By S. Nihal Singh
Jun 11, 2013
In disentangling hype from reality as the nation watched the drama of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Goa gathering, it is essential to call a spade a spade. Narendra Modi’s coronation as the party’s face for the 2014 election was preordained, he having hijacked the BJP months earlier. That such a decision would displease L.K. Advani, among others, was a foregone conclusion. Once the party’s mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), had decided by majority that Mr Modi offered the best chance for a victory next year, the issue was closed.
Both the BJP and the RSS are taking many risks in anointing Mr Modi; the procedure is irrelevant. Both are wedded to the concept of strict party discipline in which the organisation is superior to a person. By espousing Mr Modi, they are suggesting that in view of two frustrating attempts at securing power at the Centre after a singular six-year reign, they are willing to take the risk of blessing a person who considers himself superior to any organisation. A second risk they are willing to take is that the BJP can write off all Muslim votes as well as those of other minorities, apart from Akali Sikhs’.
The fact that the RSS decided that Mr Advani’s time was up was clear for some time. But Modi supporters’ impatience, most stridently revealed at the anti-Advani demonstrations outside his house in New Delhi where he was resting indisposed, was a warning to the RSS leadership that the wily Gujarat leader had his own storm-troopers to raise hell for his cause. Mr Advani’s almost immediate response in the form of an acerbic letter to the BJP president conveying his resignation from three important positions was unexpected in its timing but was factored in by the RSS.
While denoting a generational change (although Mr Modi is not quite a young man), the gamble of changing the very nomenclature of the party and its mentor in the hope of winning an election is playing with fire. It was rubbed in by Mr Advani in his letter by suggesting that the BJP had abandoned its idealistic policies for personal agendas. Whatever the results of the next general election, the portentous decision on Mr Modi will altar the character of the BJP and involve a soul-searching in the RSS. A split in the party is less likely than the drifting away of some leaders and followers into the wilderness.
It is unfortunate for the BJP that the most serious crisis the party has faced since it was re-launched by Mr Advani and Atal Behari Vajpayee coincides with the presidency of Rajnath Singh, a compromise candidate not quite equal to the task now thrust upon him. While he will seek the counsel of others, he is likely to be the fall guy in the backbiting that is sure to ensue.
The tragedy for the BJP is that while Mr Modi had given notice long ago of his firm conviction of leading the party in the next general election, the party was unable to get to grips with its consequences. After all, it was quite some time that he started shifting his rhetoric from the pride and self-esteem of “six crore Gujaratis” to take on larger national themes. And in his latest switch from the development mantra to a question of good governance, he has again made a shift. As his speech at the Gujarat conclave showed, an all-round bashing of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) will be the order of the day.
Apart from the support of his party cadres, Mr Modi is very much banking on the mood of the affluent middle class and the corporate world pining for decisive leadership in contrast to a double-headed dispensation being offered by the UPA. How far such mood will carry him in an election spread out over a vast land with its own local and regional issues remains to be seen. India is not Gujarat, and if Mr Modi’s acolytes get too lyrical about their supposedly superhuman leader, there is danger of a backlash.
Have the BJP and its mentor then decided to aim for short-term gains by sacrificing the longer-term rationale of their existence? It would seem so, and the trigger is apparently the frustration among the faithful with their inability to prevent the Congress from claiming the crown twice in the last nine years. In any event, the Vajpayee-Advani era is decidedly over. It is still not clear what comes afterwards.
Perhaps the RSS leadership is comforting itself with the thought that Mr Modi is, after all, a man nurtured in the RSS cradle and was injected into the political mainstream, as were others, to serve the mentor’s interests. Ideologically, the RSS had reaped rewards during the six-year BJP sway at the Centre by infiltrating its men and women in the government structure. Suddenly, its lifeline was cut off by the party’s defeat in 2004.
One other aspect of the crisis is worthy of note. With Mr Modi at the helm of the party, its character will change. It will revolve more and more around him, even as his self-esteem grows by the day and he brooks less and less dissent from his party leaders and others. Yet, Mr Modi’s cultivation of cadres owing their loyalty to him, rather than the organisation, carries the danger of de-energising others at the grassroots more in tune with the party’s collective will. As Mr Advani reminded his party audience recently in Madhya Pradesh, Mr Vajpayee had won over his party and the country by his love and humility, rather than brandishing the stick, and he praised his party’s state chief minister on this count. The Herculean task remains. Mr Modi has to convince the people that he is capable of governing a multi-religious, multi-ethnic country with the Hindutva wand — to his own greater glory.