he has washed that sin, if that was a sin, with the ganga jal (holy water) of good governance; after all Gujarat is among the leading states in economic performance and it has had no communal riots since. It is also pointed out that if Rajiv Gandhi could be pardoned for 1984 anti-Sikh riots why not Modi after such brilliant performance. The facts overlooked in this argument are that communal riots engineered, aided and abated by any leader and party is unpardonable. The advantage Rajiv Gandhi got was that he was only a few days old in prime ministerial chair and the big role assigned to him and the his atrocious statement linking the violence with the earth shaking when a big tree fell too was attributed to his speech writers. He did get an advantage as a clean slate in politics expected to clean up public life and his party and raised leadership expectations that would be different from that of his mother. He failed and within two years began losing popular support.
Narendra Modi, on the other hand, expressed his Muslim antipathy with comments that rubbed salt in the riot victims of wounds. As long as the heat of the riot was on, all the leaders of RSS-BJP, including Modi, instead coming out clearly condemning the riot irrespective of the circumstances, calming both the communities and apprehending the culprits whichever community they belonged to, added fuel to fire by putting the blame on fire in the compartment, ignoring the incident on the railway platform. The relief work was sloppy by any standards and he was reluctant to visit the camps. Whosoever the leader, whatever the party, howsoever good the governance record in the past, present and future, these are no leadership qualities. Conviction of one leader close to him (abandoned since) and serious charges on another, who continues to be a close aide, too does not exonerate him. Justification with pointing fingers at the Congress only compounds the folly. Indeed, the BJP is organising and orchestrating meets with Muslim leaders who must look ‘Muslims’, which may bring some support, but Modi provided a counter symbolism when he brusquely declined to wear Islamic skull cap during one of his contact programmes with Muslims in Gujarat. In any case Modi has weathered that storm and won three consecutive state elections, no mean achievement! It is only recently that in a television interview that he expressed his sadness over the riot, quite a contrast from his walking away from the middle of Karan Thapar’s programme Devil’s Advocate when questioned on the tragic incident.
Modi hogged limelight when at the height of Nandigram-Singur movements orchestrated by Mamata Banerjee he came forward and fast tracked land acquisition for Tata’s Nano car project. He became instant darling of the corporate world, who already adored him for industry-commerce friendly regime. Indeed, these are expected of a dynamic chief minister in the liberalisation, globalisation era and Modi built up state economy with policies that suited business, commerce and industry. However, much before the Modi aura was created a scholarly study of state politics (Aseema Sinha, The Regional Roots of Development Politics in India: A Divided Leviathan, New Delhi: Oxford, 2005, p. 161) thus observed on Gujarat, ‘a classic capitalist developmental state’ that ‘pursued growth-oriented industrial policies implemented in a flexible and effective manner by its bureaucracy (emphasis mine).’ At a time ‘when the national state was moving in an overly regulatory direction and when other states were implementing populist anti-growth measures’ Gujarat went the other way. According to Sinha ‘The salience of development politics in Gujarat is the result of a fortuitous combination of entrepreneurial resources in the shape of an artisanal and trader base, well-developed linkages to the external world, and most critically, the transformation of a farmer-Patidar caste into an industrial capitalist class…. The distinctiveness of Gujarat’s industrial growth lies in the incorporation of a wider base of upper castes, intermediate castes, and lower groups into the Congress Party… at a crucial and initial period of state’s development (1960 to 1975).’
Obviously, Modi only had to carry forward the tradition and he did it rather aggressively. Studies have pointed out that land has been acquired and provided to the corporates at very cheap rates, that has not helped the land-owners. Also, under Modi environmental regulations have been eased and violated with the government looking the other way that has helped the corporate world, but harmed the people.
The road to Delhi is still far away for all the political parties. By declaring Narendra Modi the prime ministerial candidate, the BJP has taken initiative in sounding the poll bugle. The response to Modi’s conquest of his party in a leader-starved country, which has also been witnessing monumental corruption for nearly a decade, has been visible. A section of the middle class has been yearning for him, brushing aside the riot charges, by talking let bygones be bygones and it should not matter if some people died nearly a decade ago! The corporate world, of course, is over enthusiastic for obvious reasons!! Yet Narendra Modi leaves disconcerting feelings amongst the discerning, not aligned to the Congress or the family, yet prepared to welcome a someone who could lead India to harmony and prosperity!!!
By Ajay K Mehra