Modi must become an institution like Vajpayee to become a symbol of India
The old BJP is dead! Long live the new BJP! The operatic anointment of 61-year-old Narendra Damodardas Modi as the BJP’s new helmsman doesn’t reflect just a generational shift. He epitomises a new breed of politicians whose words speak louder than their work. The Modi marvel is an antidote to Vajpayeeism—the pause generating a faster pace of political acceptability. It also marks the end of L K Advani’s agenda based on evolving and tweaking ideology according to the need of the times. Modi is now the BJP’s modern mascot and mantra. He is seen as the most visible, decisive and credible alternative to the Gandhis. He is also perceived as a leader who would sacrifice systems and formalities for the Modi Model of Governance. For him, the democratic process is just another exercise to acquire legitimacy and authority to achieve his targets. The new BJP under Modi is sure to run politics on the lines of a business model, in which time-bound achievements and not excuses will decide the fate of the stakeholders. His track record in office is the envy of his adversaries. He knows how to sell an idea to both the masses and the classes. The villain of 2002 is now the hero of 2013.
No such parallel exists anywhere in the democratic world of a minimised leader becoming the maximum leader by nudging out all his contemporaries within and outside the party. Modi’s propulsion to the national stage is the sign of a new India where degree, pedigree or an elitist social tag can no longer dictate a leader’s destiny. Modi is the first state satrap who has been chosen to lead the national party, superseding the claims of upper caste, well-spoken and elitist national leaders who have no state to call their own.
Though the choice of Modi was finally dictated by the emotional fortissimo of political necessity, both the BJP and RSS had found it difficult to spot a leader who could energise a demoralised cadre and defend Hindutva’s core ideology. They saw in Modi a commander who could communicate with the people directly and connect with the aspirations of the youth. Vajpayee could, with oratory and an affable persona. Modi has done it with his performance and aggressive personality. He is neither a team leader nor a team player. Modi is the team and the leader all rolled into one because he firmly believes that democracy ends when action begins. Ever since he won the Gujarat Assembly elections for the third time, he was projected as the only saviour of the faction-ridden BJP in which there are more candidates for prime ministership than the number of national parties in the country. By choosing Modi, the Sangh Parivar has closed the door on others—at least for now.
Both the BJP and Modi have taken a big risk. The party has handed over its leadership to a person who trusts only his spoken words and his tested wisdom. No one can find fault with his decisiveness, clarity of thought, personal integrity and missionary zeal. It is because of these unique selling points that the entire party ignored Advani’s well-reasoned opposition to Modi’s elevation. Advani was never against projecting Modi as PM, but was dissentient on the timing, as he felt that the 2014 election should be fought on the issues of corruption and non-performance of the UPA government. Advani and others were also of the view that once Modi became the face of the party, the Congress and other parties would sweep their poor governance under the carpet and turn the election into a Mahabharata between secular and communal forces.
But the patriarch’s objections were ruthlessly overruled because of the massive pressure mounted by impatient cadres and middle-level leaders on the party high command. They are convinced that Modi would run the party like the chief executive of a big corporation whose targets and means are well defined and result-oriented. They think that he is the only one who can expand the market share of the BJP by promoting it as a unique product, bearing the distinctive Modi brand name. The Gujarat chief minister has already mastered the art of communication using cutting-edge technology. He always thinks out-of-the-box and comes out with schemes and ideas that has never been seen before in politics. For example, projecting holograms using 3D technology to ensure that his presence is felt in all districts in Gujarat is a device that has never been used by any political leader to connect with voters. Such persuasive instruments prompted foreign diplomats, who abhorred him for over a decade, to seek a minute of his indulgence now. Modi’s novel delivery mechanisms also forced leaders of India Inc who once shunned him as a political bezonian to seek photo-ops with him.
Achieving status is altogether a different ball game than living up to it. Now that Modi has crossed internal hurdles within the party, he has to soothe all genuine fears about his style and substance. Running a state government with a brute majority is not the same as managing a coalition at the Centre in which every leader is a kingmaker. Modi’s first challenge is to ensure that none of his senior leaders are ignored in the party and he doesn’t run the BJP with the help of corporate paratroopers. After all, party workers and middle-level leaders are not shareholders looking for monetary dividends. They want an ideology to dictate governance. Modi is labelled as a divisive leader. He has to get rid of this lethal label because the BJP is unlikely to win a majority on its own in 2014. Since Modi has taken a big risk, he has to learn to respect the ones with genuine differences of opinion. With the birth of new BJP, a new Modi, too, has to be born. The idea of a ‘Modi from Gujarat’ cannot become a symbol of India unless he becomes an institution like Vajpayee.
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