The real contest in Gujarat is Modi vs Modi, and nobody else matters
Surprisingly, there is unanimity about the outcome. The only conflicts are either on the margin of victory or the reasons for Narendra Modi’s third consecutive triumph—a record for any BJP chief minister—if he makes it. After a couple of days in Gujarat, I returned to New Delhi a contrarian. It is not a fight between the BJP and Congress. Nor is it between Modi and the Congress. Giving it the tag of Modi vs Rahul or Sonia sounds glamorous, but it is an imaginary description, as none of them would replace Modi. It is not a battle between developmental reality and mythical opposition either. No doubt, Modi is Gujarat’s most effective and successful chief minister ever. But his personal gain has been at the cost of the organisation and a split in the Sangh Parivar.
It’s a war between Modi and Modi. Others are just symbolic opponents. Chief Minister Narendra Modi is involved in a fierce battle with Narendra Modi the individual. The Modi model of governance is his asset, but arrogance is his most formidable foe. There is no BJP on the ground in Gujarat. It has a symbolic presence in the form of an office and a formal institutional framework. Contrary to public perception, it is Modi who strategises his own politics and election agenda. He does invite and hire some from outside for help in press conferences, writing media statements, putting up billboards and interacting with English-speaking opinion-moulders from New Delhi, Mumbai and New York. The collapse of the BJP as an organisation in Gujarat has been steeper than the rise of Modi as an institution. As he became inaccessible to the cadres and easily accessible to the monarchs from Mumbai, Modi’s connectivity with his core constituents has drastically thinned.
For Modi, it is the number of visitors from abroad and New Delhi that reflects his acceptability as a leader and not meetings with his own MLAs and officebearers. In the past five years, many senior leaders—including two former chief ministers and half-a-dozen former ministers—quit the party because of Modi’s assertive personality. Undoubtedly, the BJP cadres take pride in the performance of their chief minister, but are also seriously concerned about the erosion of their organisational base. Modi has kept both the VHP and RSS at arm’s length as he feels that they interfere too much but they have been providing footsoldiers and ensuring mobilisation of voters. Modi rarely talks about Vajpayee, Deen Dayal Upadhyay or any other BJP stalwart. His innovative 3D campaign has minimised the visibility of other leaders in the six-week-old campaign. Party workers are symbolically but not emotionally involved. Perhaps it was to offset the lack of enthusiasm within his own cadres that Modi admitted former Congress leader Narhari Amin and others into the BJP fold, and shared the platform with the not-so-successful cricketer Irfan Pathan. It reflected Modi’s lack of confidence in his own charisma.
Taking a leaf out of Indira Gandhi’s book, Modi has made the party irrelevant. He has rallied the fence-sitters and ideologically neutral middle class behind him. By shifting his goalposts, he has left his detractors high and dry. When they found that his development agenda was selling, they started finding fault with his achievements. Suddenly, a couple of economists-turned-columnists started questioning Modi’s claims on every economic indicator. Others went to the extent of blaming him for the state’s backwardness because he failed to encourage teaching English in the state, as if Gujarati is a language of the backwards and the illiterate. Such ridiculous faultfinding has compensated Modi for the loss of cadre support. He is the only BJP leader to survive organisational isolation, being one of three who were sent to their respective states in 2001 to become chief ministers. The other two were Vasundhara Raje Scindia and Uma Bharti. The trio led the BJP to impressive victories. But Uma and Vasundhara couldn’t survive the hostility of the party leadership in Delhi and the Sangh Parivar’s in their states and have been marginalised. Modi learned his lessons and never allowed the party to dominate him.
Modi is omnipresent while others are conspicuous by their absence. Modi has quietly forgotten the skills of weaving an organisation together, which he learned as a full-time RSS pracharak. He hardly ever holds regular meetings with district-level coordination panels where representatives from all Sangh Parivar organisations are present. He is hardly on speaking terms with most top functionaries of the RSS and VHP. He is feared, but hardly respected in his own party. On the other hand, he is revered and admired by those who called him names soon after the 2002 carnage. Even the politically correct auto tycoon Anand Mahindra speculated positively about Modi’s—not the BJP’s—victory in Gujarat. Other industrialists like Ratan Tata don’t find it embarrassing now to get photographed with Modi. Even foreign diplomats who earlier led a cacophony of hatred against Modi have made it a point to make pilgrimages to Ahmedabad.
In 2002, Modi was the messiah of Sangh Parivar. In 2012, he is the Darling of the Dollaratis for whom quick returns on investment and land allotments are the most acceptable indicators of a leader’s success. They smell a future prime minister. But his metamorphosis from a hardcore right-wing Hindu leader to a nationalist secular leader depends on acceptability within his own Parivar. Neither his passion for hard work nor his victory has ever been in doubt. But if Modi wants to play an important national role, he has to set his own house in order. With his political enemies totally mauled, it is time for Modi to lead others, not himself alone. Only then can he replace Vajpayee, who became a national icon despite the Sangh Parivar’s meddling. If Modi doesn’t follow the patriarch’s example, the detractors in his own party will keep him caged in Ahmedabad as he is only Narendrabhai, not Atalji.
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