September 15, 2013

THE DOUBLE EDGED SWORD


THE PROS AND CONS OF NAMING MODI AS THE PM CANDIDATE



Original: IBN Live/Reuters 

As if any formal endorsement was needed after the Goa enclave of the BJP where he was declared as the head of the party's 2014 campaign, Gujarat CM Narendra Modi has been officially anointed as the NDA's candidate for the top post on Friday - 13 September, 2013. In a outfit which was struggling over the war of succession amongst its second generation leaders ever since its unexpected and decisive defeat in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, the decision has finally been made. Beating the likes of Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley - who are currently heading the party in the two Houses and are known to be very close to patriarch Advani, the Hindutva poster boy's much hyped development model and his stinging attacks on the innumerable failures of the UPA government has galvanized the cadre, making him the unanimous choice to take on the Congress. At a time when the economy is struggling and the country's image is taking a hit, the saffron brigade is projecting NaMo as the ultimate saviour of the nation, a Messiah who will salvage our lost pride and solve all our problems. However, even the most ardent of BJP followers know that conditions apply. Modi is an extremely polarizing figure and his mishandling of the 2002 riots may end up consolidating the 'secular' and the significant minority votes in the favour of the 'pseudo-secular' parties. Internally, the appointment seems to have caused an internal crisis with Bhishma pithama opposing the move. However, the decision has been made and the onus is now on the Congress to name who will spear head its own campaign.

Over the last few years, Modi has slowly become the most prominent face of his party. Ever since his third straight victory over the Congress in the 2012 Gujarat elections, his stature within the party has only grown and its followers have come to a conclusion that only he can get them back to power in New Delhi. Besides being an excellent orator, his pro-development stance, 'no-nonsense' attitude, a strong position on national security, his scathing and below the belt attacks on the UPA leadership and of course, his so-called 'vision' for India have made him a hit in the cyberspace and popular amongst the middle class and the youth. At a time when the UPA government finds itself in a tight spot over numerous issues like price rise, falling rupee, corruption and failure to protect our borders, Rajnath & Co. are hoping 'NaMonia' or 'pneumonia' - depending on which side of the political divide you are on, will sweep the nation. The mood in the opposition camp is upbeat. With Modi at the helm of affairs, there seems to be a new found confidence amongst the workers on the streets. The BJP seems to be in resurgence. Though, it may not attract any significant allies up to the polls, it has made its intention clear - it wants to cross the 200 mark and then strike deals with regional players opposed to the Congress. With the party growing stronger, brick by brick at a time, it seems that the next Lok Sabha will be a tough contest; much closely fought than 2009.

Secondly, with this important announcement, the war of succession in the saffron party seems to be brushed aside, at least for the time being. The Advani camp has been cut to size; while the Lau Purush is still sulking, a vast majority of the leaders including the president have stood behind Modi. The RSS too has given a green signal. Now that the internal differences have been 'resolved', the BJP's position has only been strengthened. Thirdly, for the party that piggy banked on the Babri demolition to emerge as an alternative to the Congress, Modi - a polarizing figure will be in line with its core Hindutva strategy. Amit Shah, a trusted aide of the Gujarat strongman who has been accused of playing a key role in the 'fake' encounters post 2002 riots, has been put in charge of UP, where the BJP could win just 10 seats in the last elections. His visit to Ayodhya and his assurance of building a Ram Temple at the disputed site has only confirmed this. Perhaps, the biggest positive for the Opposition is that the move has put the Congress in the dock. Now, with the ball in its court, there is tremendous pressure on the party to name a candidate to oppose Modi. Rahul Gandhi, who every Congressman believes has the divine right to become the PM is inexperienced and is reported to be reluctant to jump into the fray. Unlike 2009 where his role in passing the Indo-Nuclear deal was appreciated, Manmohan Singh's popularity has been tarnished this time around by the 2G and the Coalgate scams. Sonia Gandhi, UPA's tallest leader is not keeping well. Besides, every attack on Modi will only give him more footage and backfire on the government; after all the who knows it better than Sonia - her infamous 'Maut ka Saudagar' remark ahead of the 2007 Gujarat elections backfired on her own party.

However, Modi's biggest problem continues to be the ghost of the riots following the Godhra carnage. Though he may not have been implicated by any court as yet, his complete mishandling of the administration during that period has made him a much hated figure amongst the minorities. Besides, several scholars, intellectuals and distinguished members of the civil society have been vocal in their criticism of him. Although it is not of much importance, the US government has still not offered a visa to him. Even in the past few months, his unwarranted remarks like Hindu nationalism and 'Burqa of secularism' have only made the matters worse, thereby giving his detractors opportunities to take swipes at him. Many believe that Modi, whose brand of politics is based on religious intolerance, anger, arrogance and violence is completely in contrast to the ideals of our great civilization. They argue that a man who could not uphold the secular fabric of our society cannot lead a country renowned for its diversity. Since he is such a polarizing figure, the BJP's decision may end up working in favour of the Congress. In the last general elections, Varun Gandhi's hate speech in his constituency of Pilibhit in UP proved to be a costly mistake. Though he won his seat, the furor also caused the Muslim votes to go to the INC's kitty, thereby helping it gain over twice as much as the saffron outfit in the state. With the Gujarat CM now being declared as the party's PM nominee, the Congress's policy of veiled minority appeasement policy has now got some sort of legitimacy.

Probably, the biggest worry for the BJP since the naming of Modi is that it has become less attractive to worthwhile allies before the polls. There are two issues that work against the Gujarat CM in this regards. Firstly, many of the BJP's prospective alliance partners including Patnaik's BJD in Orissa, Mamata's TMC in Bengal and Naidu's TDP in Andhra themselves have a significant support base amongst the Muslims. As such, by allying with the NaMo led BJP, they may end up alienating their vote bank. At a time when the pundits have predicted a hung assembly, every party wants to increase its tally, thereby enhancing its political influence in New Delhi. This was the precise reason that the JD(U) walked out of the NDA sometime back. Secondly, a head strong leader like NaMo will be very hard to deal with. In our Rajneeti where allies regularly bully national parties for the silliest of reasons, a moderate like Vajpayee with the ability to keep everyone together while not compromising on national interests will be needed. Another head ache for Modi emanates from his own camp. His one time mentor Advani, who even persuaded Vajpayee against dismissing the Gujarat government in 2002 has not endorsed him yet. The former Home Minister who was absent at the Goa enclave also skipped the meeting in Delhi where NaMo was endorsed. Certainly, this is not the start that the NaMo band wagon wanted. The conclusion is that the choice has been made and the fate of Narendra Modi will be decided in 2014 when the world's largest democracy goes for elections.


For more on the 2014 General Elections
(1) The Fall of the Triumvirate (Link)
(2) Reading Between the Lines (Link)
(3) An Ally in Need is an Ally Indeed (Link)