Monday, September 19, 2011

Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard /September 19, 2011

Turning Threats into Political Opportunities is the Modi Way

Indian politics has acquired the image of a fine-dining restaurant in a five-star hotel. Unless one changes its look and feel every now and then, politics loses both clientele and attraction. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has mastered the art of repackaging himself according to the times. Come elections, he is ready with a new slogan, a story board and the medium to gain maximum political mileage. When he began his fast on Saturday, his wasn’t a confrontationist stance. Instead, Modi was a politician in search of reconciliation. The aggression was replaced with humility; the hard Hindutva posturing with a passionate appeal for an inclusive partnership in governance and development. Short of saying sorry for the 2002 riots, Modi left no one in doubt that he was deeply hurt by what had transpired. He was seeking an endorsement from six crore Gujaratis for what his government has done post-2002. The biting sarcasm and veiled threats to his political opponents were missing; not even once did Modi attack his rivals. From the image of a leader who divided Gujarat, Modi is out to establish himself as a leader who unites Gujarat. And when L K Advani quoted from a positive report by a US think-tank on Modi, he was sending clear signals to his party and the nation—it isn’t he but Modi who is the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Others were just poster boys. And it was Advani who announced Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate in 1995 without even consulting the BJP.

During his three-day Sadbhawana fast, Modi’s eyes have not been on Gujarat alone. His speech had much to with his future mission. After the successful implementation of the Modi Model of governance, he is now seeking a bigger audienc
e and wider acceptability. With state elections a year away, Modi has unleashed a new action plan to catapult himself on to the national platform. Emboldened by the presence of Advani and many chief ministers, including Parkash Singh Badal, Modi left no one in doubt that he was the only Opposition leader with a clear agenda and a robust, positive blueprint for taking on the Congress and its allies nationally. All future prime minister hopefuls were conspicuous by their mandatory presence. A sour note, however, was stuck by the absence of a representative from JD(U).

Modi’s move took his own partymen by surprise. Since he usually refrains from celebrating his birthday, none, including his foes, had expected Modi to launch such a lethal political weapon. Both his admirers and detractors now feel that Modi’s fast is meant to divert attention from the legal challenges his government was facing from human rights activists and the courts. For the past nine years, Modi has been battling on many fronts. But each time he has devised a new strategy to floor his challengers. In 2003, it was the slogan for the protection of Gujarati Pride; in 2007, it was the Development Mantra and in 2011, the Unity of Gujarat. He has ensured that he remained prime news on prime time for the most part of the year. But his most successful achievement has been his ability to attract huge investments to Gujarat. Even corporate giants like Ratan Tata, who had distanced themselves after 2002, now stand behind him. As the India Story fades away, the Gujarat Story shines worldwide. Those who opposed granting Modi a visa are now singing paeans of praise. They see in him a future prime minister. For Modi, it is a question of do or die. He realised that massive emotional support of the people is needed to thwart conspiracies. His decision to go public with a plan that would get him nationwide live publicity dwarfed the feuding leadership of his own party. Let down by the BJP that failed to protect him from the UPA’s onslaught, Modi’s fast is meant to marginalise party leaders further and polarise non-Congress politics. So far, Modi was a national leader who was confined to the geographical boundaries of his state. Now, by announcing that a developed Gujarat means a prosperous India, he has chosen India as his karmabhumi. In spite of his stratospheric popularity ratings in various opinion polls, the BJP’s leadership actively connived with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to publicly insult Modi. Two years later, it is Modi’s turn to cock a snook at those who underestimated his skills to convert threats into opportunities. For Modi, the end of his fast will begin well.

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