Modi & the unseen hand
The Gujarat chief minister could be unstoppable in the march to Delhi.
New Delhi: An unseen hand seems to be pushing Narendra Modi to Delhi. To make the Bharatiya Janata Party a winning horse again, he may have to return to the strategies employed by his mentor-turned adversary, L.K.Advani, in the post-1984 resurrection of BJP, but without Hindutva, and by becoming his own A.B.Vajpayee. Tough makeover, but the Gujarat chief minister could pull it off. Fortune is finally smiling on him.
Modi's biggest detractor in the National Democratic Alliance has been Nitish Kumar. Nitish has the advantage of being "officially" secular which Modi isn't. Their rivalry goes back to the Bihar elections when Nitish banned his campaigning by threatening to sever relations with BJP. Nitish's dispute with Modi grew after the Bombay BJP national executive meeting in May when Modi had his Gujarat rival, Sanjay Joshi, sidelined and eventually removed from the party.
Touted thereafter as BJP's PM candidate, it hurt and angered Nitish Kumar to the quick. Modi's rise was as such resented by central BJP leaders like Advani, Sushma Swaraj and to a lesser extent, Arun Jaitley, although Jaitley and Modi share their own equation. Nitish and Modi's central BJP detractors made common cause against the Gujarat chief minister, with a consensus among them that anyone other than Modi was acceptable as PM candidate.
Nitish Kumar got so taken up by his successful campaign against Modi that he never let a day pass without repeating the threat of breaking away from BJP on the Modi question. When Modi took out his Swami Vivekananda Yatra in the run up to the Gujarat polls, Nitish Kumar followed suit with his month-long tour to gain special status for Bihar. Nitish was testing his popularity as a prelude to parting ways with BJP, but it boomeranged. He encountered surprising animus from people, which has boosted the opposition camp of Laloo Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan. Nitish cannot hope to challenge Modi now by threatening BJP, whose Bihar state unit is eager and willing to go alone. All of a sudden, and at least temporarily, Nitish Kumar stands neutralized in relation to Narendra Modi.
And equally unexpectedly with Arvind Kejriwal's campaign against Robert Vadra, the BJP central leadership has been drawn on the backfoot, almost as if it is scared of its own family skeletons tumbling out, leaving Narendra Modi with a clear advantage to take on Congress and its dynastic politics. It is significant that Narendra Modi was first off the mark against Vadragate in BJP, whose central leadership found a voice to speak against Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law's doings after the exposure of IAS officer Ashok Khemka's persecution, but only through a party spokesman. And now, as India Against Corruption outs Nitin Gadkari, an off-on ally of Modi, the Gujarat chief minister once again finds the way to the centre mysteriously and miraculously cleared of roadblocks.
If he takes over BJP at the centre with a decimated leadership, Modi's task will be both harder and easier. Harder in the first instance because Narendra Modi will find himself a new player at the Centre which will take a while to adjust to, faced with competing demands of BJP's self-growth and the required expansion of NDA to gain Central power. It is also unclear how much free hand the RSS will give Modi, having already "suffered" from the independence of Vajpayee and the periodic "revolts" of Advani, and with the Gujarat chief minister having his own "autocratic" record in the state. The RSS will not encourage a personality cult if it shifts Narendra Modi to the Centre, but events and Modi will inevitably spin out of control.
Which brings to the easier but challenging task that awaits Modi in the Centre, of establishing a one-to-one relationship with BJP cadres to rejuvenate the party. It is a fact that the current central leadership is cut off from the party rank and file, which is also swollen with RSS workers. This crowd is happiest with Modi, and has shown its overwhelming support for him in all the BJP national executive meetings. Much as Modi shuns indoor confabulations with other BJP leaders where his individuality is curbed, those others steer clear of mass rallies where the Gujarat chief minister so obviously scores. So in case Modi moves to Delhi and takes over from a demoralized and decimated leadership, he will reach to the BJP masses, replicating his Gujarat experiment to win a nationwide following.
This is not going to be easy, however, because India is not Gujarat, and Modi still remains, by and large, an urban phenomenon. He will have to take a leaf out of Advani's successful restoration of BJP from two seats in the 1984 polls to 88 in 1989, 120 in 1991, and becoming the biggest party in the Lok Sabha in 1996. Advani used the Ram Mandir movement and Vajpayee's charisma and innate goodness helped the BJP to power. Hindutva is over for good and Modi has to become Vajpayee to put BJP on the winning trail. Necessarily, in the process, Modi has to become presidential in his politics, even a maximum leader who will gain unquestioned following in the party, which will in turn make him a promising and reliable prime-ministerial choice in a time of an attrited Centre. For a man who has walked alone in politics, the roll fits.
The country is desperate for change, and if the unseen hand guides Modi as now, he could be unstoppable.